The fax machine at the UMass football office had cooled off.
Coaches paced up and down the hallways. Cell phones rang. Head coach Charley Molnar put the chaos of his first full Signing Day on hold and spent more than 20 minutes answering questions from the media. Arguably the best recruiting class in UMass football history was almost complete, and it was clear that Molnar wanted to put a bow on it.
After a year of commitments, decommitments, near misses and recruiting battles, the staff was waiting for one last fax. Defensive end Peter Angeh, a highly sought-after recruit who had just picked up an 11th-hour offer from Wake Forest, hadn’t sent in his Letter of Intent. There was a silent-yet-tangible tension in the room.
The press conference ended, and most of the media went to cover UMass’ basketball game. Then, like a sparked wick meeting its final destination, a late fax lit up the office.
Cheers, clapping, yells … “We got him!”
Angeh signed the dotted line.
It was clear that the staff was celebrating more than just one commitment. It was enjoying the last few steps before the finish line. No program in the MAC had to fight harder for a recruiting class, and only a handful could boast one of UMass’ caliber.
“The talent is arguably the most talented group of football players to ever come to the University of Massachusetts. We won’t know the fruits of our labors for several years, but … we think we put together the finest recruiting class in the history of the university,” Molnar said. “Last year’s class we thought was a solid Mid-American Conference football class. We think think this class is more at the top of the list. It may not be the top recruiting class in the Mid-American Conference, but certainly it’s going to be in the top 25 percent.”
The 2013 class currently boasts 21 scholarship athletes and a number of “high-level” walk-ons. If things pan out during the coming months, UMass will also add Ricardo Miller, a tight end/wide receiver from Michigan who will transfer as a graduate student – although the university cannot make that announcement official until Miller is on campus. The final scholarships could be filled by other graduate student transfers, but one is currently reserved for Lorenzo Woodley III, a quality Florida running back that decided to wait on making his college announcement.
While Molnar couldn’t speak about Woodley specifically, he did say that ”we would like to have one more speed running back.”
As a whole, there weren’t too many surprises, as every athlete who remained verbally committed heading into the day signed. The Minutemen did, however, add Fabien Holler, a 6’3, 301-pound offensive lineman from Germany who had previously committed to Wyoming. The UMass staff – and Holler himself – kept the recruitment relatively quiet.
“Any time you get a player like that, it’s generally connections. We were able to connect the dots via another coach that coach (Allen) Suber and I are friends with,” Molnar said. “They were very interested in him, and their scholarship allotment for offensive line was full, so they passed the name along to us. We connected with his coach over in Germany, and the rest is history.”
Aside from waiting for the late-afternoon fax from Angeh, Signing Day 2013 went relatively smooth for Molnar and staff. Of course, the road to Feb. 6 wasn’t always so easy. Several recruits flipped to schools like UConn and Temple, while others simply didn’t qualify to play for UMass.
Molnar indicated that UMass went toe-to-toe with several Northeast FBS schools, and that’s where he wants to be.
“We want to battle with the BCS schools. I don’t know whether you consider UConn and Temple BCS schools after next season – we certainly don’t, but we do know this: That’s the neighborhood we want to be in. We want to be fighting UConn and Temple and Rutgers and Syracuse and Boston College for kids,” Molnar said. “We won some, and we lost some.”
There was also the Faculty Senate debacle, where a handful of professors created a cloud of bad PR around the program. The ensuing articles served as ammunition for programs trying to poach recruits from UMass. Most notably, the recruitment of linebacker Shane Huber (who signed his LOI with UMass), was disrupted after a New York Times article depicted the UMass football program as unstable.
“Some of the aftereffects of that were dealt with very quickly and very effectively by two people, our athletic director John McCutcheon, who personally got on the phone with several of our recruits and was able to calm the storm, so to speak. Also, our chancellor (Kumble R. Subbaswamy) was able to get on the phone, and also came and talked to the staff and reiterated his commitment and our commitment to move forward in I-A football.”
At the end of the day, the nonstory surrounding the Faculty Senate was more of an annoyance than anything else. Molnar indicated that he and his staff were still able to point to the new football facilities, early playing time and the prospect of playing for a championship MAC program when speaking to recruits.
He added that this year’s class was a step up from last year’s, when the staff only had limited time to recruit.
“Last year we were really selling a vision and a dream. This year we had more reality to show the players,” Molnar said. “We were able to show them what our offense looked like, what our defense looked like, and what our special teams looked like. We were able to describe to them in detail what the life of a UMass football player is from winter workouts all the way through the conclusion of a season.”
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