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UMass walk-on safety lives up to his expectations, exceeds those of others

  • AP FILE PHOTO<br/>University of Massachusetts defensive back Joe Colton, right, has never doubted that he had the ability to play Division I football.
  • JOE COLTON

When his Pop Warner coaches told him he might not be good enough to play football at Xaverian, Colton enrolled anyway and became a standout.

When college coaches didn’t think he was good enough to get a scholarship offer out of either Xaverian or Avon Old Farms, where he did one postgrad year, Colton still never doubted.

“When people asked me why I was going to prep school, I said ‘I have a dream to play Division I and I’m definitely good enough,’” Colton said.

On Colton’s official visit to the University of Massachusetts, coach Charley Molnar didn’t offer a scholarship, simply a chance to prove he was worthy of a spot on the roster.

“He said, ‘If you want an opportunity, the best opportunity right now is here at UMass,’” Colton said. “I’m just trying to make the most of it.”

UMass history is filled with stories of players who went from walk-on to standout. James Ihedigbo is in his fifth season in the NFL after getting no Division I scholarship offers out of Amherst Regional High School. But to go from walk-on to starter in the same calendar year is extremely rare.

But on Saturday, the player trying to prove he’s good enough to compete in the Bowl Subdivision was starting for a school attempting to do the same thing. Colton finished with 12 tackles in the 37-34 loss to Ohio.

“I have an opportunity to be on a team like this and the team has an opportunity to be in the FBS,” said Colton, who filled in for the injured Christian Birt. “In both situations it takes a lot of work to get where we want to be.”

“I had an attitude that I should be here,” he continued. “I didn’t care what recruiters said before. I know I should be here and I was going to show the coaches that I belonged here. I was going to force them to play me no matter what. I definitely had a chip on my shoulder.”

Molnar said that’s a good thing.

“Any time a guy comes without a scholarship, he automatically has a chip on his shoulder and if he doesn’t, he should. He knows he’s good enough to play Division I football somewhere. The fact that no one offered him a scholarship really drives him. Although he seems to be so motivated I don’t know that it takes too much to get him going,” Molnar said. “He’s a very, very good tackler. He’s on special teams. He’s blocking, making plays, doing all sorts of things. He’s just a football player. He’s got great instincts. I look forward to building our program with him.”

Xaverian coach Charles Stevenson knows not to underestimate the 5-foot-10 Norwood native.

“I think it’s awesome. Joe is a great kid and a hard worker. He’s very determined. He’s a good player,” Stevenson said. “A lot of these college recruiters, they don’t see beyond the height, the weight and the speed. They don’t see what somebody who works as hard as Joe brings to the team as far as the things you can’t measure like your heart, your desire and things like that.”

Colton is still working like his spot in the lineup or even on the roster isn’t intact.

“I’m not thinking about a scholarship or starting week by week. Anything can change. One week you’re starting, the next week you’re not. It’s a day-by-day process. I try not looking too far into the future. I’m just working my butt off trying to get out there, play by play. That’s all I can do. I just wanted to come, play my best and see what happens,” Colton said. “I might not be out there next week starting. I have to come out and prove it every single day. I don’t have a scholarship.”

That could change before long.

“At the end of the day, sooner of later if he keeps improving, he’ll earn himself financial aid,” Molnar said.

HEALTH/ROSTER — The news remained good for UMass on the injury front as wide receiver Marken Michel (arm) and offensive lineman Michael Boland (concussion) returned to practice and will be available for Saturday’s game at Western Michigan.

Linebacker Greg Hilliard (shoulder) and defensive linemen Galen Clemons (concussion) remain probable to play. Clemons still needs to pass post-concussion tests.

“Galen was unbelievable today, just sprinting like a maniac. He really wants to get back on the field. He’s determined to play. Which is a good sign,” Molnar said. “I saw Greg out there. I’m optimistic that he’s going to get through the day OK and be good to go for the game.”

Molnar said true freshman Trey Dudley-Giles could earn a start at corner after playing well as a reserve against Ohio.

“He’ll have every chance to win that job. To me it’s may the best man win. I don’t care if it’s a freshman or a guy that’s been here. The guy that performs the best on Saturday afternoon and in practice deserves to be the starter. That’s one of the best honors for a football player to run out there with the starters,” Molnar said. “I’m not going to put a guy out there just because he’s held the position if he hasn’t earned it week in and week out. ... I really like the way Dudley-Giles has come on. He’s made great strides and he’s going to be excellent in the next couple of years.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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