UMass football: Larnel Coleman, Josh Wallace use experience to help teammates

  • University of Massachusetts offensive linemen freshman Helber Fagundes, left, and redshirt junior Larnel Coleman take the line of scrimmage against Coastal Carolina in the second quarter of the Minutemen's 62-28 loss to the visiting Chanticleers at McGuirk Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • UMass defensive back Josh Wallace, left, is shown during a game last season. COURTESY UMASS ATHLETICS/TOM MORRIS

  • UMass sophomore center Dalton Tomlison, and linemen freshman Helber Fagundes and redshirt junior Larnel Coleman, right, set for a snap in the second quarter against Coastal Carolina in Amherst on Sept. 21, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Sports Editor
Published: 10/7/2020 7:41:27 PM

Josh Wallace and Larnel Coleman didn’t have to go far to see how it’s done.

Both players entered the UMass football program and immediately had a front row seat to witness what being a college player is all about.

In Wallace’s case, it was cornerback Isaiah Rodgers. For Coleman, it was offensive tackle Elijah Wilkinson.

Rodgers and Wilkinson are both in the NFL. Rodgers is a rookie cornerback with the Indianapolis Colts, while Wilkinson is a veteran right tackle on injured reserve with the Denver Broncos.

Wallace and Coleman are in a position now where their predecessors once stood. As leaders on and off the field, both players are taking what they have learned and passing it on to their younger teammates.

Coleman was a true freshman in 2016, sitting the year out and studying under Wilkinson during his final year with the Minutemen. The 6-foot-7, 300-pound redshirt senior, who is on the Outland Trophy Watch List (top interior lineman in FBS), still remembers the lessons Wilkinson passed on.

“One of the biggest things I learned from him is how to kick step,” Coleman said. (A kick step is when a tackle throws his leg back and slides backwards to protect a quarterback from a pass-rusher.) “Going into college I didn’t even know what that was. He’s helped me with my pass ball, get a lot of the basic things, like set angles. He’s really helped me out in that aspect. I try to teach a lot of the younger guys some of the same things he taught me with body positions.”

While Wallace doesn’t have the seniority that Coleman possesses, the sophomore cornerback still brings the most experience to the secondary.

“Isaiah had a big impact on me. Me coming in as a freshman last year, he basically played that big brother role for me,” Wallace said. “I’m trying to take on that leadership role that he took last year. … I’m just trying to find my way, trying to improve as being a leader as well.”

Like Coleman, Wallace remembers what Rodgers taught him.

“For me personally, last year coming in Isaiah was pretty good at press bailing and it was a new technique for me because I wasn’t very comfortable with it,” Wallace said. (Press bailing is when a corner turns his hips to the field rather than being square at the line and “bails out” to see a play develop on the snap.) “This offseason I was really working on my press bail and I feel I’m much better than last year at press bail. That’s one of the techniques I learned from him.”

Wallace said at this point the secondary is trying to get on the same page.

“We got a lot of young guys, freshmen coming in that are going to get a lot of snaps for us,” he said. “It’s more of a mental thing. We’re still all trying to jell with each other, get communication down, but everything is going well.”

A few freshmen have stood out to Wallace.

Safety Te’Rai Powell: “He comes down and hits people,” Wallace said.

Defensive backs Tristan Armstrong and Cody Jones: “They’re really good, more advanced than I was as a freshman,” he added.

None are individually trying to replace Rodgers, who led UMass with four interceptions and 10 pass breakups.

“Everyone has a chance to make a play,” Wallace said. “It’s always a 50-50 ball when the ball is in the air. Basically, anybody that makes an opportunity I’m going to celebrate, congratulate my teammate.”

Wallace doesn’t see himself as a teacher with his unit.

“At the end of the day it’s just football,” he said. “It’s not really a teaching thing, it’s more of just recognizing formations and getting signals to the far-side safety and make sure we don’t have any busts in the secondary.”

Coleman sees himself as a teacher.

“I have to use my experience with them, show them a lot of positions that I’ve been in so that when they happen to get in a position like that they don’t have to worry,” Coleman said.

Coleman said he is trying to make his linemates comfortable.

“We got a lot of young guys stepping into some bigger roles on the offensive line, so really making sure that transition for them is really seamless, so it’s not like they feel any added pressure that they are already feeling,” he said. “They have to know, especially from the older guys, that we got your back.”

Several linemen have impressed Coleman.

Redshirt freshman Max Longman: “He’s played every snap like it’s his last. He’s balling out.”

Freshman Jonny Hassard: “Real aggressive guy. He’s gained some more weight … but he balls out every practice.”

Left guard junior transfer Reggie Marks III: “He’s impressing me in how he’s come in and fit in that role. It’s really been good.”

Coleman has seen a lot of progress from the entire line this fall.

“We’re going to be more prepared from a mental standpoint,” he said. “I feel like we know our plays more, we’re more confident in play calling and I think it’s going to help us produce more, get a lot of movement up front.”

Like Wilkinson before him, Coleman is out to set an example.

“Knowing that people look up to me is definitely a motivational thing,” he said. “It helps me get through practice, especially for me, it really gets me going, my self determination. I just want to make sure I’m doing everything as best as possible and let my actions speak for themselves.”

FIRST GAME — During his virtual press conference on Wednesday, UMass coach Walt Bell said UMass Athletic Director has “alluded” to Oct. 17 as a starting date. Bell added that no official starting date has been giving and no opponent has officially been announced.

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

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