Signing Day Notebook: UMass football adjusts to digital recruiting

  • UMass Head Coach Walt Bell addressed the Minutemen’s latest recruiting class Thursday. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/17/2020 5:51:01 PM
Modified: 12/17/2020 5:50:50 PM

Technology played a major factor in assembling the UMass football team’s latest recruiting class.

Walt Bell and his staff stopped being able to go on the road in late January. That meant they had to do most of their recruiting in the same way many people worked in 2020 — from home and over the internet.

“You’ve got more of a captive audience to build relationships,” Bell said. “The hard thing is especially somebody like myself that grew up in the South, you shake hands. There’s something very special about having the ability to put your arms around people and see how they operate around their own parents and around people that can’t do anything for them, how they treat others. We missed a little bit of that.”

Without visits, camps or, for some even a senior season, UMass relied on film study to evaluate players and focused on the character of its recruits. 

“You try to spend more time and make the best educated decision you can,” Bell said. “You’ve got to make the most of it.”

UMass quickly transitioned to a  visit model. The players left camps in late March, and within a week, potential recruits could take facility tours, campus tours and access educational information.

“Any and everything you’d do on an official visit we were able to do virtually to educate these guys as much as humanly possible,” Bell said.

LEAVING SPACE FOR TRANSFERS – UMass has 10 remaining scholarships for the 2021 class. Bell expects to fill between four and six of them on National Signing Day in early February, but there will be a couple spots left open for potential transfers.

There are currently about 800 players in the NCAA’s transfer portal. Bell said more will filter in after the regular season ends and following spring practices. Many Group of 5 teams like UMass added between 15 and 20 players. Western Kentucky signed one player to maintain maximum flexibility.

“There’s going to be an advantage to having spots available. Where do you fit on that spectrum?” Bell said. “You don’t have as much time to build it the traditional way so you’ll see guys take more risks.”

CHANGE IN THE AIR? – One change forced by the pandemic that may stick around: a reduced spring recruiting period, at least for programs like UMass.

“In the future you’ll see a lot less travel in the spring. College administrators have realized that’s a huge cost we can survive without,” Bell said. “Places that like to save money will use that going forward. I could see the spring recurring calendar getting smaller and staying that way.”

NO FALL NO PROBLEM? – Many members of UMass’ recruiting class have yet to play a senior football season. Among Northeastern states, only New Jersey had a fall football season. That may require some catching up once they arrive on campus.

“It may be a little more specific to this geographic region after a lot of the schools up here chose not to play,” Bell said. “The biggest thing for me is we’re exited to get ’em whenever and however we can.”

Between six and eight players from the class will be early enrollees and on campus by the spring, Bell said.

“It’s a huge advantage. That three months is an advantage of itself,” Bell said. “As many guys as we can get here at mid term, you love to do that.”

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