By Marvin Pave | August 29, 2010
Emil Igwenagu is playing his third position since arriving at the University of Massachusetts Amherst four years ago. But the Boylston resident has found his niche as a starting tight end while earning the respect of his Minutemen teammates, who unanimously selected him as a team captain for this fall as a junior.
"He's just solid. We can put him anywhere on the field. He plays on just about all of our special teams. He's a team player 100 percent, and the guys respect that,'' said UMass head coach Kevin Morris. His team opens its season on Saturday at Colonial Athletic Association rival William & Mary in Virginia.
"Emil does everything that's asked and does it well. And he does it right the first time. He's been a tailback, a fullback and now a tight end. He's done a little bit of everything and now we can count on him to do all those things for us,'' Morris said.
A preseason all-CAA selection, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Igwenagu was recruited as a linebacker after a stellar career at Holy Name High School in Worcester, spent a year on the UMass scout team and was eventually switched to the H-back position (combining the duties of a receiver, blocker, and runner) last season, when he finished third on the team with 23 catches for 283 yards and a touchdown.
He appeared in 11 games last fall, including three starts at H-back.
"I never played end in high school and it was a bit strange when I first made the change,'' said Igwenagu. "As a fullback, you get a running start, but as a tight end, it was different on the front line, but I got more comfortable as last season progressed. Having been a running back has definitely helped me with my ball-carrying after a catch and in reading defenses.
"As a captain, it's nice to know that your teammates look up to you, and since I've played several positions and get moved around in practice for a few reps, that enables me to help out some of our players with the routes and schemes.''
A two-time Super Bowl MVP at Holy Name, Igwenagu gained 1,918 yards on 138 carries and scored 23 touchdowns his senior year, and also chipped in with 95 tackles and two interceptions at linebacker. He played as a sophomore at West Boylston High, where two of his brothers, Bryan and Brent, preceded him on the football team and where his younger brother, Josh, will play as a senior running back this fall.
Igwenagu transferred to Holy Name after his sophomore year at West Boylston and over his entire high school career totaled 470 carries for 5,037 yards, 54 touchdowns and 372 points. He was almost immediately inserted into the UMass offense during his redshirt season by then-head coach Don Brown, who was impressed with his blocking and pass-catching skills.
Holy Name football coach Mike Pucko, who also coached Igwenagu at West Boylston, recalled the talented back starting at center, at 6-1, on the boys' basketball team, which twice advanced to the state final.
"His versatility made him a great athlete here,'' said Pucko, a mentor who attends UMass practices and some games in support of his former star. "He did everything for us, and that experience and hard work has paid off at UMass.''