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UMass football players with Notre Dame ties rooting for No. 1 Irish

Massachusetts head coach Charley Molnar yells to his team in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Bowling Green in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. Bowling Green won 24-0. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Massachusetts head coach Charley Molnar yells to his team in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Bowling Green in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. Bowling Green won 24-0. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) Purchase photo reprints »

AMHERST — On Saturday night, after their own seasons and college careers have been completed, Deion Walker and Hafis Williams will get in front of a television to watch Notre Dame try to sew up a spot in the national championship game as it closes its regular season against Southern Cal.

Walker and Williams are fifth-year transfers from Notre Dame. For a chance at more playing time, they took advantage of an NCAA rule that allows a player with eligibility left to transfer without sitting out if they’ve already earned their degree. They followed Notre Dame offensive coordinator Charley Molnar to the University of Massachusetts.

Neither player had any resentment toward the top-ranked Fighting Irish program nor regrets about leaving.

“It’s a very odd week. But I was happy to see my boys up there. They worked very hard this season. I tip my hat to them and wish them the best of luck. I told all my friends that are still out there, ‘Congratulations and beat USC,’” Williams said. “I love being (at UMass). It was the best time. We were just working and working, building a foundation. This program is on the rise. We’ve got the right coach at the helm. I’m happy to be a part of the foundation. I wish I could be here for many more years. But I’m happy to put my imprint on the program.”

Walker wasn’t surprised at the Irish success.

“We knew what to expect with that defense that they had, they were bound to be great” he said. “People ask if I had a chance would I go back. I wouldn’t. I wanted to play. For me, being able to do that was great. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Molnar was pleased for his former players and Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, whom he also coached with at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.

“I’m so happy for those players and coaches. It’s really great for them and the job that Coach Kelly has done in the three years that he’s been there,” Molnar said. “You could see the program building each and every year. I expected they would be there sooner rather than later.”

Walker has been UMass’ leading receiver with 52 catches for 620 yards and two touchdowns. After barely being used at Notre Dame, he was proud of his season.

“I played and I made plays,” he said. “You don’t know how happy that makes me knowing that.”

Williams said it hadn’t hit him yet how close his college career is to ending. The Minutemen close out 2012 against Central Michigan, Friday at 3 p.m. at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

“It hasn’t set in yet,” Williams said. “When I’m in the hotel Thursday night, when I know it’s my last night in the hotel, that’s when it’s going to sink in.”

HEALTH UPDATES — UMass received half-good and half-bad news on its two offensive linemen that missed Saturday’s loss to Buffalo. Junior tackle Anthony Dima (upper body injury) got a good medical report and is “questionable to probable,” according Molnar.

Freshman guard Michael Boland (upper body injury), however, won’t play Saturday.

Sophomore wide receiver Marken Michel (leg) and long snapper Vance Barton (hand) are doubtful.

Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jamie Casselberry (concussion) is probable.

Freshman safety Joe Colton suffered an arm injury in practice Monday but it expected to play.

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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