UMass Begins FBS Era At Connecticut
• The long-awaited start to the Football Bowl Subdivision era starts on Thursday, August 30 as the UMass Minutemen head to former Yankee Conference/Atlantic 10 rival Connecticut at Rentschler Field. This will be the first meeting between the two program’s since UConn made the move to the Division I ranks following the 1999 season.
• The match-up between UMass and UConn is a fitting way to kick-off the 2012 season. For UMass, this is the third oldest series in program history, while for UConn it is the Huskies’ second oldest series. The two programs first met in 1897 meaning the schools have played in different centuries: 1800s, 1900s, 2000s.
• Thursday’s meeting is also the first time former UMass head coach Don Brown has played against the Minutemen since leaving Amherst in 2008. Brown coached UMass from 2004-08 taking the Minutemen to the 2006 NCAA Championship Game. Brown was also the defensive coordinator in 1998 and 1999.
• The game is the first in the FBS era for UMass which announced the transition back in April 2010. Charley Molnar was introduced as the program’s head coach on December 8, 2011 and has quickly made his mark on the program. The former offensive coordinator at Notre Dame and assistant coach at Cincinnati ushers in a new offensive system at UMass utilizing a spread, no-huddle scheme.
• Mike Wegzyn will make his first career start at quarterback after incumbent starter Kellen Pagel was forced to sit out due to post-concussion symptoms at the beginning of preseason camp. Wegzyn will be charged in leading a primarily new cast of skill position players.
• Defensively, UMass returns to its 4-3 line-up after moving to a 3-4 scheme in 2011. Depth on the on the front line, bolstered by a pair of veteran leaders in middle linebacker Perry McIntyre and free safety Darren Thellen, make the defensive unit the most experienced group returning.
• All told, at least 17 Minutemen will make their collegiate debuts on Thursday night.
• Up next will be the Minutemen’s first-ever home game at Gillette Stadium against an FBS opponent as Indiana of the Big Ten comes to town.
UMass Set For Inaugural FBS Season
• The 2012 season represents a new era in UMass football as the Minutemen transition from a storied past at the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Mid-American Conference.
• The 2011 season marked the final year in the FCS (formerly I-AA) for the UMass football program as the Minutemen are now in year two of their transition period to the FBS (I-A). Along with a new conference and division comes a new home field as UMass will begin playing at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. - also home to the NFL’s New England Patriots.
• UMass will become eligible for the MAC Championship and will be Bowl-Eligible in 2013.
• UMass joins UConn (Big East) and Boston College (ACC) as the only New England FBS schools.
UMass History Thumbnail
• This is the 130th season of UMass football. UMass has an all-time record of 556-526-51 (.513) in 1,133 all-time games. The Minutemen won two of the last six conference championships (2006 and 2007) as members of the Colonial Athletic Association and the Atlantic 10. In 2008, UMass posted its seventh winning season in a row with a 7-5 record. Over its last nine years at the FCS level, UMass made three NCAA Tournament appearances. In 2007, UMass went 10-3, going 7-1 in the inaugural season of the CAA.
• UMass was the winningest program in the CAA over a 10-year span from 1998-2008 with an 83-44 record with a 65.7 win percentage.
• The Minutemen have won 22 conference championships - the last two coming in 2007 and 2008. All-time UMass had eight NCAA Tournament appearances winning the 1998 national title and also playing in the championship game in 2006 and 1978.
Lots of New For 2012
• Along with the move to the Mid-American Conference, UMass welcomed new head coach Charley Molnar in December 2011. Molnar assembled a new coaching staff which is made up of a veteran group with coaching experience at the highest collegiate and professional levels.
• On top of having the new coaching staff, UMass will also be changing its offense from a pro-style attack to a spread, no-huddle scheme.
• On the defensive side of the ball, the Minutemen return to their traditional 4-3 look after playing the 2011 season using a 3-4 defense.
• Continuing the ‘New Trend’ are the Minutemen’s new uniforms. UMass is wearing the new Adidas “Tech-Fit” football uniforms and have stepped away from tradition with black helmets. Additionally, the logo used for the helmets is a new design of the UMass word mark to standout more.
• The Minutemen have posted a 61-57-11 record in season openers in their previous 129 years. UMass has won nine of the last 10 season openers after last season’s 24-16 win at Holy Cross. The Minutemen have also won 11 of the past 13 openers, downing New Hampshire in 1999, William & Mary in 2000, Central Connecticut State in 2002 and 2003, Delaware State in 2004, winning at Richmond in 2005, beating Colgate in 2006, downing Holy Cross in 2007 and Albany in 2008.
