by Daniel Malone, Special to the Maroon Musket
Looking to drum up support as the program moves into its second season in the Football Bowl Subdivision, UMass hosted its first-annual “Night of Champions” strength and skill competition on Wednesday.
Held in the Curry Hicks Cage, the event featured a number of Minutemen competing in different weightlifting exercises — bench press, dead lift and and squat — as well as a slam dunk contest and tug-of-war. The turnout was about what you’d expect for a football-related event in March, but UMass also reached out to several local high school teams to come check out the team up close.
Minutemen coach Charley Molnar and his staff thought up the “Night of Champions” as a way of introducing the team to the community (and perhaps plant the UMass seed in future Western Mass. recruits’ minds), while also finishing up some leftover offseason strength testing.
“We do tests as the end of the winter work out program to see where our guys are at,” Molnar said. “And so we thought, ‘Why not do it in front of the crowd?’ We do have some really strong football players, and we thought it would give them a chance to show off in front of a crowd.”
“Maybe the fan support would help them set new personal and school records, and I think we had some guys that had some phenomenal lifts.”
The two most impressive feats of strength came courtesy offensive tackle Anthony Dima, who completed 34 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press, and defensive lineman Galen Clemons, who free-squatted 515 pounds, a new personal record.
For reference, Dima’s performance on the bench would’ve been good for ninth overall and fifth-best among offensive linemen at this year’s NFL Combine.
“We had a quarterback squatting almost 425 pounds, we had a lineman trying to squat 700-plus pounds, so those are really phenomenal numbers,” Molnar said. “We just wanted to invite the high school coaches and players and give them a chance to see just how just how strong a college football player is and what they need to do to prepare.”
The most exciting event of the night was the high-flying dunk contest, which was won by defensive back Khary Bailey-Smith. Though he wasn’t able to set up what would have undoubtedly been the show-stopping slam he was planning for the final round against wide receiver Derek Beck, the athletic freshman still wowed the crowd with his performance.
“Last week, we had like a little team dunk contest just for fun,” Bailey-Smith, who high jumped seven feet in high school, said. “They told me about the Night of Champions, and they said there was gonna be a dunk contest in it. It’s only a fun game, so I just came out and had fun then ended up winning.”
Added Molnar, “He’s phenomenal. He’s a super athlete, he’s got great elevation and next year he’ll be even better.”
Former Minuteman Valdamar Brower, head coach at Springfield Central High School and a standout defensive lineman at UMass from 1999-02, thought the “Night of Champions” is important event for his players as they start to think about the next level of competition.
“It’s great,” he said. “Hopefully it’s inspirational to understand how important the weight room is and to understand college is a good experience. Obviously, they had good time and (saw that the UMass players are) just guys like them.”
Before closing out the night, Molnar addressed the crowd in hopes of drawing more fans to UMass’ annual spring game at McGuirk Stadium on April 20. He said the team’s hoping to get 5,000 people to the game.
“I think we’re developing a fan base, slowly but surely, not only in the community but also on campus,” he said. “Anytime that our fans get a chance to meet our players and support them, I think it’s a great thing for UMass.”
Check out some photos from the “Night of Champions”
Here are some videos from the slam dunk contest: