UMass football notebook: Minutemen open spring practice ‘not starting from scratch’

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 03-28-2023 1:32 PM

AMHERST — Familiarity brought focus in the UMass football team’s first spring practice of 2023.

The Minutemen opened the session in the indoor practice bubble Wednesday. They’ll practice 13 more times ahead of the April 29 spring game.

“You know what’s nice when you’re at a place and you’re in your second year? Guys kind of know what to do so that you’re not starting from scratch every snap drawing in the sand,” UMass head coach Don Brown said. “We’ve got some guys that can actually function it, and, to be honest, I think most of them have a plan. So it's a good thing.”

On the field that translates to speed and precision. The ball found receivers in stride before they broke their routes. Defensive backs jumped into spaces. Running backs cut back effectively for big gains.

“It’s way better than last year,” UMass corner Josh Wallace said. “It’s moving much faster.”

The Minutemen hope that a strong start in the spring can put them in a better position in the fall, especially after a second consecutive 1-11 season. But they aren’t dwelling on history.

“It’s easy to put it away. You’ve got to move on, can’t be looking back,” Wallace said. “Coach Brown always says, ‘you live in the past, you die in the present.’”

UMass’ present is upbeat and energized. Brown and his staff’s challenge, which they share with the team, is to maintain that energy both throughout spring ball and into fall camp and the season.

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“Just same juice, same energy, same high level,” Brown said. “I put up our energy, our effort level, the way we go about doing business with anybody in the east, so now we’ve just got to prove it.” 

UNDER CENTER – Only one of the four quarterbacks that UMass used last season remains in contention to start — sophomore Brady Olson. Gino Campiotti switched to tight end, Zamar Wise moved back to receiver and Garrett Dzuro graduated.

Olson’s joined in the quarterback room by a pair of transfers in redshirt senior Carlos Davis (Western Carolina) and redshirt junior Taisun Phommachanh (Georgia Tech via Clemson) and freshman Ahmad Haston (Royal Palm Beach, Fla.).

“We’ve got four good quarterbacks that have a clue,” Brown said. “They're working hard, they're doing everything right. They do everything together. When we were in the mat room the four of them would line up together. They were going every rep together. It wasn't as much about, ‘I gotta whip his a**,’ which at the end of the day somebody's got to win [the job], but they work together. That's a positive.”

Brown would like to have a quarterback rise above and take the job by the end of the spring but isn’t demanding it.

“I don’t feel like we have to. It’d be nice if we had multiple quarterbacks playing well,” Brown said.

‘WISE WORDS’ – Offensive lineman Cole Garcia, a Rice transfer, addressed the team after Tuesday’s practice. He used the running game as a metaphor for team improvement, glorifying the small runs that build up to big gainers.

Brown took the idea to have players address each other after practice from Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who he coached under for four years in Ann Arbor.

“I like to see the players deliver the message, because leadership — true leadership — comes from within,” Brown said.

REID’S RETURN – Former UMass head coach Jim Reid, who also served as the program’s defensive analyst in 2020-21 and held various roles from the 1970s to early 90s, returned to Amherst once more. He’ll serve as Brown’s lead scout and use his defensive acumen to aid the Minutemen on both sides of the ball.

“I saw a chance for us to get a defensive coach that understands how to coach major college defense, but put them over with the offensive guys to give them a different voice,” Brown said. “As good as a football coach he is, he’s a great man, too. I’m glad he’s with us.”

COLOR SWAP – The UMass defense wore white jerseys, while the offense donned maroon ones. That’s a change from last season when the offense was in the home white’s and defense wore maroon. The Minutemen also switched their quarterback non-contact jerseys to yellow as opposed to black.

“Our equipment guys switched it up,” Brown said. “There’s one thing I’m considering doing, but I want to see if I can do it first.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>