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UMass to honor Marathon victims at spring football game Saturday

AMHERST — When Stanley Andre, Brandon Howard, Klysmann Afonso and Rob Blanchflower take the field for University of Massachusetts spring football game Saturday, it won’t be their names on the back of their jerseys.

After Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, the UMass football program wanted to honor the victims, first responders and runners and is using the annual event to convey its solidarity with the victims and the city of Boston.

Andre, a senior defensive end, and Afonso, a freshman wide receiver, each share a hometown with one of the victims who died. Andre will replace his name above his number with “Martin Richard,” the 8-year-old from Dorchester, and Afonso will have “Krystle Campbell” on his back to honor his fellow Medford native.

Brandon Howard, a sophomore tight end from Wrentham, volunteered to wear Lu Lingzi’s name, the Boston University student from China who was the third fatality.

Blanchflower, the team’s senior captain, will wear “Boston Strong” above his 87.

“It’s an emotional thing. It’s an honor to commemorate his name,” Andre said. “It’s a tragic thing that occurred. I’m sure he was a great kid. I have the privilege and the honor to wear his name on my back.”

UMass will also honor runners who weren’t able to finish the race because of the bombings. UMass has invited any runner who was unable to cross the Boylston Street finish line to attend the 4 p.m. game at McGuirk Stadium and cross a finish line at the 50-yard line. Each participant will take a lap around the field and will be given a gift when they finish.

“We knew we wanted to do something for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. We put our heads together and came up with a couple of different plans,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said.

Molnar is an avid runner and sympathized with the plights of those who were unable to cross the finish line.

“In the U.S. we’re going to finish what we start. Nobody’s going to stop us from reaching our goals and our dreams. These runners won’t cross the finish line in Boston, but they were so close. We’re hoping that some people in the area or beyond the area will come in. There will be an outpouring of love for these people that decide to cross the finish line at halftime here at McGuirk Stadium,” he said. “As a runner, it’s so frustrating not to finish what you start. Every one of us, you’re not only competing against not only the people you’re lined up against, but against yourself to do better than you did last time out. You feel so much not only for the people that were affected, but for the people that didn’t get a chance to finish what they started. We’re going to give them a chance to do so.

The team will also wear helmet decals honoring the victims and first responders.

BOND, JOHN BOND — A UMass source confirmed an Atlanta Journal Constitution tweet that John Bond, who has been the offensive coordinator at Georgia State for the past five seasons, will join UMass’ staff as the offensive coordinator. His previous coaching stops include Northern Illinois and Georgia Tech.

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

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