AMHERST -- Even on a sunny afternoon, Michael Cox’s smile lit up McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
That’s what happens when you ask the University of Massachusetts running back about his team’s Sept. 15 game at Michigan.
"Oh yeah," Cox said with a laugh, when asked if he had that date circled on his calendar. "Definitely. I can’t wait."
Cox is one of several transfers on first-year head coach Charley Molnar’s roster who could be factors as the Minutemen make the move up to the Mid-American Conference and the Division I-FBS landscape.
Cox and former Pittsburgh Panther Chris Burns are part of what could be a four-headed running attack. The Minutemen have to replace 1,000-yard rusher Jonathan Hernandez. Molnar could do it with any combination of Cox, Burns and returning veterans Alan Wilson and Jamar Smith.
"It’s definitely a big change," Cox said of his move from Ann Arbor to Amherst. "I like it and I just can’t wait for the season to get started."
The Dorchester native was considered a four-star product while playing at Avon Old Farms (Conn.). Recruited to Michigan in 2008, he played three seasons after sitting out a redshirt year. In those three years, the 6-foot, 214-pound back carried the ball 19 times for 177 yards and averaged 8.9 yards per carry.
He is able to play at UMass under NCAA rules that allow players who have graduated and have one year of eligibility left to go to another school without sitting out. He considered Connecticut, Boston College and South Florida before committing to the Minutemen.
Cox called his time at Michigan a good experience, and he is ready to provide some Big Ten leadership to the Minutemen in their first year of FBS play.
He’s also pretty excited to be back home, and able to play in front of family and friends at Foxborough.
"I didn’t really know that much about the program. I’m from Boston, so I always knew that UMass was always a really good I-AA team," he said. "I didn’t keep up with them that much.
"It’s really nice to be home. The whole family will be able to come to the games. It’s a 30-minute drive instead of a 14-hour drive."
Burns is another veteran Division I-FBS player, having spent his time at the former Big East school. Like Cox at Michigan, Burns didn’t get a lot of playing time at Pitt, and transferred in for the 2011 season.
Burns went to Pitt considered to be the top running back in Pennsylvania from the 2007 season. He was a first-team All-State performer as a senior and Scout.com had him listed as the No. 8 prospect in the Keystone State.
There wasn’t a lot of playing time for Burns at Pitt. That’ll happen with a 1,000-yard rusher. In remarks to reporters on Media Day, Molnar said that Burns could see playing time this year.
The history major is looking forward to helping UMass make its own history this year.
"At the end of the day, I like to think that football is football -- no matter if it’s I-A or I-AA," said Burns. "Coming from Pitt, it was different. I had never been to Massachusetts a day in my life. The hard part is being away from my home [Wilmington, Pa.] and learning a whole new system at the end of my career.
"I think I’m finally catching onto it. I think, hopefully, it’s showing and I can help the team out this year."