HS notebook: Amherst Regional senior lineman Cenai Collins commits to AIC

  • Amherst Regional players J.B. Mills, from left, Cenai Collins and Pierre Tillus gather in the final minute of their team's loss to Swampscott in the state Division 5 Super Bowl, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019 at Gillette Stadium. STAFF REPORTS/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Amherst Regional quarterback JB Mills, top, takes the snap behind linemen Tony Govan, Jr., from left, Cenai Collins and Owen Frenette during their game against Swampscott in the state Division 5 Super Bowl, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019 at Gillette Stadium. STAFF REPORTS/JERREY ROBERTS

  • CJ Woodfine-Holmes, second from left, of Amherst Regional, carries for a first down against South Hadley, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019 at South Hadley High School. Other players are, from left, Max Garvin, Cenai Collins and Owen Frenette. STAFF REPORTS/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton sprinters Ethan Cooper, from left, Tucker Quinlan and Cole Lavalle begin a run on the school's track as their coach, Brandon Palmer, keeps time during practice Friday, March 22, 2019 at the school. STAFF REPORTS/JERREY ROBERTS


Sports Editor
Published: 4/23/2020 4:54:32 PM

Cenai Collins is following in the family tradition of playing college football.

The Amherst Regional senior verbally committed on Tuesday to play at American International College in Springfield.

“AIC was the best fit and the right place to be,” Collins said.

Collins, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound offensive lineman, will be the third member of his family to play in the collegiate trenches. His father, Carmen Collins, played left tackle for UMass in the early 2000s. His uncle, Tyler Collins, played defensive line for Central Connecticut State and Buffalo State in the mid-2010s.

Cenai Collins attended a football camp at AIC last May and worked with several coaches from Art Wilkins’ staff, including Matt Russell.

“I like the instruction he was giving me throughout the camp,” Collins said. “It really helped my technique and helped me be a better player overall.”

Collins returned in the fall for a visit and spent time on campus and at a football game. He was back in the winter, took in a class, ate in the dinning hall and saw the dorms.

“It was that second visit where in my head I was like this was the best place for me,” he said.

Collins chose Division II AIC over several other schools. He held a preferred walk-on offer from UMass.

“I needed to focus on it from an academic standpoint and from an athletic standpoint, and my family supports my decision 110 percent and they are extremely happy for me, and my friends as well,” Collins said. “I was thinking about it and I ended up (asking), ‘Where do I think I can be the most successful throughout my four years? Where do I think I’m not going to struggle? Where do I feel the most comfortable at.’”

Collins said he received advice from his mom, Keisha Dennis, father and uncle.

“They were telling me to look out for myself,” Collins said. “They were telling me to make sure I don’t make a decision based off what everyone else has to say, make a decision for me and go where I am the most comfortable and feel I am setting myself up to be the most successful.”

Collins played guard and tackle the last two seasons for the Hurricanes. This past fall was the most successful in school history. Amherst finished the regular season 8-0, then beat Easthampton and West Springfield to win the Western Massachusetts Division 5 championship.

The Hurricanes beat Northbridge, 28-0, in the state semifinals. They lost 21-0 to Swampscott in the Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. They became the first football team from Hampshire County to play in the state Super Bowl under the current playoff format.

Collins’ announcement came during the same week Gov. Charlie Baker announced that students will remain in remote learning for the remainder of the school year. Other senior activities, like graduation, are canceled.

“It being a big milestone to be able to walk across the stage, for us to not be able to have that hurts,” Collins said. “At the same time I still feel proud of what we accomplished.”

PALMER RESIGNS — Northampton cross country and track & field coach Brandon Palmer has resigned from coaching the Blue Devils. Palmer informed administration, fellow coaches and athletes of his decision on Wednesday.

Palmer has plans to take a master’s class at Smith College and coach the Pioneers in track & field.

Palmer had intended to tell his Blue Devils near the end of the spring outdoor track & field season, but the news of permanent remote learning pushed that announcement forward.

“The hardest part is that this year we don’t have any closer for the (spring) season,” Palmer said. “I feel terrible for the seniors, too. It’s one of those things that I wanted to pass that threshold with them. At least we finished everything together as champions, which is what everyone aspires for.”

Palmer coached both boys and girls over the past eight years. He has helped guide the teams to several championships over all three seasons. The Northampton boys won the sectional cross country championship in the fall and the PVIAC indoor track championship in the winter.

“He built us up a lot,” senior Tobias L’Esperance said. “We didn’t start off that great but he kept pounding us with the miles and the workouts and it paid off. He means a lot to all of us. He’s been a significant part of our lives.”

L’Esperance said the team understood his decision.

“He has ambitions. He’s young, He wants to move up,” L’Esperance said. “We’re glad that he stayed for our four years. We feel bad for the younger classes for having lost him but there aren’t any hard feelings. We’re glad we had him for the time we did.”

Palmer was thankful for the senior class.

“These kids, I know them at a personal level,” he said. “They inspired me to be the best coach I could be.”

MBCA AWARDS — The Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Association announced its All-Academic teams on Tuesday.

The following local athletes were recognized:

West girls: Sydney Lewandowski, Northampton; Kayla Roy, Easthampton; Destiny Calderon, Holyoke; Carolyn Kowal-Safron, Hopkins Academy; Julia Frappier, Granby.

West boys: Tyler Grissom, Belchertown; Hunter Klingensmith, Belchertown; Sean Sabourin, Easthampton.

The following local athletes were named to the All-Sectional teams:

West girls: Amanda Mieczkowski, Northampton; Caroline Tanner, Northampton; Alison Kowal-Safron, Hopkins Academy; Nora Young, Granby.

West boys: Jake Brittain, Northampton.

Young was named the West Girls Player of the Year.

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com. Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.

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