For the past few weeks, XOFan’s Matt Alkire has been breaking news on UMass football recruiting. He reported nearly every commitment last week and wrote a few updates about recruits showing interest in the school.
So, naturally, we decided to reach out and pick his brain.
For some background: Matt ran the Northeast region of Scout for five years and now has the same position at XOfan (on top of a number of other responsibilities). The new website is expecting to go through some major changes during the coming months and is definitely worth checking out.
Matt took some time with us and had some interesting things to say about recruiting, the coaching staff and what recruits are saying about UMass.
How is UMass doing this year as far as off-season recruiting?
I think they are doing well in a number of ways.
One, they are getting a lot of early commitments, and that has been good because they are getting a lot of quality. UMass, as a coaching staff – everyone down the graduate assistants – are doing a great job of going out and looking at everyone … and I mean everyone. They are just extremely thorough. Some schools just aren’t as thorough as UMass has been, and I see some of the players they have reached out to, and I have been shocked that they would know about them. That’s not a knock against the staff, it’s just that they’ve been there for such a short period of time that I’m surprised they have identified some of the players that they’ve found.
Two, I think they’ve found players that are real hidden talents. For example, Steve Casali is just a phenomenal player. That’s not overlooking the rest of the class, but when I watched his film I thought that he easily could have played at a higher level of college football.
The atmosphere that they are building there is one that is a little bit unique. I keep hearing the words: “ambitious,” “energy,” and “vibrant.” They get kids like John Montelus on campus four times before he committed to Notre Dame. They get Maurice Hurst on campus three or four times before he commits to Michigan. When these kids are on campus, they’re serious about being on campus – it’s not just a dog-and-pony show. They have some big recruits in the mix that are serious about being there, and UMass is going after them with vigor.
I think if UMass was at this for a couple of years, they would be able to pull off some bigger recruits. They’re recruiting really well, and the atmosphere that they’re building is pretty shocking to be honest.
A lot of local talent has gone to traditional powers instead of Boston College, UMass and UConn. Do you think that a trend that will continue or will the New England teams eventually be able to keep the local kids at home?
Kids are going to go to the traditional powers no matter what. I live in Pennsylvania, and Penn State fans get upset when Ohio State, Michigan or Notre Dame come in and take a Pennsylvania kid, and Penn State is Penn State. The New England schools aren’t on the level of Penn State, and I don’t think that’s a slight at those schools.
UMass needs to do things on the field first. If UMass goes out and can be successful on the field and build some momentum, they’re going to eat into B.C. and UConn. I also think they’re going to keep some kids home – maybe not from the bigger schools, but they can keep them home from the Pittsburghs, Rutgers and Virginias.
The biggest, most powerful programs are always going to take recruits. That will always happen.
What is realistic for UMass record- and recruiting-wise, next season?
UMass fans have to keep in mind that this is a coaching staff that just had to, from what I understand, take I-AA players and go. There is nothing wrong with I-AA players, but this is a different level of football player. They are going to have to out-coach and out-heart people next year. UMass fans should worry more about hustle and and hard play and coaching strategy versus wins and losses.
As far as recruiting goes, they just need to maintain the status quo. Their recruiting is not suffering at all – I can tell you that. They could have even more recruits than they currently have. There is not a lack of interest in Massachusetts right now. There are very talented players that I know from the region and other parts of the county that either want offers or that would really like to come in and commit now, but UMass doesn’t have a spot yet. I think people are going to be really surprised.
Should UMass look more toward the Rust Belt now that they’re in the MAC, or should it maintain what it does: Stay in the Northeast and reach down South when need be?
I would look at all the options, but I think it is better off not going out in the Rust Belt. I would let those schools out in Illinois, Ohio and Michigan fight it out every year. UMass is in a nice situation where all of the kids that Temple was going after before, UMass can now get. UMass’ main competition on the East Coast as far as recruiting goes is Buffalo, and I don’t think they are going to have a whole lot of trouble out-recruiting Buffalo. That’s based on the results I saw in the last recruiting class where the coaching staff came in late and grabbed recruits away from Buffalo within two weeks.
I think UMass is in a nice situation, and from what I’ve seen and heard from recruits they are very focused on New England, and they want to evaluate talent specifically in Massachusetts in order to take care of their own backyard.
Every time I speak to a recruit, they all say that they had a two-hour conversation with a coach, which is kind of crazy to me because how often do you have a two-hour conversation with a defensive coordinator? The fact that they spend that much time and make kids feel welcome is a positive.
Does recruiting New England open up recruiting pipelines around here that will allow UMass to have a better chance at the bigger recruits?
I don’t think that UMass would recruit locally to open a pipeline if recruiting locally means taking a lesser player. It doesn’t hurt to target those areas. If you can get in with kids at quality schools in New England or a Don Bosco or a Bergen Catholic in New Jersey, it’s definitely going to help. We’ve seen what happens at Boston College with Xaverian linebackers. Most schools would love to have that kind of pipeline.
