Thursday August 30, 2012

AMHERST -- No University of Massachusetts football player knows head coach Charley Molnar better than wide receiver Deion Walker.

That's because Walker transferred to UMass from Notre Dame, where Molnar was his offensive coordinator.

"It's not so much different, but he's a lot more vocal," said Walker. "He has to do that as the head coach. He's still high energy, very fast paced."

Molnar's high-energy, fast-paced Minutemen will make their Division I-Football Bowl Subdivision debut tonight against the University of Connecticut in East Hartford, Conn.

The Minutemen are making the leap from the Football Championship Subdivision to D-I FBS as a member of the Mid-American Conference.

Molnar is also making the leap from offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, one of many assistant positions he has held for the past 28 years, to his first head coaching job.

Walker graduated from Notre Dame and is using his fifth season of eligibility to play for UMass. He wouldn't be here if Molnar wasn't.

"Hands down," Walker said. "He brought the same offense I ran for two years at Notre Dame. I know his style of play and I like playing in it."

The Minutemen and Huskies will meet for the first time since 1999 when both teams were members of the Atlantic 10 conference. UMass won that game 62-20. Since then, UConn has joined the Big East in football and played in the Fiesta Bowl after winning the Big East title in 2010.

"We have an opportunity to play a great game and create a new rivalry, or [recreate] an old rivalry, so to speak," Molnar said. "What I want to happen at the end of the game, regardless of the outcome, is that fans from both sides -- the 40,000 people in that stadium -- say ‘Let's do this again next year.' "

Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni has similar feelings about the renewal of this ancient rivalry.

"With conference affiliations now being what they are, playing UMass will give us a chance to have an Eastern game regardless of the location [of conference opponents]," Pasqualoni said during a Sunday press conference in Storrs, Conn.

Twelve months ago, the Minutemen were preparing to play teams like James Madison, Villanova and New Hampshire. Now they have UConn tonight, Indiana next Saturday at Gillette Stadium, and at Michigan before jumping into MAC play.

As to the Huskies, Molnar said it's going to be a game featuring a veteran group of Huskies against an inexperienced bunch of Minutemen.

"As you look at their depth chart, you see a bunch of guys who have redshirted on both sides of the ball," said Molnar. "A lot of these players have been a part of a BCS bowl team, going to the Fiesta Bowl.

"These guys are an experienced football team. No doubt about it."

Seventeen Minutemen are going to make their college debuts tonight, none more important than redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Wegzyn. Four UMass starters are either redshirt freshmen or first-year freshmen.

At the UMass media day earlier this month, Molnar said that as good as his players are, they were recruited to play Division I-FCS football. That means the Minutemen could to be at a bit of a disadvantage.

"[UConn is] going to be a little bit bigger than us, a little bit faster," said Molnar. "All in all, I think our guys are very confident."

To reach Howard Herman:
hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
(413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman.