Republican: Secondary Knows Its Importance - UMass Athletics

Republican: Secondary Knows Its Importance

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The Springfield Republican has a story on UMass' secondary and how freshmen Mike Lee and Antoine Tharpe have been thrust into significant positions. Last week at James Madison, Tharpe and Lee not only provided answers, but exclamation points as well.

"One gave us the play that ignited us, the other gave us the game-finisher,'' coach Kevin Morris said as UMass got ready for Saturday's home game against Maine. "There's a lot of pressure back there, and at times this year, they've been exposed. But they keep plugging away, trying to figure out the college game, and they're getting better.''

UMass football secondary knows it's of primary importance

Published: Thursday, November 04, 2010, 7:28 PM     Updated: Thursday, November 04, 2010, 7:46 PM
Ron Chimelis, The Republican Ron Chimelis, The Republican 
Richmond defeats the University of Massachusetts in football 11-10 University of Massachusetts coach Kevin Morris says first-year defensive backs Antonie Tharpe and Mike Lee are learning under pressure.

AMHERST - With rookies in the mix, theUniversity of Massachusetts football team's defensive secondary has been a question mark this season.

Last week at James Madison, Antoine Tharpe and Mike Lee not only provided answers, but exclamation points as well.

"One gave us the play that ignited us, the other gave us the game-finisher,'' coach Kevin Morris said as UMass got ready for Saturday's home game against Maine.

"There's a lot of pressure back there, and at times this year, they've been exposed. But they keep plugging away, trying to figure out the college game, and they're getting better.''

Tharpe delivered a big-time hit that forced a key second-half incompletion at James Madison. Lee's pass breakup clinched a 21-14 win that brightened the playoff hopes of No. 15-ranked UMass (5-3, 3-2 Colonial Athletic Association).

For both players, a moment in the spotlight was evidence of progress in a season of learning under fire.

"I haven't had the ball thrown my way this much since junior year of high school,'' said Tharpe, a true freshman from North Lauderdale, Fla.

"Usually, they looked away from me.''

"It was kind of crazy,'' said Lee, a redshirt freshman, who broke up Drew Dudzik's last-ditch pass to Kerby Long on fourth-and-20 from the UMass 30. 

"I've always had trouble defending the deep pass, but the coaches have kept telling me to just keep doing what I'm told.''.

Lee, 19, a cornerback from McDonough, Ga., has started six of eight games. 

Tharpe, 18, has five starts at cornerback. He is in the current starting unit with cornerback senior Ke'Mon Bailey and safeties Shane Viveiros, a junior, and sophomore Darren Thellen.

Maine (3-5, 2-3) averages 198 passing yards and 126 rushing yards per game. The Black Bears have put up modest numbers, but they own an overtime victory over No. 8-ranked New Hampshire, and lost 24-21 to No. 4 William & Mary.

The UMass defense has been designed to reduce the pressure on its young players in the secondary.No team can hide its defensive backs entirely, though.

"The coaches tell us we're not freshmen anymore. We know we have to step up and do our jobs,'' Lee said.

Adjusting to college ball is a challenge for any player, but defensive backs face special challenges because the stakes are so high.

"We've tried to put them in position where they would not be easily exposed. But you can't defend everything,'' Morris said.

"It's a lot more for them than saying, I've got this cat, you've got that cat. The techniques and complexities are much harder at this level.''

"You're all alone out there. It's on you, and everybody sees it.''

Morris said the coaches have spent time, not only coaching the defensive backs but making sure they don't get discouraged during the learning process. That patience might be bearing fruit.

"We're not freshmen anymore,'' Tharpe said. "We're equal to everybody else, and going into every game, giving everything we can,'' he said.

AMHERST - With rookies in the mix, the University of Massachusetts football team's defensive secondary has been a question mark this season.

Last week at James Madison, Antoine Tharpe and Mike Lee not only provided answers, but exclamation points as well.

"One gave us the play that ignited us, the other gave us the game-finisher,'' coach Kevin Morris said as UMass got ready for Saturday's home game against Maine.

"There's a lot of pressure back there, and at times this year, they've been exposed. But they keep plugging away, trying to figure out the college game, and they're getting better.''

Tharpe delivered a big-time hit that forced a key second-half incompletion at James Madison. Lee's pass breakup clinched a 21-14 win that brightened the playoff hopes of No. 15-ranked UMass (5-3, 3-2 Colonial Athletic Association).

For both players, a moment in the spotlight was evidence of progress in a season of learning under fire.

"I haven't had the ball thrown my way this much since junior year of high school,'' said Tharpe, a true freshman from North Lauderdale, Fla.

"Usually, they looked away from me.''

"It was kind of crazy,'' said Lee, a redshirt freshman, who broke up Drew Dudzik's last-ditch pass to Kerby Long on fourth-and-20 from the UMass 30. 

"I've always had trouble defending the deep pass, but the coaches have kept telling me to just keep doing what I'm told.''.

Lee, 19, a cornerback from McDonough, Ga., has started six of eight games. 

Tharpe, 18, has five starts at cornerback. He is in the current starting unit with cornerback senior Ke'Mon Bailey and safeties Shane Viveiros, a junior, and sophomore Darren Thellen.

Maine (3-5, 2-3) averages 198 passing yards and 126 rushing yards per game. The Black Bears have put up modest numbers, but they own an overtime victory over No. 8-ranked New Hampshire, and lost 24-21 to No. 4 William & Mary.

The UMass defense has been designed to reduce the pressure on its young players in the secondary.No team can hide its defensive backs entirely, though.

"The coaches tell us we're not freshmen anymore. We know we have to step up and do our jobs,'' Lee said.

Adjusting to college ball is a challenge for any player, but defensive backs face special challenges because the stakes are so high.

"We've tried to put them in position where they would not be easily exposed. But you can't defend everything,'' Morris said.

"It's a lot more for them than saying, I've got this cat, you've got that cat. The techniques and complexities are much harder at this level.''

"You're all alone out there. It's on you, and everybody sees it.''

Morris said the coaches have spent time, not only coaching the defensive backs but making sure they don't get discouraged during the learning process. That patience might be bearing fruit.

"We're not freshmen anymore,'' Tharpe said. "We're equal to everybody else, and going into every game, giving everything we can,'' he said.

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