UMass QB Blake Frohnapfel, teammates excited to play at Notre Dame

Last modified: Saturday, October 10, 2015
AMHERST — When Blake Frohnapfel was younger, the idea of rooting against Notre Dame would have seemed foreign to him. The UMass quarterback, who’ll be making his first trip to one of college football’s most hallowed grounds Saturday at 3:30 p.m., used to be an Irish fan.

“It was kind of weird. Growing up in a Catholic family, I grew up rooting for them,” Frohnapfel said. “It’s weird being on the other side. But it’ll be a cool experience.”

Brady Quinn, who coincidentally would go on to play for UMass coach Mark Whipple with the Cleveland Browns, was the Irish quarterback during the height of Frohnapfel’s fandom. But it was the Notre Dame tight end that Frohnapfel liked the most.

“I loved (Jeff) Samardzija. He was my favorite player,” Frohnapfel said. “Samardzija and Brady Quinn together. I was a big fan.”

Frohnapfel doesn’t expect to be wide-eyed Saturday despite playing on the same iconic field where Quinn and Samardzija shined together in the shadow of the famous Touchdown Jesus mural. He was comfortable savoring the experience in a way that wouldn’t come at the expense of his focus or preparation.

“You treat it like it’s a business trip. Then again it’s a pretty cool experience,” Frohnapfel said. “Not many people have a chance to do that. You have to enjoy it as much as you can.”

Sophomore linebacker Shane Huber was also an Irish fan.

“That’s one of the most storied programs, if not the most storied program in all of college football,” said Huber, whose high school teammate Brandon Wimbush is a true freshman quarterback for Notre Dame. “For us to have a chance to go out there and play at that high of a level on national television, it’ll be a great experience.”

Jovan Santos-Knox has usually rooted against Notre Dame, but that didn’t lessen his enthusiasm.

“It’s big time. It’s what you live for. It’s why you play the game, for experiences and games like this. It’s very exciting,” he said. “As soon as it came out, I marked this one down. It’s Notre Dame, what more can you say. It’s one of the most storied programs in college football. For us to be playing there is an honor.”

The consensus among the players was to enjoy the atmosphere at Friday’s walk-through and focus on the game Saturday.

“It’s different. It’s one of the best stadiums and best programs in the country. We’ll go through the walk-through (Friday) and check it out,” senior corner Randall Jette said. “But when the game comes we’ll be ready. It’s time to go.”

Senior receiver Marken Michel agreed.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere, a great venue to play in. But at the end of the day you have to play the team, not their name,” he said. “They put their pants on one leg at a time, just like we do.”

Whipple said he’s been around too long to get excited about a venue, but hoped it would feed his players’ excitement.

“I’ve been a lot of places. It’s all about (the players). If it gets them excited that’s good,” said Whipple, who has never been to Notre Dame. “It’ll be fun for the guys. Hopefully it gives them motivation and gets them excited.”

Whipple hoped his team would make the most of the exposure for the program and the university by playing on NBC’s national TV broadcast.

“It helps the school and it helps us certainly if we can play well,” he said. “I don’t know if it helps if you don’t play well.”

MILLS, KITCHING MISS PRACTICE — Senior tight end/full back Rodney Mills was wearing a protective boot for the second straight day, while defensive lineman Robert Kitching also missed practice. Whipple said both will be evaluated Thursday.

FIU START TIME — The Oct. 3 game against Florida International officially has a start time. The game will kick off at 3 p.m. at McGuirk Stadium.

GATHERINGS — With a nationally televised game against the sixth-ranked Irish, the UMass alumni association is hosting watch parties in seven locations around the country. In addition to Amherst (The Hangar) and Boston (The Point), there are events in Seattle; Huntington Beach, California; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Orlando, Florida; and New York City. Others could still be added.

There are links to the gatherings at UMassAlumni.com.

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