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Notebook: Culture prevails for UMass in Walt Bell’s first win as coach

  • University of Massachusetts head coach Walt Bell greets his players coming off the field in the second quarter of the Minutemen's 37-29 win over Akron at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts freshman wide receiver Jermaine "OC" Johnson Jr., pursued by Shawn Featherstone of Akron, takes a 21-yard reception to the Zips' 14-yard line in the second quarter of the Minutemen's 37-29 win at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The University of Massachusetts sideline erupts as the Minutemen's third-string quarterback, redshirt senior Michael Curtis, runs out of bounds after gaining 20 yards on a keeper early in the Minutemen's 37-29 win over Akron at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts junior wide receiver Cam Roberson (23) celebrates a touchdown reception by sophomore Samuel Emilus, right, in the first quarter of the Minutemen's 37-29 win over Akron at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The University of Massachusetts Minutemen enter Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium for a game against the University of Akron on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/28/2019 10:47:41 PM

AMHERST — Walt Bell didn’t look like a coach who had just won his first game.

When asked about how it felt for the 35-year-old to record his first win as a head coach, Bell went stonefaced and simply replied, “it’s what we’re supposed to do.” But Saturday’s 37-29 triumph over Akron was anything but ordinary for Bell, who had to suspend six players for the game on Friday after they violated curfew the previous night.

Throughout the rough four losses to begin the season, Bell has stayed focused on building a culture at UMass rather than getting caught up emotionally in the early results. And in victory, Bell remained the same, focusing more about what the win means for the program as a whole and what it teaches the players on the team.

“Culture wins,” Bell said. “It doesn’t matter the individuals out there. It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is, doesn’t matter who the left tackle is, doesn’t matter who the nose guard is, doesn’t matter who the corner is. The expectation is for how we perform as a football team, it’s not about one guy. (The win), hopefully more than anything else, is a great teacher for our roster that it’s not about me, it’s not about I. As long as our kids continue to work and continue to improve and as a football staff as long as we continue to recruit and continue to stay positive and continue to build this roster, we’re going to have great potential to do things that have never been done here before.”

CURTIS ON THE SPOT — Saturday’s win moved Michael Curtis’ record to 2-0 as a UMass starting quarterback, and both victories came in similar situations.

Last year, the redshirt senior was forced into action for a win over Charlotte after injuries to Ross Comis and Andrew Ford. This season, it was a suspension to Randall West and a concussion for Andrew Brito that opened the door for Curtis to start.

The difference is last year Curtis had a full week of preparation as the starter heading into the game, but only had a little more than 24 hours notice this year.

“Everyone got the news pretty suddenly and from that moment forward, it’s just getting in that mindset of being ready to go,” Curtis said. “It’s not a thing where now you have to get prepared, you always stay prepared throughout these last four or five weeks and when your number’s called, you go out and do your job.”

QB COMPETITION — Bell was non-committal about his quarterback moving forward after the Curtis-led offense looked as explosive as any the Minutemen have looked all season.

Curtis was dropped to third on the depth chart out of fall camp behind Andrew Brito and Randall West, and only played Saturday because both of them were unavailable. Yet his performance – completing 17 of 31 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns and 65 yards rushing and another score on 10 carries – didn’t merit Bell from declaring him the starter for next week at Florida International.

“We’ll see, we still have to go in there and watch the tape,” Bell said. “We’ll get in there and whoever the best guy is, that’s the guy who’s going to play.”

THE SUSPENDED SIX — Among the six players suspended for Saturday’s game were four highly respected redshirt senior leaders. Bell said he still has a lot of love for the six players – Mike Caggiano, Will Connery, Adam Deese, Kyle Horn, Randall West and Mike Yerardi – but that it was important for him that he continue to enforce the standards he has for the program. He added he hopes the suspensions are a lesson for the future about what is expected and how those who fall short will be punished.

“Those are probably six of my favorite kids on this football team,” Bell said. “At the end of the day, those six kids have done as good a job as anybody in this program of trying to do what we ask you to do. ... But when we come in here and we talk about things as a family and the expectations we have as a program, you have to live up to it. I love those kids, they made a poor choice, it’s something I’m sure was a great lesson for our team moving forward and for our culture moving forward about the expectation and preparation and how we get ready for a game.”

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