UMass’ summer transformation started off the field

  • UMass strength coach Matt Shadeed talks to the UMass football team during spring practice. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass quarterback Michael Curtis, left, runs a drill during the first practice of the season, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass wide receiver Samuel Emilus carries the ball during the first practice of the season, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/5/2019 10:12:02 PM

AMHERST — When UMass left its final workout of the summer session, the message was a simple one from strength coach Matt Shadeed.

The players who were standing in front of Shadeed looked far different than the ones he inherited after spring practices ended in April. But the progress they made in just three months with Shadeed could not stop with that final summer session early last week. That was what was impressed on the team and the Minutemen carried that attitude into the preseason.

“Nobody’s satisfied, that’s the biggest takeaway,” Shadeed said. “Nobody’s happy that we had a good summer and we’ve been productive. Our growth is undeniable … we look different, we’re in much better shape. Now we have to go produce.”

All of the improvement UMass made over the summer was on display in the first practice of training camp on Friday. The Minutemen moved faster, were stronger on their reps and just generally looked more athletic than the spring. It’s the vision first-year coach Walt Bell had when he hired Shadeed as one of the first members of his staff.

“There’s a reason he was one of the first phone calls that I made,” Bell said. “It’s not just the weight, it’s not just the size, it’s the culture piece, it’s the communications piece, it’s the investment across the whole program. Out here, not only do you see the size and the mass but bendability, pliability, I’m very excited about where our kids are (right now).”

Yet the work the Minutemen did inside the weight room accounted for perhaps a quarter of the progress they made this summer. Shadeed said his main goal since first being able to work with players in January was to help teach the players the life skills they needed to be successful off the field, everything from nutrition and hydration to rest and sleep.

It is no coincidence, Shadeed said, that the players who made the most noticeable improvements during the summer were the ones who made better choices away from the facilities. Players like Jake Byczko and Mike Ruane were already workout junkies, but they made the extra effort to take care of themselves at home, and that made a big difference, Shadeed said.

“Everybody has the same variables available to them when it comes to programming, strength training, coaches’ availability ... you see the biggest gains and the most progress in the guys that are bought in off the field, outside of the weight room,” Shadeed said. “They’re living right, they’re eating clean fuel consistently, they’re eating the right stuff, they’re hydrating correctly, they’re sleeping and they’re resting and they’re taking advantage of every opportunity to put the phone down, turn the game off, turn the movies off and make sacrifices to get in bed and sleep because that’s when you really grow.”

NORWOOD UPDATE — Sophomore safety Joseph Norwood was transported by ambulance to Cooley Dickinson Hospital after Friday’s practice with what the school referred to as a “non-heat-related” issue. He was cleared and released and was back at practice Monday, where he looked unaffected by the incident.

Sporting a gray non-contact jersey, Norwood was active in the drills he was able to participate in and stepped in to break up several passes during one-on-one drills against receivers. Bell said he expects Norwood to be a full participant on Tuesday and there won’t be any lingering effects for the future.

After playing significant snaps at safety as a true freshman last year, Norwood is expected to play a large role in the defensive secondary this season with the lack of depth at safety. The Chattanooga, Tennessee, native had a strong spring and continues to play well early into training camp, a positive sign for the Minutemen.

LACK OF PRIMETIME — UMass won’t be showcasing the renovated McGuirk Alumni Stadium in prime time this year.

The school announced the kickoff times for its six home games this year and the trio of 3:30 p.m. starts are the latest on the schedule. The Minutemen will host Southern Illinois on Sept. 7 in the home opener at 3:30 p.m. and will also welcome Connecticut for Homecoming on Oct. 26 at that time. UMass will host Coastal Carolina at 1 p.m. on Sept. 21, Akron at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 28 and Liberty at noon on Nov. 2.

The season finale against BYU will be a noon kickoff on Nov. 23, directly conflicting with the basketball team’s tipoff against defending national champion Virginia at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.

All six games will be broadcast and produced by FloSports with playback also available on NESN or NESN+ that day. NESN will broadcast four games on its main network (Coastal Carolina, Akron tape-delayed, Liberty and BYU) and the other two games will be on NESN+. It is a two-year deal with FloSports to broadcast and produce UMass football games, replacing the contract with Eleven Sports that was terminated last winter.

Josh Walfish can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at

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