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Senior safety Darren Thellen, UMass close season with Central Michigan

AMHERST — As a redshirt freshman, University of Massachusetts safety Darren Thellen looked up to two players more than any others — Minuteman senior Jeromy Miles and his brother Nate Thellen, a junior at Northeastern.

Miles was Thellen’s on-field mentor, while his brother was a lifelong role model.

Now a senior, Darren Thellen often thinks of them both as he prepares for his final college game at 3 p.m. today against Central Michigan at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

“I just learned from Jeromy Miles and tried to follow what he did. He spoke when he needed to and did things right,” Thellen said. “I’ve tried to do things the same way, being real connected to the young players and teach them the good things to know.”

Miles, an all-conference safety who went undrafted, signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, first to their practice squad before eventually being activated to the 53-man roster. He’s become a valued member of their special teams and an occasional starter a safety.

“He set the path,” said Thellen, who is listed as the No. 25 free safety available by NFLdraftblitz.com. “... I want to follow in his footsteps trying to be great safety here then getting an opportunity in the NFL.

“He started off as a special teams player,” Thellen added. “Now he’s in on defense getting a couple of starts. Following him trying to do what he does, hopefully I’ll end up in the same situation.”

Nate Thellen might have had a chance to play professionally too. He was one of the best players in the Colonial Athletic Association before a string of shoulder injuries cut his career short.

“My brother had a few surgeries and couldn’t continue playing,” Darren Thellen said. “I felt like it was my responsibility to carry our last name and try to finish out, not only for me, but for him. That helped me fight through any injury I had.”

He will finish today as one of the most respected players on the UMass roster, a bright spot during the team’s 1-10 season. He’s proud of his career and looks forward to watching his younger teammates get better down the road.

“Working with the DBs, they’ll come ask me a question before they even ask coach. They call me Coach Thellen sometimes, I’ve been around so long,” Thellen said. “They’re very young but with experience, they’re going to be great. They work hard.

“I think in the future they’re going to be a very successful team,” he added. “... It means a lot to have people look up to you and want to play for you. It means so much. I remember me being young wanting to impress and play hard for the seniors. Actually being a senior it means so much.

“I’m very proud. Your career could always be better. But I’m not mad. It was a very fun experience,” he continued. “I feel like I had a very successful career here. I’m proud of what I’ve done.”

SENIOR DAY — Thellen is one of 15 seniors who will be honored before the game.

He will be joined by D.J. Adeoba, Tim Brandt (who is giving up his last year of eligibility to graduate), Chris Burns, Julian Colarusso, Michael Cox, Perry McIntyre, Stephane Milhim, Quinton Sales, Ian Shultis, Nick Speller, Chaz Thompson, Deion Walker, Alan Williams and Hafis Williams.

At the end of Wednesday’s practice, the last of the season for UMass at McGuirk Stadium, Molnar lined up all the underclassmen in two lines to create a corridor that ended with a tackling dummy and a large red mat. Each senior ran through the alley as their teammates smacked them on the back and cheered. The seniors finished the run by tackling the dummy and landing on the mat.

The last player was Adeoba, the linebacker who blew out his knee earlier this season. He hobbled through the gauntlet as his teammates roared.

Game Information

Time & location: 3 p.m., Gillette Stadium, Foxborough

Records: Central Michigan (5-6, 3-4 Mid-American Conference); UMass (1-10, 1-6 MAC)

Last week: UMass lost to Buffalo 29-19; Central Michigan beat Miami (Ohio) 30-16;

All-time series: First meeting

TV/Internet: UMassathletics.com

Radio: WWEI-FM (105.5), WMUA-FM (91.1)

When UMass has the ball: Freshman A.J. Doyle will make his first career start at quarterback. Minuteman coach Charley Molnar said the play-calling will be a bit simplified to reflect Doyle’s inexperience.

Junior tight end Rob Blanchflower has been a big reliable target all season.

Doyle is a little more naturally mobile than quarterback Mike Wegzyn, who started the first 11 games for UMass. There could be more rollouts and quarterback runs as part of today’s game plan.

Doyle should have some time to work with because the Chippewas have recorded among the fewest sacks in the Mid-American Conference.

When Central Michigan has the ball: Needing one win to be bowl eligible, the Chippewas have plenty to play for.

Much like Buffalo last week, Central Michigan will using a battering running attack to try to wear down the Minuteman defense. Junior Zurlon Tipton has rushed for 1,206 yards and 15 touchdowns (second in the MAC) on 204 carries.

Quarterback Ryan Radcliff is fifth in the conference with 256.6 yards per game, completing 213 of 359 passes for 2,823 yards. He has thrown 19 touchdowns and been intercepted eight times.

Senior Cody Wilson leads the Chippewas in receptions (59 for 713 yards, two TDs), and sophomore Titus Davis has been the big yardage receiver with 43 catches for 860 yards and eight scores.

The Chippewas lead the conference in red-zone offense by scoring 35 times in 39 visits (24 touchdowns and 11 field goals).

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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