UMass Against FBS Teams
• Prior to UMass transition to an FBS program, the Minutemen played a I-A opponent in 12 of the previous 13 years. In five of the last seven years, UMass played narrow games with FBS teams, losing by 10 points or fewer including the 2010 season’s narrow 42-37 loss at Michigan. UMass has played a ranked FBS team in three of the last seven years having playing then-No. 10 Texas Tech in 2008, then-No. 12 Boston College in 2007, and then No. 20 Michigan in 2010.
• Since FCS (Division I-AA) was formed in 1978, UMass posted a record of 8-23 against I-A foes, with the last victory being a 26-10 triumph over Ball State on Sept. 1, 1984, at home at McGuirk Stadium.
• UMass had Michigan on the ropes in Ann Arbor in 2010 leading 17-7 before the Wolverines were able to score two touchdowns in the final 61 seconds prior to halftime. Michigan extended the lead in the third quarter with another pair of touchdowns, but UMass battled back with three scores in the fourth quarter. A missed on-side kick with 2:05 left in the game allowed Michigan to run out the clock for the win. Kyle Havens was 22-of-29 for 222 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jonathan Hernandez rushed for 114 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Julian Talley had seven receptions for 91 yards and a score.
Former Minutemen In The NFL
• Entering the NFL Regular-Season, UMass figures to be well represented on Sunday afternoons. The most prominent UMass alum is none other than Victor Cruz whose improbable story and highlight reel season in 2011 captured America’s attention. Cruz helped the New York Giants to a Super Bowl win while setting a franchise record for receiving yardage in a single-season. Along with the publicity he garnered for his signature ‘Salsa Dance’ as a touchdown celelbration, Cruz also wrote a book during the off-season which became a best-seller.
• Lining up opposite from Cruz in last year’s Super Bowl was James Ihedigbo who enters his second year with the New England Patriots. Ihedigbo previously played three years with the New York Jets alongside fellow UMass alum Vladimir Ducasse.
• Ducasse was drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft and is entering his third season with the Jets.
• Also currently on NFL rosters are Jeremy Cain (Jacksonville Jaguars), Jeromy Miles (Cincinnati Bengals), Jeremy Horne (Kansas City Chiefs), Emil Igwenagu (Philadelphia Eagles), Travis Tripucka (St. Louis Rams), Julian Talley (New York Giants) and Josh Samuda (Miami Dolphins).
• Tailback John Griffin signed with the New York Jets but was released as was kicker Chris Koepplin (Patriots) who was in his second training camp with New England.
• Former Head Coach Mark Whipple is currently the quarterbacks coach in Cleveland after a stint at the University of Miami as offensive coordinator and with Pittsburgh where he coached Ben Rothlisberger.
• The previous high mark for UMass products in the pros came in 1968, when UMass had five players combined between the NFL and AFL, prior to the leagues’ merger in 1970. That year, tight end Milt Morin played for the Cleveland Browns, quarterback Greg Landry was a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions, quarterback John McCormick played for the Denver Broncos and halfback Terry Swanson and lineman Ed Toner suited up for the then-Boston Patriots.
Offensive Line A Strong Foundation
• The UMass offensive line returns nearly complete from a year ago with the exception of four-year starting left guard Josh Samuda. The group is the most veteran of any offensive position giving the Minutemen a strong foundation to build around.
• Stephane Milhim, Nick Speller and Anthony Dima started every game last season, while Quinton Sales returns as one of the top centers in program history.
Wegzyn Gets The Nod At QB
• Kellen Pagel took over as the starting quarterback during the spring, however, he was diagnosed with post-concussion symptoms when preseason camp started. Mike Wegzyn redshirted the 2011 season as a freshman and the big arm from Tennessee earned the starting job in Pagel’s absence.
• A.J. Doyle, Charley Molnar’s first recruit at UMass, will be the back-up to Wegzyn with Ian Shultis behind him on the depth chart.
• Thursday’s game at UConn will be Mike Wegzyn’s first career start. Wegzyn’s older brother Matt was formerly a tight end at Tennessee.
Michel, Blanchflower Lead Receiving Corps
• Marken Michel and Rob Blanchflower are the top returning receiving threats as the starting trio of wideouts from a season ago are gone. The Minutemen will have to find a way to replace Julian Talley who signed with the New York Giants in the offseason and was the top receiver a year ago.
• Tajae Sharpe and fifth-year Notre Dame transfer Deion Walker looked good in preseason camp and figure to make significant impacts.
Rush By Committee
• UMass also graduated 1,000-yard rusher Jonathan Hernandez, but return several running backs who could fill the void. Chris Burns, who transferred from Pittsburgh prior to the 2011 season, and fifth-year Michigan transfer Michael Cox also figure to play prominent roles in the ground attack. The duo combine a mix of power and speed in the Minutemen’s spread offense.
• Jamar Smith, Jordan Broadnax, and Stacey Bedell will also figure into the run game as UMass certainly features a deep group in the backfield.
• Smith missed much of the 2011 season due to an injury forcing Broadnax to play as a true freshman.
