National signing day: UMass football strengthens receiver, defensive back units

  • UMass head coach Mark Whipple shouts in a play during his team’s loss to Boston College at Gillette Stadium last season. GAZETTE STAFF/FILE

  • UMass coach Mark Whipple watches his team warm up before 2014 game against Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. AP

  • Cole McCubrey, left, is a 6-foot, 225-pound linebacker from West Boylston. The last Minuteman from that town, Emil Igwenagu, played in the NFL. Courtesy Worcester Telegram

  • Recruit Brian Abosi, who went to St. John’s (Shrewsbury) before taking a postgraduate season at Worcester Academy, is UMass’ tallest player at 6-foot-8. Courtesy Worcester Telegram

  • Jake Byczko, right, is a 6-foot-3, 240-pound defensive lineman from Auburn who played at Lawrence Academy. He originally committed to UConn but switched to UMass. Courtesy Worcester Telegram

  • Jake Byzko signed his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday, committing to the UMass football program. Courtesy Worcester Telegram

Published: 2/1/2017 5:08:19 PM

The UMass football team ended the day with a lot more defensive backs and wide receivers than it started with. The Minutemen added several of both as part of their 2017 recruiting class on national signing day Wednesday.

In addition to the nine players who are already on campus, UMass announced 13 more for a class of 22. Among the group are four wide receivers, five defensive backs and one athlete who could end up playing either DB or WR.

“We got a little more length, and, obviously, we needed some more speed and size. We did that,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. “We wanted to get some size in the wideouts. We know Andy Isabella (5-foot-9) is a really good player. We think Brennon Dingle (5-9) is going to be a good player, and Sadiq Palmer (6-1) proved he could play. We wanted some taller guys.

At defensive back “we needed bigger guys,” he continued. “There’s so many spread offenses we’re playing. We haven’t had enough 6-footers who could play corner and be physical and play in the nickel.”

The Minutemen signed seven players listed as three-star (out of five) recruits by 247Sports, scooping up players late who had previously been committed elsewhere.

Cornerback Chris Hunt (6-1, 177 pounds) was originally committed to West Virginia. The Virginia Beach, Virginia, native made his announcement Tuesday.

“I chose UMass because they have a good education,” Hunt told 247Sports. “Their football program is family-oriented and an equal opportunity to all, no favoritism.”

ESPN’s recruiting evaluated him as follows:

“Hunt is a player with raw positional skills and solid physical traits. His traits show upside at both CB and S though at this point, CB is his closest in terms of contributions. Will need the coaching and time to develop though he has the upside worthy of an opportunity as a Power 5 prospect.”

Claudin Cherelus is a 6-2, 198-pound safety from Naples, Florida, who had been committed to Minnesota.

“He brings a physical presence to our defensive backfield. I’m very excited to have him,” UMass coach and recruiting coordinator Charles Walker said.

ESPN’s evaluation of him was: “Cherelus is a long and athletic safety with versatility. Has raw positional skills and will need to grow into his body. Once he fills out and continues to play with his current physicality, Cherelus can impact in run support and be a threat in the back end. With development in coverage, he has a chance to become a solid Power 5 prospect.”

Brian Roberts had previously committed to Central Michigan and Middle Tennessee before signing with UMass. The 5-11, 182-pound safety from Florida could eventually be a linebacker according to ESPN:

“Roberts is an undersized linebacker with speed and physicality. Best upside is as a 4-3 weakside linebacker to utilize those traits but will most likely start his career at safety. Needs to develop his size, strength, footwork and skills in coverage to be effective at the next level as a safety. Has excellent special teams value.”

Florida product Jesse Britt is a 5-10, 177-pound athlete who originally committed to Arizona. According to ESPN: “Britt is smaller than most would prefer but does have some tools. Most likely will be an exciting player for a mid-major program.”

Chinedu Ogbonna had offers from Tennessee and Minnesota, and had originally committed to Indiana, but on signing day the 6-3, 210-pound Marietta, Georgia, linebacker chose UMass.

“Chinedu is a hybrid linebacker who is extremely physical. Looking forward to him doing big things here at UMass,” said UMass assistant coach Steve Costello, who was point man in Ogbonna’s recruiting.

Tyler Hayes was a late addition for UMass. His letter of intent didn’t come until the middle of UMass’ signing day show on ESPN3. The 6-foot, 214-pound safety played with UMass safety Teddy Lowery at Tyler Junior College in Texas in 2015.

Junior college receiver Jacoby Herring (6-5, 180) is from Moreno, California, and had 49 catches for 787 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016 for Riverside Community College. He could be a potential impact player right away.

Linebacker Michael Ruane, who is already enrolled, was also a three-star recruit according to 247Sports. The rest of UMass’ recruits were classified as two-star players.

UMass has added considerable depth to its wide receiver ranks. In addition to Herring and Patrick Volcy (6-3, 197), who enrolled last week, the Minutemen signed two more with good size, including one with a good nickname.

Jy’Von “Silky” Brown is a 6-4, 190-pound wideout from New Jersey, while Melvin Hill (6-3, 195) is a rare signee from Alabama.

The Minutemen have had a lot of success with central Massachusetts players over the course of program history. They added three more Wednesday.

Brian Abosi, who went to St. John’s (Shrewsbury) before taking a postgraduate season at Worcester Academy, is the class’ tallest player at 6-8. But, as an offensive lineman, he’ll likely redshirt to give him time to add weight to his 290-pound frame.

Jake Byczko is a 6-3, 240-pound defensive lineman from Auburn who played at Lawrence Academy. He originally committed to UConn but switched to UMass.

Cole McCubrey is a 6-foot, 225-pound linebacker from West Boylston. The last Minuteman from that town, Emil Igwenagu, played in the NFL.

The fourth Bay State product announced was Hunter Brown, a 6-foot, 275-pound defensive lineman from Lynnfield. He played for former NFL quarterback Brian St. Pierre at St. John’s Prep (Danvers). St. Pierre played for the Pittsburgh Steelers when Whipple was an assistant coach there.

Ramapo, New Jersey’s Chris DiTommaso (6-4, 275) will try to add to the legacy of his last name. His father Peter and uncle Frank were all-Yankee Conference players in 1979 and 1980.

Caeleb Washington added to UMass’ haul in Floridian talent and defensive line depth. The 6-3, 260-pound Melbourne product was one of four D-linemen to sign.

Whipple’s recruiting efforts in California helped land Xavier Steele, a 5-11, 176-pound cornerback.

Notably absent from the updated UMass roster are running backs Sekai Lindsay, who has seen action each of the last two seasons, and Peytton Pickett, who redshirted as a true freshman. They are no longer with the program.

“We’ve got some things going with some running backs,” Whipple said. “We like some of our young guys. There’s some guys who might switch over.”

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR UP NEXT — With recruiting mostly complete, Whipple said he’d shift his focus toward replacing defensive coordinator Tom Masella, who was fired last month.

“I’m interviewing. A couple guys on staff, and there’s some other people I’m talking with,” Whipple said. “That’s the focus after today. We’re being patient. A lot of people have called.”

SPRING GAME GUESTS — Whipple said retiring ESPN announcer Chris Berman would be a guest coach at the team’s April 20th spring game. Whipple and Berman are friends. Whipple was hoping UMass alum and Tennessee Titans receiver Tajae Sharpe would also be a guest coach.

Matt Vautour can be reached at Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at

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