Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Pride of UMass, Isabella eager to prove self in NFL

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When the Arizona Cardinals drafted University of Massachusetts wide receiver Andy Isabella in the second round of the NFL Draft on Friday, it essentially capped off an Isabella for quarterback Josh Rosen trade with the Miami Dolphins.

But Isabella was having none of that.

"I don't really think about that," he said. "They do their thing behind the scenes.

"I'm just here to play."

So don't try to ask the former Minuteman about being "traded" for a first-round quarterback from the previous year's draft. He will leave you in his wake.

Isabella was on a late-night conference call Friday, while the second day of the NFL draft was wrapping up. For those of us who have covered Isabella throughout his UMass career, it wasn't all that surprising to get clipped answers to several questions.

Listening and then reading the transcript later made one kind of wish he had been drafted by the Patriots, where his short answers might have made him a favorite of Bill Belichick.

"I can't wait" to be a Cardinal, Isabella said. "This is something, like I said, that I have dreamed my whole entire life. I'm excited. I just can't wait."

Since Isabella was on a conference call, one could not see what had to be a smile on his face. It was probably bigger than the smile that UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford had, but Bamford's smile had to be as big as anyone's in the Pioneer Valley.

It's been a really good last couple of week's for Bamford and his school's athletic programs. First, defenseman Cale Makar won the Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey's best player. Then Makar and his Minutemen played for the NCAA hockey title. After that, the defenseman signed with the Colorado Avalanche, got his first NHL goal in his first NHL playoff game, and has helped the Avs reach the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Anytime you get a chance to put UMass on the national stage in whatever we do, whether it be a Frozen Four run to the national championship game, Cale's success post-UMass, obviously Andy Isabella and the conference championships we've been able to win the last couple of weeks," Bamford said when I reached him Saturday morning.

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"We measured the impact on the Frozen Four run and Cale's Hobey Baker success. It netted out over $10 million in exposure and visibility," Bamford said, "in terms of visibility, media mentions, TV and radio and print.

"For us, it really pushes the momentum piece that we've been talking about for the last year to 18 months, and we feel, with the success we've had the last couple of years that we're ready to take the next step as an athletic department."

There had to be a number of UMass fans, from Pittsfield to Provincetown, watching the NFL Draft on Friday night when Isabella's name came up. He was the 62nd player chosen in the draft, which was the earliest a UMass player was drafted since Vladimir Ducasse was taken by the New York Jets with the 61st pick in 2010. Isabella is the first wideout to be drafted from UMass since Tennessee took Tajae Sharpe in 2016. He is the 29th player to be drafted from UMass, and when he signs, will be the first Minuteman to wear Arizona Cardinals colors since Marcel Shipp spent six years in Arizona starting in 2001.

"When you get to the draft, you never know what to expect, because there are so many things going on. We knew there were a number of teams that liked Andy. We had spoken with a number. In fact, all but a handful of teams had really done a lot of homework on him," Bamford said. "We knew that for him to go somewhere, it was going to have to be a good fit if he was going to go somewhere in the second round. I think with what the Cardinals are doing offensively, I think it fits perfectly."

It didn't hurt having former UMass football staffers Spencer Whipple and Ryan Gold in the building with the Cardinals. Whipple spent the last five years as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach, working for his father. Gold is the college scouting coordinator in Arizona and has worked for the Cardinals for six years. He spent some time as a graduate assistant at UMass under Charley Molnar.

Remember one thing — UMass was Isabella's only Division I-FBS offer.

"He had no stars. He had one offer and it was us," the UMass athletic director said. "I credit [former coach] Mark Whipple and his staff for finding Andy, and not only finding him but developing him."

Andy Isabella will head to Arizona with a chip on his shoulder coming from UMass.

"Absolutely," he said. "I think there's still a lot of doubters. I just can't wait to get into this league and show what I am made of."

That's what UMass fans are saying and feeling this morning too.

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


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