Larnel Coleman established as leader on UMass offensive line

  • UMass offensive lineman Larnel Coleman during the first practice of the season, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass offensive lineman Larnel Coleman during the first practice of the season, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass offensive lineman Larnel Coleman during the first practice of the season, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/7/2019 9:20:04 PM

AMHERST — Walt Bell interrupted the question before it could even be finished.

“Larnel Coleman will be a starter for us,” Bell said without any hesitation after spring practice concluded.

Very few players had earned the right to be a starter after the spring game in April, but Coleman deservedly won his spot. Last season was about adjusting for the redshirt junior, going from a rotational lineman to being the starter at right tackle. But by the end of the year, he started to become an anchor for the Minutemen on the offensive line.

That progression has carried through the spring — earning that declaration from Bell — and he has only solidified that spot with a strong start to training camp at left tackle.

“Watching Larnel since he got here, the jumps that he’s made have been crazy to me,” redshirt senior center/guard Mike Yerardi said. “He’s impressed me in so many different ways. He’s stepped up and become a leader and doing a great job. I’m excited to see what he does this year because he really came into his own toward the end of last season, so it’s exciting to see what he brings to the table.”

Coleman said his 12 games as a starter last year were invaluable to the jump he’s taken under Bell and new offensive line coaches Jim Jackson and Micah James. He said he learned a lot of patience last season and that has inspired the confidence that he can be a lockdown tackle for UMass.

“It definitely had to start last year just being able to start and gain that experience and confidence in myself to really perform at the level I need to for this team,” Coleman said last week. “It just helped me so much and coming into this new year, I just know I have what it takes to be that tackle for this team.”

Less comfortable for Coleman is being thrust into a leadership role for the Minutemen with so many young players in the offensive line room. Many of those inexperienced linemen will play this season and Coleman is one of the stronger voices in the locker room.

Although he might not be a natural leader, he said he’s been aided by how open and eager his teammates are to learn from him.

“I’ve always been a quiet kid so growing into a leader has been kind of a weird position for me,” Coleman said. “But at the same time, it’s been a comfortable transition, too. They’ll listen to what I’ve got to say and they’re really supportive. Filling into that leadership role hasn’t been too hard, it’s been kind of easy to fit into that.”

RUN IT UP — The depth at offensive line will be important given the high-octane nature of Bell’s offense. The tempo could potentially take a toll on the offensive line, already among the slower players on the team. However, the linemen have looked more capable of handling the pace of practices this fall than they did in the spring.

Asked how the linemen prepared for Bell’s tempo requirements, Coleman said the group worked hard this offseason to get into better shape to execute the game plan.

“(We’ve been) drinking a lot of water,” Coleman said with a smile. “Other than that, just conditioning really. We’re running everywhere, just a lot of that, so it’s helped us get into the right shape to be for the season coming up.”

REST OF THE BUNCH — The only other confirmed starter for the Minutemen along the offensive line is Ray Thomas-Ishman, who has moved back inside to left guard after two seasons at tackle. The change has created a strong left side of the line, but it will put more pressure on whoever wins the starting jobs on the right side.

Yerardi and redshirt sophomore Jaylen Larry are battling at center, although Yerardi could still start at right guard, too, given his versatility. The Cohasset native came to UMass as a center, but transitioned to guard under the previous staff and played in 31 games, including five starts last season.

He said he’s enjoyed the switch back to center, but is perfectly comfortable heading back to guard to help the team.

“I love playing center because you get to lead the ship and kind of be the guy,” Yerardi said. “That’s something I’ve started becoming this year and I’ve really progressed over the spring until now in that sense. I really like the center position, but if they needed me to play guard, I’ve got no problem with that.”

The battles at right guard and right tackle are far more fluid. So far, it’s been either redshirt sophomore Brian Abosi or junior college transfer Bryce Wade taking snaps at right tackle the past few practices with the first-team unit. The rotation at right guard has consisted of true freshman Helber Fagundes, redshirt freshman Parker Ogle and redshirt sophomore Brian Sullivan.

Josh Walfish can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at

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