Notebook: Teammates looking to help star receiver Tajae Sharpe

Last modified: Saturday, October 10, 2015
AMHERST — In just two games, UMass senior receiver Tajae Sharpe has 22 catches for 294 yards.

It’s likely just a matter of time before an opposing defense overcommits personnel to try and shut him down or at least slow his production.

When they do, the other Minuteman receivers will be ready to contribute. Senior Rodney Mills has been a reliable pass catcher as a tight end and full back. At receiver, with senior Jalen Williams out, senior Marken Michel and redshirt sophomore Shakur Nesmith are most likely to see more passes thrown their way.

“Opportunities are going to come when they come. When the ball is in the air you have to go get it,” said Michel, who has nine catches for 125 yards this year, and 70 career catches for 771 yards. “Tajae is going to make plays regardless of how many people are sticking him. He’s that caliber athlete. Of course when they have four people sticking Tajae, you’ve got to make plays and burn the defense for doing it.”

Nesmith, who doesn’t have a catch this year, had seven for 105 yards and one TD last season. He’s champing at the bit to be more involved.

“I’m very eager. They keep telling me not to get down on myself and be ready. I’m just trying to control what I can control and just keep going hard,” he said. “Whenever they call a play, I’m ready. I’ll just have to keep going.”

UMass coach Mark Whipple said he’s in favor of spreading the ball around, but not at the expense of catches for Sharpe.

“We want to spread it around. Marken’s playing well. Shakur’s done some good things and drawn some coverage,” Whipple said. “We’re still going to try to get the ball to Taj. He’s our best player. We’d be foolish not to.”

Quarterback Blake Frohnapfel said his chemistry with receivers other than Sharpe is evolving.

“Tajae is such a good player. If I can throw to him I’m going to,” Frohnapfel said. “Against Kent state last year, they had three or four guys on him. He had two catches and he was kind of bummed out about it. He’s a tough guy to cover. ... But it’s getting used to (Michel and Nesmith) in different spots and building that comfort level. You have to get more comfortable with them being out there. Last year Marken was working the slot and now he’s working as the outside receiver a lot. So he’s running different routes than he did before.”

MILLS EXPECTED TO GO — Mills didn’t practice Tuesday as he had a protective boot on his right foot. Whipple said he expected Mills, who had five catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns against Temple Saturday, to be back for Saturday’s game at Notre Dame.

“He’s all right. He’s like a wily veteran. He doesn’t need to practice,” Whipple said.

FRANKLIN LEAVES — Larry Franklin, a senior linebacker/safety who transferred to UMass from Vanderbilt right before the start of preseason, has left the team for personal reasons. He’s been removed from the roster and isn’t expected to return.

The 6-foot-1, 214-pound Florida native had two sacks in UMass’ loss at Colorado, but didn’t play Saturday vs. Temple.

Franklin left the Vanderbilt football team for unknown reasons before the start of spring practice in 2014. He didn’t play in 2014 after former coach James Franklin (no relation) left for Penn State following the 2013 season. Larry Franklin stayed at Vanderbilt and graduated.

In 2013, Franklin played 12 games, including three starts for Vanderbilt at outside linebacker. He made 13 tackles, including two against UMass, and had 11/2 sacks.

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