They are going to build into those pipelines, and there are also kids at those schools that fall through the cracks. Some of those kids are the ones that UMass can go after, and they will do that because they’re locked into those schools now. Richard Queen (Bergen Catholic) is one of those kids that I was a little surprised wasn’t more on the map.
What are the recruits saying about Coach Molnar?
They are saying the same stuff about him that I’ve been saying since he’s been hired at UMass: The guy must have stock in Red Bull. He’s energetic, beyond energetic, but the kids that get to meet him and talk with him for awhile in a one-on-one environment tell me that his energy isn’t fake. It’s not a fake energy or false enthusiasm.
He likes to point out that he wants this to be the Boise State of the East. A lot of recruits say that he has very big aspirations. They like him a lot, they think that he is a pretty cool guy, and Coach Molnar is putting it out there right now, and he’s doing it his way. I’m guessing that’s why he took this job. He obviously interviewed for a couple of head coaching jobs, but he took this job because it offered him an opportunity to be himself and do his thing and fashion something in his own way. The recruits are responding to it so far.
Do you have any insight on recruits that UMass is currently pursuing?
I wasn’t too surprised that UMass made Reggie Green‘s top five. I got a lot of responses on my Twitter, and people were shocked that UMass made the cut with him. I think Reggie might be a lot higher on UMass than UMass fans think. In fact, I don’t think that his top five is a top five. I think there are three schools are in the mix, and UMass is one of those three.
UMass offered him the opportunity to be a quarterback/athlete, and UMass is the only school that allowed him to have that opportunity. That’s very appealing to him.
Shane Huber is another kid. Before I wrote about him, I didn’t think there was a chance that UMass had a shot at him. I thought that he would go out as a senior and get a lot of scholarship offers. After this weekend (at UMass), I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes back on his return visit in July and commits. He had too many good things to say about the program.
I think UMass will be done at linebacker until they re-evaluate the team next season. You could see another offensive or defensive line commit down the road here soon. I think the quarterback for now is pretty well settled.
On Steven Casali:
He will play Mike or Will for them, he won’t play offense for them I don’t think. Given his speed, they might put him at outside linebacker, but he can play middle linebacker, too. I think he’s outstanding. I’m a little higher on him than most people, but I think the kid is outstanding.
On Sam Zeff:
It depends on who you ask about Zeff. Zeff is anywhere from one of the top guards in the country, to a average player. I think he’s a very tough player who would knock you around. I do think he’s an offensive guard, not an offensive tackle. It depends on what they run at UMass – the reference I have is based on what Molnar ran at Notre Dame.
He is a good player, he pulls well. I thought that was a good commitment.
On Richard Queen:
Rich Queen is going to play center for them. From what I have seen of him – which is not a whole lot, just highlights – he is a second-level kid who is well coached. He needs to add some weight, but the coaches will be able to mold his body.
On Sha-ki Holines:
He needs to learn technique. He is a great athlete, but he is pretty raw. They are going to have to bring him up there and more or less teach him some of the nuances of the defensive end position. I don’t know if he’s going to be a defensive end for them or fall back and play an outside linebacker/defensive end spot. He can probably play either one with his athleticism. He’s a kid with a lot of upside.
On Todd Stafford:
I’ll be honest, I saw some of his highlights from last year, and I wasn’t impressed. He only played in five games, and I wasn’t impressed with what I saw. I do not particularly like 6’5, 255-pound pro style quarterbacks. From what I have heard since then, he is throwing 45-yard rockets, and that’s from people around the community in that area. I have heard that he is very impressive, but I haven’t seen it with my own eyes. I would be interested to see him now.
On Jordan Page:
He’s a little tough to read. I like Jordan a lot, he’s an extremely intelligent kid. He has the potential to be a really good football player, but the problem is that sometimes he really dominates the prep school competition and sometimes he does not. I think they will coach him into a very good player, a very good tackle. My only problem with him is that he should be dominating players at his level at all times, and he doesn’t on film. He also hasn’t been playing football that long. He isn’t a mean-streak kid, he’s more of an athletic type.
On the class in general:
It’s a MAC school that just turned into a MAC school. If you showed me this class otherwise, I would think it was for an established MAC program, and I would still think it’s pretty good. For UMass, it’s outstanding.
What is the appeal of UMass, is it just Gillette, or something more?
I don’t think it has anything to do with Gillette to be honest – kids don’t really bring it up when they talk to me. The first thing that I hear is about the campus. The kids love the campus, and they love Amherst. When they research the school, they read that it’s one of the Top 10 college towns in America and tell me about it. They like the social life up there in general. I think they are excited about all the progress on campus, too. I’ve never been up there, so I have no idea what it looks like, but that’s what they tell me.
I think Gillette excited them a bit the same way Lincoln Financial excited recruits interested in Temple. However, sometimes that turns off players, too. They would rather play on their own campus.
I don’t think Gillette is sold to the recruits so much as all the stuff that is happening on campus. I also keep hearing about Isenberg (School of Management) and the upgrade to their on-campus facility. The recruits also hear this Boise State comparison, and it’s something they come back and tell me. They know UMass isn’t Boise State, but they want to make it Boise State. It seems that every recruit that talks to UMass hears about this.