Signing day: Don Brown brings balance of transfers & high school prospects to UMass football

  • Don Brown, the new head coach of the University of Massachusetts football program, answers questions during a press conference at his introduction in the Martin Jacobson Football Performance Center in Amherst on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Brown was defensive coordinator on the Minutemen's 1998 Division 1-AA national championship team. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 2/2/2022 5:23:16 PM
Modified: 2/2/2022 5:21:50 PM

Phase 1 is nearly complete.

The UMass football program signed 14 players Wednesday during National Signing Day, adding to the nine-member class brought on during December’s early signing period. Of those 23 players, 13 enrolled early and are already on campus.

“On both sides of the ball we’re looking for guys that can run,” UMass coach Don Brown said. “We’ll sacrifice a little size for speed.”

Eight are transfers from other Division I programs, seven leaving Power 5 schools. The high school players will arrive from as far as California and Florida, but New England will also be well-represented. The class skews toward the defensive side of the ball with 14 players, six of whom are defensive backs.

“We felt like we needed to bolster our roster,” Brown said. “We identified some needs on both sides of the ball and just attacked it.”

Defensive back Tyler Rudolph (Penn State) and defensive tackle Marcus Bradley (Vanderbilt) were both four-star recruits out of high school.

Rudolph, a Waterbury, Conn., native, played in four games for the Nittany Lions last season as a redshirt sophomore and made six tackles. He played for UMass recruiting coordinator Jeff Moore at St. Thomas More in Connecticut

Bradley was one of the nation’s top-200 prospects leaving Quince Orchard High School in Maryland and was invited to the Under Armour All-America Game.

George Johnson III played defensive back in Brown’s defense at Michigan before Brown left for Arizona last year, but he’s joining the Minutemen as a wide receiver. The former three-star recruit played quarterback in high school at Martin County in Stuart, Fla. 

Defensive tackle Tyson Watson redshirted last season at Michigan State. The Roseville, Mich., native was rated the No. 1 strong side defensive end in Michigan coming out of high school. The former three-star recruit was one of the state’s top-25 prospects.

UMass grabbed two transfers from Rutgers: linebacker Zukudo Igwenagu and defensive back Darius Gooden.

Igwenagu’s cousin Emil played for the Minutemen from 2008-11. At Rutgers, the Worcester native was a tight end and largely played on special teams. He was the top-rated prospect in Massachusetts by Rivals and ranked second in the state by 247Sports coming out of Worcester Academy.

Gooden didn’t see the field in his two years as a member of the Scarlet Knights. He was the No. 41 prospect in New Jersey at West Side in Newark.

Defensive lineman Marcus Cushnie was on the opposite sideline last season when the Minutemen faced Florida State. He had two tackles and 1.5 sacks against UMass and played in all 12 games for the Seminoles. Previously he spent three years at Alabama A&M and amassed 16 career sacks.

Wide receiver Isaiah Holiness spent three years at San Jose State playing both receiver and running back. The Redlands, Calif., native amassed 237 yards on 30 catches with two touchdowns in 25 games. He also ran for 153 yards. 

“If you’re in the transfer portal, you’re evaluating guys that there’s a fit. Not just throwing a ball against a wall and seeing if it works. The guys we’ve identified are guys that have done a good job in the classroom, are athletic, fast and they want to be Minutemen,” Brown said. “If you’ve got to be chasing guys hard to get them to come it’s not going to work out the way that you want it.”

Four of UMass’ high school signees are three-star prospects: linebackers Aaron Alexander and Derrieon Craig, defensive back Jeremiah McGill and defensive back Donovan Turner.

Alexander, from Belleville, Mich., originally committed to Michigan before reopening his commitment in December. He had 76 tackles, 11 sacks and two forced fumbles his senior year. Alexander is 247sports.com’s 101st ranked linebacker and the No. 25 player from Michigan.

Craig is from Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the nation’s most recognizable and dominant high school programs in Florida. He was twice named the state’s defensive MVP and finished his career with 185 tackles, two touchdowns, seven forced fumbles and 12 fumble recoveries.

McGill was a three-time state champion at Chaminade-Madonna from Boynton Beach, Fla. He made nine interceptions in his career and forced five fumbles.

Turner is coming all the way from East Long Beach, Calif. He was named to the So-Cal Dream team and made both all-league and all-conference first teams. Turner had 85 tackles and two pass break ups.

From the junior college ranks, UMass brought in quarterback Gino Campiotti and defensive back Juan Lua, both from California.

Campiotti originally committed to Northern Arizona in 2018 and moved to tight end there as a sophomore. Wanting to play quarterback, he spent a year at Modesto Junior College. Campiotti started all 11 games, throwing for 1,931 yards and 18 touchdowns while running for another 834 yards and nine scores in one of the most challenging junior college conferences in the country.

Lua spent time at Saddleback College and the College of the Desert. He had 23 tackles and an interception at Saddleback last season. His uncle, Oscar, played in the NFL for the New England Patriots.

“We have kids from throughout the country but we also have a big piece of New England in it,” Moore said.

Brown said he expects the Minutemen to settle around 32 commitments for this class with some players still en route. He couldn’t comment more specifically on players due to NCAA rules but said UMass is looking for a few more defensive backs and receivers and “you’re always looking for offensive linemen.”

With recruiting nearly done, UMass will shift its focus to winter workouts in Brown’s beloved “mat room” and individual workouts. The Minutemen will have to learn new offensive and defensive systems, which will likely begin with spring practice.

“We’re going to play the game at full throttle. My goal all spring is to create as much chaos as I can create,” Brown said. “I want the guys to function when things are uncomfortable.”

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

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