UMass coach Whipple in 'best quarterback situation' with Ford, Comis

UMass quarterback Andrew Ford discusses his excitement about starting the season.
AMHERST — There are four quarterbacks on the University of Massachusetts football roster. Head coach Mark Whipple says that it's still Andrew Ford and Ross Comis as a two-arm position.

"We have two starting quarterbacks," Whipple said. "It's the best quarterback situation I've ever had at UMass."

Comis was the starter to begin last year, but suffered injuries that forced him to the sideline. Ford, who transferred to UMass from Virginia Tech, took over. He started nine games and threw for nearly 2,700 yards, 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

"[Comis] was a starter last year, but unfortunately, he got hurt. He did a great job in the second half against Tulane," said Whipple. "He's coming off knee surgery and looks really good.

"We have two guys who can play."

Both quarterbacks are expected to see action next Saturday, when UMass opens its 2017 season with a home game against the University of Hawaii. It is one of two home games in the first five weeks of the season. UMass will play Old Dominion at McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Sept. 9.

Whipple said he would not be afraid to use either one.

"Ross is a really capable guy. He was a starter last year, and unfortunately he got hurt in the second half against Tulane," the coach said. "He's looked really good, so we've got two guys who can play.

"You look, every year, we've got someone hurt. That's kind of the way the nature of the game is. I don't run [the quarterback] that much."

Ford took over for Comis in a 31-24 loss to Tulane. He also quarterbacked the Minutemen in a 34-28 loss at South Carolina and the season-ending 46-40 defeat at Hawaii.

For Ford, the start of 2017 is a far cry from where he was in 2016.

"It's night and day," he said after a recent practice. "Just from every aspect of this game, knowing the personnel, knowing [assistant coach Scott Woodward] and knowing how they coach, from knowing the offense to knowing our defense and the different looks.

"The game has slowed down a lot for me in the last couple of months, and I'm really excited to get out there with these guys and put in the work."

Ford arrived in the Pioneer Valley with a top-notch resume. He was recruited out of Cedal Cliff High School in Camp Hill, Pa., by Virginia Tech. The Hokies liked the fact that Ford was ranked 26th nationally among pro-style quarterback prospects and was the 16th-ranked player in the state of Pennsylvania.

He did, however, transfer out and play his freshman season for Lackawanna Community College in Scranton, before signing on with UMass.

Ford, Comis and the rest of the Minutemen were part of a 2-10 team last year. Of the 12 teams on UMass' schedule last year, nine of them made bowl games, and those nine teams finished 8-1 in them.

One of those nine teams are the Rainbow Warriors, who will arrive early next week in the Pioneer Valley to acclimate themselves to the time zone changes.

In the 2016 finale, UMass rallied from two touchdowns down to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. John Robinson's one-yard touchdown run and Marquis Young's 18-yard run made it 40-40 with 5:29 left. But Hawaii quarterback Dru Brown, who returns this year, threw a 56-yard TD strike to Keelan Ewaliko with 3:52 to play, accounting for the 46-40 final.

"They're a great football team. We know we have our work cut out for us," said Ford. "It's going to take our best game to have a chance.

"It's a little different because we're not flying halfway around the world. It's nice to have them come to our place this year."

Looking ahead to 2017, there are eight 2016 bowl teams on the schedule, and those teams were 6-2 last year.

So, a question that is always asked when discussions of how much better the team will be is whether the team will be better, even if the record doesn't show it.

"Even just from the end of the season last year to the end of the spring to now, guys are progressing. We had a great off-season in the film room. We had player-led meetings," Ford said. "[Football strength coach Joe ] Connelly and his staff have done a tremendous job with us, getting everybody bigger, faster and stronger.

"I think we're a much better team than last year. Guys trust each other, believe in each other, and that's the most important part."

Reach sports writer Howard Herman at 413-496-6253 or @howardherman.


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