1,000 Yard Standard
• UMass has produced a 1,000 yard rusher in 19 of the last 33 seasons. Despite not having a 1,000-yard rusher in 2009 and 2010, Jonathan Hernandez hit the mark last season. In 2010, UMass almost had a pair of 1,000 yard running backs in Hernandez and John Griffin.
• UMass had 1,000-yard rushers in seven straight seasons from 2002-08 thanks in part to Steve Baylark who did so all four of his years with the program. Marcel Ship is the only other player in program history to hit the 1,000-yard mark four consecutive seasons. Shipp also holds the program record with 2,542 yards during the 1998 I-AA National Championship Season.
• UMass All-American and ESPN commentator Rene Ingoglia was the last running back besides Baylark and Shipp to have back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons.
Walker, Cox Look To Make Impact
• Former Notre Dame wide receiver Deion Walker and former Michigan tailback Mike Cox each joined UMass over the summer as fifth-year transfers. The duo both received their undergraduate degrees in the spring and are now enrolled in grad school at UMass.
• Walker played in 7 career games for the Irish. Cox played in 12 career games for the Wolverines.
• Walker was rated as the seventh-best wide receiver in the country by SuperPrep and the 11th-best wide receiver in the nation by Scout.com coming out of high school. Cox was a four-star prospect from Avon Old Farms in Connecticut.
Burns Steps Up In Camps
• After not playing in 2011, Chris Burns surged onto the scene during the spring and summer training camps. A transfer from Pittsburgh following the 2010 season, Burns split reps with the first team between Jordan Broadnax and Mike Cox during both training sessions.
• At Pittsburgh, Burns played 17 games including 12 during the 2010 season.
Michel Looks To Be A Play Maker
• One of the top pure athletes on offense, Marken Michel’s speed will definitely be an asset to the revamped wide receiving corps. Michel played in all 11 games in 2011 - primarily on special teams - posting 3 catches for 31 yards and a touchdown. During the offseason, Charley Molnar consistently praised Michel as one of the program’s top wide receivers entering the season.
Shapre Stands Out
• One of the top rookie wideouts during preseason camp was New Jersey native Tajae Sharpe. Tall and lanky, Sharpe does posses incredible hands and as wide receiver coach Alan Suber says “a high FBI” or football intelligence.
• Sharpe is wearing No. 1 which was the number of Julian Talley who led UMass in receiving last season and is currently in preseason camp with the NFL’s New York Giants.
Veteran Defense Leads The Charge
• Despite losing All-American linebacker Tyler Holmes to graduation, the UMass defense returns nearly all of its major contributors in 2012. Fifth-year senior Darren Thellen is the leader of the corps from his free safety position after having a break-out year in 2011. Thellen broke school records for interception return yardage (172) after picking off five passes during the year.
• Joining Thellen in the secondary is an experienced group led by Antoine Tharpe, Christian Birt, Ed Saint-Vil, and Mike Lee who all have started games during their careers.
McIntyre Anchors The Defense
• Perry McIntyre achnored the linebackers alongside Holmes last season and finished the year on a tear with 52 tackles over the last four games. He finished the 2011 season with 116 total tackles just two shy of Holmes.
• Joining McIntyre as starting linebackers are Greg Hilliard and Tom Brandt. Hilliard is known for his versatility against both the run and against the pass. Brandt is a veteran outside linebacker who is also tough against the run and on the blitz.
Defensive Line Stout Up Front
• Three of UMass’ starting defensive linemen return with Chaz Thompson, Brandon Potvin and Kevin Byrne manning the trenches. Notre Dame fifth-year transfer Hafis Williams figures to make an impact as does Ryan Delaire and Stanley Andre who moves from outside linebacker to defensive end.
Thellen A Career Leader
• From his free safety spot, Darren Thellen is one of the key figures of the UMass defense. The fifth-year senior has played in 33 career games with 28 starts entering the season.
• Thellen had a career-high and team-best five interceptions in 2011 for a school record 172 return yards. His 128 return yards against Central Connecticut State (10/8/11) stands as the single-game record in UMass history.
• Run support is also one of Thellen’s strong suites as he has 160 total tackles in his career including a career-high 14 set against James Madison (11/19/11).
Andre Makes Move To End
• A linebacker for his entire career, Stanley Andre makes the move to defensive end for the 2012 season. Depth at the position prompted the defensive coaching staff to make the move with Andre’s combination of size, strength and speed making him a good candidate against the run and on the edge.
• In his previous two seasons, the Dorchester, Mass., native played in 12 games with 11 tackles - primarily on special teams.
Williams Bolsters Interior Line
• Joining fellow Notre Dame transfer Deion Walker is Hafis Williams who also received his undergraduate degree in the spring and is enrolled in graduate school at UMass. The defensive tackle played in 24 games for the Irish with 19 career tackles.
