UMass Football signs 12 during NCAA's first early-signing period

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AMHERST — University of Massachusetts football coach Mark Whipple said the first-ever early-signing period for Division I college football went well.

The Minutemen, with a day left in the three-day period, have brought 12 players into the fold for next year.

"I think it was good," Whipple said, when asked about the early-signing period. "We got hurt at the end on a couple, but that's happened whether it was early-signing date or late-signing date. I think the way it's worked has been positive for us."

College basketball has had an early-signing period in November and a regular period in the spring. This was the first time the NCAA instituted a football early-signing period. There will be another period in February, which — by the way — is when UMass will have its Signing Day festivities.

"Can we do it better?" he asked rhetorically. "You're always trying to self-scout and look at how the calendar falls. Everybody has needs and you're trying to get guys. I think it's been good for us."

Of the 12 players announced, eight of them are on the defensive side of the ball, while two of the four offensive players are quarterbacks.

The 12 incoming freshmen come from six different states and from Montreal. That includes a Massachusetts local in East Longmeadow's Elijah Johnson, who was a standout two-way player for the Spartans, but will likely play defensive back for UMass.

"We're excited about him," said the UMass coach. "We'll play him at corner. He's got great athletic ability. He's a super kid with a great family. I think he's got a chance."

Johnson, who returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in a 2017 regular-season game at Wahconah, could see some time returning kicks for the Minutemen.

Of the 12 newcomers, two of them are quarterbacks and three of them come from Canada.

Jaret Pallotta from Massillon, Ohio, and Josiah Johnson of Jacksonville, Fla., will join a pretty crowded quarterback room. Andrew Ford and Ross Comis were redshirt juniors, while Randall West and Michael Curtis were redshirt sophomores.

"We'll invent some new formations, so they can figure them out," Whipple said with a laugh.

"Both those guys were at camp. We watched them earlier," the coach said. "I like the way [Pallotta] played basketball, so I like his vision. He's a strong kid that can run the ball and throw it really well. Josiah came to camp late, and we just felt he was too good to pass up."

The new quarterbacks look similar. Pallotta is 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, while Johnson is 6-5, 197.

Johnson arrives in Amherst after one year as a starter at The Bolles School in Jacksonville. He replaced Mac Jones at quarterback, after Jones graduated. He is now a freshman quarterback for Nick Saban at Alabama.

"It's one of those things," said Whipple. "You're kind of overloaded, but I've never had enough good quarterbacks.

"We'll see how we're going to handle it later on."

The three Canadian players all played at Vanier College in Montreal, Quebec. Samuel Emilus is a wide receiver, Darren Kyeremeh is a linebacker and Arnold Mbembe is a defensive lineman. Mbembe was the top-ranked prospect at his level in Canada. They were all school teammates of UMass rising sophomore Tyris Lebeau.

"They're athletic. They're talented guys," said Whipple, adding that assistant coach Mike Foley had built the original Canadian pipeline when he worked at Connecticut.

With a few weeks off before coaches can recruit, Whipple and his staff will prepare to look for a few more hidden gems to announce in February.

"All good players, but a little bit more focused on the back end [secondary]," said Whipple, when asked what he would be looking for. "Receiver-wise, we're in good shape. Running backs, there might be one there. A few guys, athlete-type guys, and we'd be leaning a little more toward the defensive back side."

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UMass recruiting class

Samuel Emilus, WR, Vanier College, Montreal, Que.; Darian Green, LB, Valley Christian, Los Angeles; Elijah Johnson, DB, East Longmeadow H.S.; Josiah Johnson, QB, The Bolles School, Jacksonville, Fla; Darren Kyeremeh, LB, Vanier College, Montreal; Arnold Mbembe, DL, Vanier College, Montreal; Tim Moulton, DL, Archbishop Ryan, Philadelphia; Michael Nesmith, Linebacker, Hallendale H.S., Hallendale, Fla.; Parker Ogle, OL, Palm Beach Gardens H.S., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; Dennis Osagiede, DL, Ridge Point, Missouri City, Tex.; Jaret Pallotta, QB; Jackson, Massilon, Ohio; Da'Shon Ross, LB, Moore Haven H.S., Moore Haven, Fla.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, and 413-496-6253.


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