A.J. Doyle named UMass starting quarterback against Central Michigan
University of Massachusetts freshman quarterback A.J. Doyle has been named the start for Friday's season finale against Central Michigan at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
AMHERST — When his father drove him to Catholic Memorial High School on the day of his first start, A.J. Doyle, then a freshman quarterback, was so nervous that he made his father pull to the side of the road.
“He pulled over and I immediately opened the door and threw up,” said Doyle, who is a freshman at the University of Massachusetts.
On Friday, Doyle will make his first collegiate start when the Minutemen (1-10, 1-6 MAC) host Central Michigan (5-6, 3-4) in their season finale at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. Doyle said he isn’t nervous yet and expects to sleep fine Wednesday night. He said his teammates have asked if he was anxious.
“I said, ‘Ask me Friday morning when I’m throwing up,’” Doyle said. “I hope I’m not like that, but there’s always a possibility.”
Doyle, a Lakeville native who starred at CM, was the first recruit Charley Molnar called when he was hired and the first player to commit in his tenure.
Even after naming Mike Wegzyn his starting quarterback, Molnar elected not to redshirt Doyle. He wanted to give the 19 year old experience in his first season.
In 11 starts, Wegzyn completed 182-of-346 passes for 1,825 yards and six touchdowns. He was intercepted six times. Doyle appeared in seven games, all with the score out of reach. He was 26 for 53 for 166 yards. He threw one TD pass and was intercepted five times.
With plans in place for an open quarterback competition in the spring, Molnar said the coaching staff decided during the bye week how they would handle the remainder of the season.
They decided Wegzyn would start against Akron and he’d continue to start until the Minutemen lost. Had UMass hung on Saturday against Buffalo, Wegzyn would have been under center Friday chasing a third straight win. Doyle began taking all of the practice snaps with the first string on Monday.
“To get a better evaluation of A.J. pushing forward into the future we felt like we needed to see him as a starter,” Molnar said. “Since the bye week, he started to really learn the nuances and really started to close a lot of ground on Mike from that standpoint. We feel comfortable with A.J. out there. We won’t run everything we ran with Mike only because A.J. hasn’t played as much.
“We want to see how he handles the pressure starting the game at 0-0 when the ball is in his court, how he takes the team and how he responds to a bad series or two,” Molnar continued. “How he manages, how he acts on the sidelines. How does he react when the game is on the line. I’m really really interested to see that. Just based on how he performed in practice this week, he acted and seemed like a starting quarterback. If that carries over to the game on Saturday that would be very good news for us. We’d have two viable quarterbacks going into spring ball.”
Doyle said he’s approaching this week the same way as the previous ones.
“There’s not really a different mindset. When you get in the game you try to score points and move the ball. That’s the way I have to look at it. You prepare every week to be the starter,” said Doyle, who hoped to earn his teammates’ confidence. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, the first time starting in college. It’ll definitely be a big boost for me and hopefully for my teammates too. If I do well enough they’ll believe in me. I know they believe in Mike.”
Doyle said the revelation that he’d be starting hadn’t affected his relationship with Wegzyn.
“Me and Mike have talked normally. He understands that the reason Coach Molnar is starting me is no indication that he’s not the starter next year. It’s an indication that there’s going to be a competition,” Doyle said. “The coaches feel I’m ready to push him and hopefully I’ll put myself in position to be the starter against Wisconsin (2013 opener). Mike has done well. It’ll be a tough competition.”
Molnar was pleased with Wegzyn’s work ethic and demeanor after he got the news.
“Mike has handled it really well. I knew that he would. I’m sure he doesn’t like it. But he’s practiced hard and been very positive,” Molnar said. “When he’s gone in he’s done well. It’s not as much an indictment on Mike, but an indication that A.J.’s performance in practice has improved and that he’s a viable candidate to compete for the starting job, not only in the last week of the season but going forward into the future.”
Doyle’s start could add to the attendance Saturday.
“My family normally has 25-plus people there every game no matter if I’m starting or not. It’ll be good because a lot of my friends are coming back for Thanksgiving,” he said. “I sent them a text saying, ‘What are you doing Friday afternoon. I may be starting. You can come to Gillette and watch my first start.’”
While he knew his performance could make a difference in his future, Doyle said he was more concerned about the team.
“I’m always going to give 150 percent and there’s that added incentive to send those seniors out with a win,” he said. “And for future teams, I want to set us on the right foot. Get us going in the right direction for the spring and summer next year.”
HEALTH — True freshman Tajae Sharpe will miss Friday’s game with an upper body injury.
Junior Anthony Dima, who missed last week’s game, returned to full practice participation Wednesday and will start. Sophomore receiver Marken Michel, who was doubtful earlier in the week, healed well enough that he’ll be in the lineup against Central Michigan.
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