• Coming out of Elizabeth High School in 2007, Williams was rated the 9th-best player in New Jersey and the 35th-best defensive tackle in the nation.
Saint-Vil A Hard-Hitting Safety
• Joining Darren Thellen and Christian Birt at the safety positions is Ed Saint-Vil who had a coming out party in the season-opener against Holy Cross last season. Saint Vil had four solo tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a pass defended in his first collegiate game. He finished the season with 35 tackles, 28 of which were solo stops.
• The top returning corner back for 2012 is Antoine Tharpe who has 17 starts in 20 career games. Tharpe started all nine games last season missing two due to injury. The speedy cover corner had a career-high seven pass break-ups for the year including three against Holy Cross in the season-opener.
Brandts A Linebacking Duo
• If No. 37 and No. 47 look strikingly similar, there’s good reason for it. Tim (47) and Tom (37) are twin brothers from Natick, Mass. At 6-foot-2, the pair are separated by a mere three pounds. Tim played in all 11 games last season with 33 tackles, a forced fumble and 3.5 TFL’s. Tom played in 9 games with 9 tackles and on TFL. For his career, Tom has played in 18 games overall.
Special Teams Key
• Jeff Strait returns as UMass’ top punter on special teams, while Brendon Levengood will handle the kick-off duties. The Minutemen replace four-year long-snapper Travis Tripucka who signed with the St. Louis Rams during the offseason with Vance Barton. Blake Lucas figures to handle the place kicking duties.
• A huge weapon for UMass in 2011 was the electrifying Jesse Julmiste who set program records in the kick return game. Julmiste had the second-best single season in program history with 789 kick return yards and a pair of touchdowns.
• Along with his abilities as a wide receiver, UMass will also have to find a replacement for Julian Talley on the punt return. Talley is currently in preseason camp with the NFL’s New York Giants alongside former Minutemen Victor Cruz.
Community Service A Program Standard For Molnar
• One of Charley Molnar’s core tenants as a football coach is to engage his players with the community through service projects. In his time at UMass, Molnar, his staff and members of the team have volunteered and helped at events throughout Western Mass.
• Over the summer, members of the football team volunteered at the Boys & Girls Club each week in Holyoke, Mass. The players served as mentors at the Club and engaged the children in activities.
• Players also helped with Habitat For Hummanity, were representatives at the Special Olympics torch lighting ceremony, visited local schools and helped work the Relay For Life.
Carter Donates Bone Marrow
• One of the most notable and selfless acts came from redshirt junior Ryan Carter during the offseason. Carter found out he was a match for a bone marrow transplant after being tested during the Minutemen’s Bone Marrow Registration Drive last fall.
• Carter underwent surgery in February at Mass General Hospital in Boston. His bone marrow was transplanted to a five-year old boy who he has never met.
Veteran Coaching Staff
• Charley Molnar has assembled a veteran coaching staff with experience at the highest levels of football. The staff is comprised of coaches who have spent years at Bowl Championship Series (BCS) schools as well as time in the National Football League and the United Football League. The experienced staff has found success at every level of the college game and in the professional ranks as the Minutemen begin a new era of football in Amherst.
• “I think the staff we have assembled has the knowledge, experience, and teaching tools to make us a successful program in all phases of the game,” said Molnar. “This is a highly motivated group of professionals who know how to gain success not just in football, but in daily life. Their experiences as coaches and players will serve as the foundation for what we want to build here - championship caliber football played by championship caliber young men.”
Stadium Upgrades At McGuirk
• As part of the transition plan to the FBS, McGuirk Stadium in Amherst will be receiving several upgrades over the next two years. With groundbreaking anticipated in February, the two main projects include a new Field House for the program which will house offices, locker rooms, meeting rooms, a theatre, athletic training facilities, video facilities and strength & conditioning facilities. This will mark the first time in the modern era that all support services for the program will be housed in one complex. Additionally, a new press box will be built. McGuirk Stadium was opened in 1965 and seats 17,000 fans. The newest renovations to the stadium include a FieldTurf surface which was installed in 2006 and permanent lighting in 2008.
Ad Campaign In Full Blitz
• One of the challenges in playing at Gillette Stadium is attracting a new fan base to fill the sizable facility. UMass enlisted the Gold Group advertising firm to assist in the promotion of the program and the move to the new venue. Along with radio and television exposure, billboards in both Eastern and Western Mass were acquired and a number of MBTA buses sport UMass Football advertising in Boston. Both traditional and grass roots efforts are in the works for the balance of the season to reach over 100,000 UMass alums in the Boston/Eastern Massachusetts area.
MAC Preseason Poll
• As the newest member of the MAC and in the second year of the FBS transition period, UMass was picked to finish 7th in the MAC East Division. Ohio was picked to win the East, while Toledo was picked to win the West.