July 29, 2009
By David Driver
Used with permission
BALTIMORE - The University of Massachusetts is the winningest football program among Colonial Athletic Association schools over the past decade.
But the Minutemen, after going 23-5 with conference titles in 2006 and 2007, slipped to 7-5, 4-4 CAA last season. UMass allowed 26.8 points per game, including 194.8 yards per outing on the ground.
And they were scorched for 52 points in two separate games and 56 in another.
"It was a little bit of an embarrasment," senior safety Jeromy Miles said during CAA media day Wednesday at the ESPNZone.
"We had young guys, guys that were banged up" with injuries.
"It was more embarrassing in the running game," added Miles, who led the Minutemen in tackles with 104. "Last year a lot of people ran on us. It just hurt us. It hurt my pride."
Miles said better days are ahead, even though former defensive back Courtney Robinson is in training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles. Kevin Morris is the new coach, and Miles said he felt a renewed commitment during spring and summer workouts.
"We didn't have that much unity as we had in the past few years," said Miles, a 2009 preseason Brian Buchanan Award Watch List honoree. "We got rid of a lot of those problems."
Senior offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse, the other UMass player who attended media day, also said the chemistry has improved.
"The most important thing we were missing is everyone playing together. It is a team effort," said Ducasse, a preseason first-team All-American and possible NFL draft pick. "Last year was disappointing. We want to bring (success) back. We want to show everyone we are the same (program). At the same time it is a new season now."
UMass, with seven first-place votes, was picked to finish second in the North Division behind New Hampshire, which garnered 12 votes from the 12 coaches and selected media members.
"We would love to be under-the-radar. We will take under-the-radar," Morris said. "We have great kids in this program."
Said Miles: "We feel we are being overlooked."
"They graduated some good players on both sides of the ball," Northeastern coach Rocky Hager said of UMass.
Morris, the former offensive coordinator, was named coach in January. He takes over from Don Brown, who had the job for five years before taking an assistant position at the University of Maryland.
"It is a different atmosphere. He is real intense. He gets us going," Miles said of Morris.
The season begins for UMass Sept. 5 at Kansas State, a member of the Big 12 Conference that scored nearly 35 points per game last year while going 5-7.
Said Morris: "It is a great opener. The kids want to play the best. They want to go up against Division I competition any time they can."
"We have to go in there ready to play," Ducasse said. "They are faster than us. We have to give it 100 percent every play, every down."
The Minutemen's road schedule also includes games at Delaware and Richmond, both of whom have won national titles since 2003.
"The schedule is tough but we have to toughen it up and play football," Ducasse said.
That would UMass football, circa 2007.
Northeastern senior wide receiver Tony Lott is best friends with high school teammate Corey Davis, a senior defensive back at UMass.
"He feels they need to grow as a team," Lott, from Baltimore, said.
Miles, Ducasse and Morris said the team has done that in off-season training.
"If we can stay healthy with the senior class we have coming back I think you will see better defense with just that alone," Morris said.