UMass freshmen front and center for football opener against UConn

Last modified: Tuesday, August 28, 2012
AMHERST - Three true freshmen are set to be starters for the University of Massachusetts in Thursday's 7:30 p.m. opener at Connecticut. Michael Boland will start at left guard, Blake Lucas will kick field goals and extra points and Tajae Sharpe will start at wide receiver.

UMass' first full depth chart was released Monday night.

UMass coach Charley Molnar was excited for Boland.

"He has really worked hard," Molnar said. "When you watch practice film at the end of the day, he's getting the job done. Is he ready to be an All-American or even an all-MAC player? No. But he certainly can go out there and get the job done for us Thursday night. I've felt a lot better about him as time has gone on."

Lucas won the kicking competition with junior Brendon Levengood, who'll be the starter on kickoffs. Jeff Strait edged Colter Johnson at punter.

Sharpe beat out senior Deion Walker, a transfer from Notre Dame, but both receivers will certainly play.

Senior offensive lineman Anthony Dima will miss the opener with an undisclosed muscle strain, ending a streak of 11 consecutive starts.

"He's going to be week-to-week. He will not suit up for this game. I'm hoping to have him back by Indiana," Molnar said. "If not, he'll be back for Michigan. He's rehabbing like a warrior and doing everything he's supposed to do. They're just not comfortable with him practicing yet. If it was the Super Bowl he'd be out there."

NO PLANNED REDSHIRT FOR DOYLE - Molnar said UMass has no plans to redshirt true freshman quarterback A.J. Doyle, who is No. 2 on the depth chart. If starter Mike Wegzyn needs to take a play off for any reason, Doyle, not No. 3 QB Ian Shultis, will replace him.

"He needs to play. He needs the experience," Molnar said. "I expect A.J. to play."

Sophomore quarterback Brandon Hill, who started last year's opener, remains out with a shoulder injury he suffered in the spring. He went home for the week to see his personal doctor and will return next week when school starts.

RETURN TO THE SIDELINE - Thursday night will be Molnar's first game coaching from the field since 2005, when he was the offensive coordinator at Indiana State. He's been in the press box each of the past six seasons.

"I remember my emotions on the sideline. I'll have to make sure I keep them in check," Molnar said. "You get so much more into the game on the sideline talking to the players. When you're up in the box you're so far away. You can scream and yell all you want and nobody can hear you. It's totally different."

Defensive coordinator Phil Elmassian will coach from the press box.

MISCELLANEOUS - The Minutemen blared music late in practice to mimic a loud crowd. Molnar, a New Jersey native, was the disc jockey choosing a mix of Bon Jovi (It's My Life), Bruce Springsteen (Thunder Road), Dropkick Murphys (I'm Shipping Up to Boston) and the Black Eyed Peas (I Gotta Feeling). He'll let other coaches pick the music down the road.

"It'll be somebody else's turn next time," Molnar said. "Phil will be next but I might have to go over the top of him because Waylon Jennings doesn't go over well at practice."

BLACK MONDAY - Three former Minutemen were cut as part of the NFL's first round of roster reduction. Wide receiver Jeremy Horne (Kansas City), WR Julian Talley (New York Giants) and long snapper Travis Tripucka (St. Louis Rams) are all looking for new opportunities. Talley is eligible to sign with someone's practice squad, while Horne, who was on the active roster for nine games last year, is not practice-squad eligible.

Center Josh Samuda, who is expected to make the Miami Dolphins, and Emil Igwenagu, who is competing for a spot at fullback/tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles, are the only remaining players from UMass' 2011 roster still in an NFL camp.

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 http://www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.