UMass still playing ‘real football’ during spring game

  • UMass Head Coach Walt Bell shouts instructions during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass coach Walt Bell shouts instructions during spring practice, March 19 at McGuirk Stadium. The spring game is Saturday. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass coach Walt Bell watches quarterback Michael Curtis, left, during spring practice, March 19 at McGuirk Stadium. Mike Fallon, another quarterback, looks on. The spring game is Saturday at 11 a.m. at McGuirk Stadium. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/19/2019 6:58:42 PM

AMHERST — Walt Bell wants to put the misconceptions about UMass’ spring game to rest.

The Minutemen might not be keeping score or structuring Saturday’s 11 a.m. event like a typical spring game, but that doesn’t mean it will be a glorified walkthrough. The first-year coach knows the outline sent out from the athletic department might not sound appealing, but he wants to assure fans the tackling will be live, including the quarterbacks during drills, and that it will be as game-like experience as the staff can make it given the circumstances.

“We’re going to play real football,” Bell said. “We just need to structure it in a way that’s smart and keeps everyone healthy. We need to mix in a few things in between to make sure the offensive line and defensive line survive it.”

The injuries are a concern for the Minutemen, who are still thin on numbers along the offensive line, running back and tight end. Fortunately, Bell said none of the bumps, bruises or sprains should linger too long and that none of the players being held out are expected to need surgery to heal.

Staying healthy is a major goal for Bell and the staff heading into the final practice of the spring, but that doesn’t excuse the team from the two hallmarks of the program. Bell said his major goal for Saturday is to play as clean as UMass has all spring long while also giving maximum effort at all times while on the field.

“We’ve gotten better every day,” Bell said. “It’ll be good to see us try to put everything together and be as good as we can be.”

On Thursday, UMass practiced in just jerseys and shorts as a way to both take a load off before the spring game and prepare the players for what to expect over the summer. Bell said he wanted to set a standard for what the staff expects out of the team from Sunday until the Minutemen reconvene in late July for training camp in terms of preparation for the season.

In the meantime, Bell said he hopes to attract a good crowd to see the Minutemen in action on Saturday. He said he hopes fans use the spring game as a time for them to get into the football routine themselves and prepare for the six games coming to Amherst in the fall.

“The spring game is a practice for everyone,” Bell said. “It’s practice for tailgating, it’s practice for finding your seat and enjoying some football. We need as many fans as we can get to give our guys a good atmosphere to play in Saturday.”

RECRUITING DAY — As much as the spring game is a time for UMass to practice in front of its fans in a public game-like setting, it is just as important in convincing future Minutemen to come to Amherst.

Bell said he expects a lot of UMass’ top targets to be at McGuirk Alumni Stadium for the exhibition and it’s been a busy few weeks as recruits have made their way to a normal spring practice. The Minutemen still have three or four scholarships available to use for this fall either through the transfer portal or a junior college player, but most of the big news have come in the 2020 class. The Minutemen have received verbal commitments from five recruits since the spring began with four from Massachusetts, including offensive linemen Dominik Behrens of Williston Northampton.

“It’s a big day for our program,” Bell said. “It’s a huge day for recruiting and we’re going to have a lot of great kids on campus. I looked at Weather Underground and there’s a nice patch of weather between 10 and 1. Hopefully we get a nice patch of weather for us to play in.”

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