Annual football game caps UMass spring practice

  • Ross Comis, center, shown during the 2015 spring game, said the Minutemen were eager for Friday’s edition. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • UMass coach Mark Whipple was pleased with his team’s progress during the spring. AP FILE PHOTO

@MattVautourDHG
Published: 4/14/2016 9:33:39 PM

AMHERST — A year ago at the annual spring football game, UMass coach Mark Whipple held out a lot of his marquee names.

He already knew what Blake Frohnapfel, Tajae Sharpe and Jovan Santos-Knox could do and wanted to see what his younger, less established charges were capable of.

Looking back, he’s not sure that was the right call. So at the 2016 spring game at 7 p.m. Friday at McGuirk Stadium, everybody who is healthy enough to suit up will.

“Hindsight is 20-20. I don’t know if I did the right thing there,” Whipple said. “We’re going to let them all go.”

Even if he’d kept the same philosophy as last year, it wouldn’t have been as obvious who to hold out as many of last year’s biggest contributors graduated. This spring was the first step for many former role players to move toward becoming marquee names.

Whipple liked the improvement from the start of spring practice to the finish.

“It was really good. They worked hard and got better. It’s a work in progress but they’re going in the right directions,” he said. “They’ve competed on both sides. ... It’s been our best spring. They’ve come to work every day and had some fun. There’s been a lot of improvement, a lot better communication.”

Shane Huber, who was among the stars of last year’s spring game, was impressed with the group’s development.

“It’s been a great spring. A lot of new faces, new installments and things of that nature. It was good to be back out on the field,” said Huber, who begins his junior year in the fall. “The spring is always about improving fundamentals. We had a lot of guys stepping into new roles. It was important to get guys in there and get a taste of the defense and college football in general.”

Ross Comis, who’ll be a sophomore in the fall, agreed.

“From the first practice, we definitely got a lot better,” he said. “Leading up to this Friday everyone is excited.”

As they did last year, Whipple and defensive coordinator Tom Masella will hand over their duties to some of the staff’s younger coaches and watch from the sidelines. The coaches split the squad into Team Maroon and Team White via a draft.

“Now the trash talk starts,” said Comis, the Maroon QB.

“There’s going to be a lot of competition. There’s already a lot of chatter in the locker room in a fun way,” said Huber, who’ll lead the White linebackers. “This year it’s going to be a little more competitive. All the starters are playing. Even the young guys will get a shot out there. It’ll be fun to see both ends of that spectrum.”

There is more than bragging rights on the line. The winning team gets T-shirts.

“Always nice to get a free piece of gear,” Huber said.

SURROUNDING EVENTS — There will be a youth clinic from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. and a barbecue for season-ticket holders at 5:30 p.m.

The youth clinic, which will be conducted by UMass coaches and players, is free for kids ages 5-13, but requires registration by either calling (978-430-9199) or emailing (alevine@umass.edu) Allie Levine.

The barbecue will be held in a tent underneath the south end zone scoreboard.

Tailgating lots open at 4 p.m.

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




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