UMass senior Quinton Sales anchors young, inexperienced offensive line
AP FILE PHOTO
Quinton Sales (51) prepares to make the snap last season against Boston College. Sales is the anchor of the UMass offensive line. Purchase photo reprints »
GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
University of Massachusetts freshman quarterback Mike Wegzyn (11) takes the hike from senior Quinton Sales during a preseason practice. Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST - Senior center Quinton Sales can appreciate what it means to be the new guy on the University of Massachusetts offensive line.
As a sophomore, the Fort Washington, Md., native got his baptism by fire when starter John Ihne was injured in the Minutemen's 2010 game at Michigan. Against the toughest team UMass would play that season, Sales had to learn on the fly.
He had a strong effort that day and was in and out of the lineup the rest of the season depending on Ihne's health. Ihne graduated at the end of the year and Sales has been a fixture in the lineup ever since.
His reliability and durability have been particularly valuable this season. Since the spring, injuries and other departures have left the Minutemen with a rotating cast of players along side him.
In addition to veterans Stephane Milhim, Nick Speller and Anthony Dima, who returned from injury last week, Sales has been flanked by redshirt freshmen John Wallace and Jamie Casselberry, and true freshman Michael Boland, all playing college football for the first time.
"Being a senior and as a center, it's my job to lead. Even as a sophomore center, it was my job to lead. As a senior center, it's magnified," he said. "Guys respond to different things. You have to lead them in different ways. You don't have to say as much if you're used to a guy. I don't have to say as much to Stephane Milhim or Nick Speller because they've been playing for three years. Some of the other guys we have to tell them exactly what's going on because they haven't seen things in a college football atmosphere."
Wallace said the younger players have looked to him as an example.
"Q is the best. Ever since I got here last year, Q has been the leader of this offense, especially our unit. He knows the offense like the back of his hand. He cares about everyone. He's a terrific leader," said Wallace, who hopes to replace Sales next year. "Being the backup center, I definitely have to know the offense. Since I first got on campus, Q has been a guy I looked up to. We have a special relationship. The way he leads is just tremendous. Next year, when he's gone, I definitely want to take that leadership role at center. I look at him every day to do what he does."
UMass coach Charley Molnar said Sales is a good player to follow.
"Q has been the most steady performer we have, not only on the offensive line, but the whole football team. That really makes him special," Molnar said. "He's an excellent leader. He's very smart. He's the proverbial coach on the field. He makes a lot of calls for our offense and he's a very calm influence for everybody in the heat of battle. He prepares so hard. He's not the most physically gifted player, but he makes up for it with his mental acumen. He's a really sharp man."
While Sales picked up the Minutemen's new offense quickly, the group is still learning the system and how to play together within it.
"There's a maturation process and you can't rush it. They have to go through growing pains. They have to do it wrong 50 times before they can do it right once," offensive line coach Ron Hudson said. "With all the plays and all the defenses, there's a lot of variables there. We have to fight through the tough days and the frustrations from doing it poorly to get on the same page. So when we see that scenario again, we react properly.
"You can't shortchange the process. It takes as long as it takes and it's coming," Hudson continued. "We made such huge strides in the Michigan game, I'm so proud of them. They were very physical. They came out of the gate trying to be physical and I thought they were more physical than (Michigan) ... Once they gain more confidence, they'll start to apply what they've learned to situations they haven't seen before because they'll know it. I saw them do things against Michigan that I hadn't seen them do yet. We're coming."
"We're coming together as a group. That's everything," he said. "All the guys, myself included, are getting better every game, every rep. The younger guys are taking bigger strides because this is their first time getting game experience. Whenever the O-line is getting better, it's easier for the skill guys to make plays."
Injuries have slowed that improvement. Dima missed the first two games and as soon as he returned Boland got hurt. Speller, who started the season at right tackle, moved to guard and then back to tackle when Milhim left Saturday's game with a sprained ankle.
"Whenever you feel like we're making strides, you take a piece out of there or two pieces out of there, you feel like you're treading water or taking a step backwards instead of continuously moving forward," Molnar said. Getting continuity "would help everything we do offensively which would help the whole football team. ... Starting the same offensive line two weeks in a row would be really good for us."
HEALTH, ROSTER UPDATES - Sophomore receiver Marken Michel (arm), junior defensive tackle Galen Clemons (head injury), Boland (concussion) and Milhim (sprained right ankle) were all held out of practice Monday.
Of that group, only Milhim looked promising for Saturday's game at Miami (Ohio).
"We think we'll have him back limited tomorrow. He'll start practicing tomorrow," Molnar said. "It's not as bad as they originally thought it would be."
UMass didn't have the MRI results back for freshman wide receiver Dalvin Battle's knee injury, but Molnar confirmed that he is out for the season.
Senior offensive lineman Malcolm Speller and redshirt freshman tight end Brandon Howard, who were both already injured, are no longer with the program. Molnar confirmed that he dismissed Speller.
LOCAL ABC PICKING UP SATURDAY'S GAME - UMass' noon game at Miami (Ohio) Saturday is being televised through ESPN's GamePlan package. Both ABC-40 (WGGB) in western Massachusetts and ABC-5 in Boston (WCVB) are picking up the broadcast.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at http://www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.