July 28, 2010
By David Driver
For the MassLive
Used with permission
BALTIMORE – University of Massachusetts junior Emil Igwenagu played linebacker and running back in high school and played those positions early in his college career at Amherst.
Last year he played tight end for the first time and his skills were quickly noticed. On Wednesday, at the annual CAA media day at M&T Bank Stadium, Igwenagu was named to the 2010 Colonial Athletic Association preseason all-conference team at tight end.
“It is definitely nice to be recognized,” said the Holy Name Catholic grad from Boylston, sitting inside the home of the Baltimore Ravens on Wednesday. “You know people see you and your talents. You have to earn those accolades during the season. But what matters more is that the team wins.”
The CAA head coaches and media personnel were not as kind to the Minutemen in the preseason poll that was released Wednesday in Baltimore. UMass was picked to finish eighth out of 10 teams.
“I don’t think we deserve the respect. We have to earn it back,” Tyler Holmes, a junior linebacker for UMass and returning All-American, said of the preseason poll.
Villanova, the defending national champs, was ranked first, followed by William & Mary, New Hampshire, James Madison, Delaware, Richmond, Maine, UMass, Rhode Island and Towson University.
“I have no feeling on it whatsoever,” UMass coach Kevin Morris said during media day. “It is preseason. Rank us first, rank us 10th, it doesn’t matter. It really means nothing to me at this point.”
UMass begins practice Aug. 9 under Morris, who spent five years on the staff of former head coach Don Brown before taking the head job before last season. Brown is now an assistant at the University of Maryland.
“You are constantly evolving,” Morris said. “I think I have made a lot of small changes. I think that is natural. You are trying to improve every day.”
Morris, 46, is a native of New Jersey and a 1986 graduate of Williams.
“In the first season you are adjusting to his program,” Holmes said of Morris. “Now he has the system in his words. A lot of guys are buying into it.”
UMass was 5-6 last year under Morris, with a mark of 3-5 in the CAA and 0-5 on the road.
“It is always disappointing when you are losing games,” said Igwenagu, who had 24 catches last year. “The good thing about it is it is a new year. We start with zero losses.”
UMass opens the season at home against William & Mary on Sept. 4 and then hosts Holy Cross on Sept. 11. Both teams made the playoffs last year.
The Minutemen lost 15 starters and return four starters apiece on offense and defense.
The Minutemen will have to replace left tackle Vladimir Ducasse, who was drafted in the second round by the New York Jets. Stepping in to fill that void is redshirt senior Greg Niland, who transferred from Northeastern.
“We are going to have a young team overall,” Morris said. “We will find out where we are right away. We had a real good spring. We have to go right into it from day one.”
The biggest test comes Sept. 18 when UMass plays at Michigan at the Big House in Ann Arbor. “That is definitely going to be a big game. It is historical known. It is going to be a different atmosphere than UMass games,” Igwenagu said.
“One of the greatest college football stages there is,” Holmes added.
Holmes, who had 110 tackles last year, was a 2009 all-CAA player and he also gained preseason honors Wednesday, as did UMass senior running back John Griffin.
Last year, Griffin was a star at Northeastern, and he transferred after that CAA school dropped football after the 2009 season.
Villanova’s Matt Sczur (offense) and Terence Thomas (defense) were named preseason players of the year.