Check out Matt Vautour's story on the start UMass spring football practice: Quarterback competition starts at UMass spring football practice
Quarterback competition starts at UMass spring football practice
AMHERST -- Only half of the quarterbacks who are expected to be on the University of Massachusetts roster in September took part in the start of spring practice Thursday.
With a snowstorm in the forecast and a nip in the air at McGuirk Stadium, the start of spring practice felt more like late November than late March, but it marked the beginning of the competition to succeed two-year starter Kyle Havens at quarterback.
Freshman Brandon Hill, who is expected to be among the leading candidates to start, and redshirt freshman walk-on Jesse Hunt are injured and did not practice Thursday, while incoming freshman Mike Wegzyn is finishing high school. Their absence opened the door for sophomores Ian Shultis and Kellen Pagel, and freshman walk-on Ray Pendagast to make an impression.
UMass coach Kevin Morris was watching to see who'd make the most of extra reps in practice.
"You better take advantage of it. In the spring with the open quarterback situation, every rep counts," UMass coach Kevin Morris said. "If you're not getting reps, you're not counting. ... We don't really have any guys who have taken snaps for us. Ian's had a couple of snaps against Towson, but that's basically no snaps. Everything counts right now. Guys have to step up their play on and off the field."
Shultis actually appeared in two games, but didn't attempt a pass. But he's had more practice reps than any of his competitors. The junior college transfer from California said he's much further along than when he arrived in August.
"I feel a lot more comfortable. I know a lot more. Coming up to the line and in the huddle I'm a lot more comfortable," said Shultis, who was excited for a chance to compete for the starter's job. "That's the type of situation you want, competing for a job. Spring is going to be a huge time. I'm looking forward to it. I'm ready to compete. If you're fighting for a position, it's a pretty intense time."
For what it's worth, Shultis, who wore No. 3 last year, was wearing jersey No. 12 Thursday. It's the jersey that belonged to Liam Coen and Havens, UMass' last two starters under center. Whether he'll keep the number into the fall remains to be seen.
Morris expected Shultis to be the most polished within the system early. "He better be. If he's not he'll get bypassed pretty quickly," Morris said. "He's got the jump start. He better be on top of it. But he's got a ways to go as well."
Thursday was the first Minuteman practice for Pagel, a transfer from Bowling Green who enrolled at UMass in January. "Today was a good day. There was a little bit of rust, we had to knock off the cobwebs a little bit," he said. "It went well for a first day. It was nice to get out here and throw the ball around a little bit."
Pagel said spring practice, which runs through April, is critical as he learns the system.
"Everyday is so valuable to learn the system, get the timing down and get the routes down," he said. "I'm just trying to get a feel for people and their speed within the routes."
Morris said the transition for a quarterback isn't easy as every coach uses different terminology. "It's a whole new language for him," Morris said. "He's learning what the words mean and how they translate into action."
Unlike at other positions where the impact of players struggling in practice would be a little contained, QB woes would slow the whole team.
"Practice rides on the quarterback," Morris said. "It affects the whole team. If he's not throwing well it deflates the whole team. If you're throwing well and catching well it picks up the whole team. You need that."