UMass football notebook: Walt Bell finds inspiration from Greg Carvel, UMass hockey

  • Defensive back Bryce Watts, a transfer from North Carolina, brings big-game experience to UMass. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/14/2021 8:20:49 PM

Walt Bell was hired the same day the UMass hockey team first became the No. 1 team in the nation. He watched his first hockey game two days later when the Minutemen hosted Quinnipiac in a sold-out top-10 matchup.

“Everything coach Carvel has done since he’s been here, it’s been a hard road for him. He’s been incredibly helpful to me sharing what he went through his first two years and the struggles he’s had,” Bell said.

Over the ensuing few years, Bell and UMass hockey coach Greg Carvel often talked about culture and how to build a program. Bell was one of the hockey team’s loudest cheerleaders within the athletic department during the championship run.

“To see the final culmination of one night, one time, the best in the world, there’s very few people on this planet that will ever have that feeling,” Bell said. “To go and watch that championship celebration, just chills knowing you work your entire life to have a chance to do that and watch someone that’s close to you and watched somebody that has elevated this university, to watch them achieve that is unbelievable to see.”

In their conversations together, Carvel found Bell to be a kindred spirit. Both came to UMass with visions of how to build programs and an affinity for valuing good people over all else.

“I really like Walt. I don’t know football, I know people. I think Walt’s the right man for the job. He was hired two years ago, the day we were ranked No. 1 in the first time in the history of the program, and my AD tried to upstage us by hiring the football coach. I always gave him a hard time for that,” Carvel said. “The first conversation I had with him on that day, he went right to culture. We instantly hit it off. I have a lot of respect for Walt. It’s an uphill battle wit the football program, but I think the right man’s in charge over there.”

Bell has found qualities in Carvel he thinks he can apply to his own program. He’s impressed by Carvel’s ability to always be himself and bring that level of consistency to his work on a daily basis.

“Hearing Greg tell stories about how bad it was when he got here and the fight they’ve had to become the best hockey program in the country, and the fight and the perseverance  and the toughness to stay consistent when things aren’t going your way. When your message is the message and it stays the same, the consistency day in and day out,” Bell said. “(Carvel’s) got very talented players. He’s got professionals on that team. Not only does he have real good players, he’s built an unbelievable foundation and a standard that everyone, no matter your skill level, you have to abide by.”

Bell intends to continue to support other programs’ success. He views it as a rising tide raising all ships.

“Every chance that we get to elevate this brand, we know we’re a top-25 public school in this country. We’ve got everything you need here,” he said. “Any time anybody’s succeeding at a high level, watching anyone have success on this campus benefits everyone.”

WATTS CHARGES UP DEFENSIVE BACK CORPS – Redshirt sophomore defensive Bryce Watts will bring ACC experience and ACC speed to a defensive corps that will face three ACC teams this season. The Minutemen open the year at Pittsburgh on Sept. 4 before their home opener against Boston College a week later, then UMass will travel to Florida State on Oct. 23.

“He’s played a majority of people in that league as a young player, that will be big,” Bell said.

Watts started his career at Virginia Tech in 2017 and played in 25 games in two years for the Hokies. After sitting out the 2019 season due to the NCAA transfer policy, he opted out of the 2020 season with the Tar Heels.

Watts is a shutdown cover corner with long arms.

“I pride myself on my man coverage. I feel like I can guard anybody,” he said. “Being that I’ve played in the ACC and played against Power 5 schools, I know their techniques, what they’re going to bring to the table. I know the speed of the game.”

The Toms River, N.J., native can also apply that speed to the return game. He brought back kicks and punts as a Hokie, and Bell plans to give him a look at returner for UMass. Watts said he ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash as a senior in high school and has brought that down to 4.3 since. He also added bulk since arrived in Amherst, increasing his weight from 164 pounds to 183 to stand up better in run coverage.

Watts played running back in high school and has used that experience throughout his college career to understand what offenses are doing.

“I’ve always liked defense more even though I was better at offense in high school, I took pride in defense more,” he said.

The defensive backfield will be one of UMass’ most competitive positions. The Minutemen only had eight players in the room last season but have increased the numbers to 16.

“We’ve got guys fighting and clawing every single day to get on the field,” Bell said.

That’s just fine with Watts.

“Practice here is way more intense than at UNC,” Watts said. “I love coming to work every day.”

STEP INTO THE SUNSHINE – After spending its first three practice days in the bubble, UMass moved outdoor to McGuirk Alumni Stadium last Thursday. The Minutemen have practiced in the morning all spring, which is a move Bell has been wanting to make since he took over. They start the first team activity at 7:15 a.m. then practice from 8:15-10:15. It allows him to see the players before they start the day and for the staff to feed them twice: a calorie intake before practice and a brunch after it ends.

“I like to get the kids first thing in the morning. I like to get to them before their day has started,” Bell said. “It’s beautiful outside right now.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter

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