UMass football closes book on subpar campaign

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The 2019 college football season is in the rear-view mirror for Walt Bell and the University of Massachusetts.

Putting a 1-11 record with a team that put its name into the record books in a bad way into said mirror is a good thing.

When the first-year coach met with reporters after the season-ending loss to BYU last week, Bell admitted that this was, in essence, the first round of a 10-round boxing match.

"We have to grow and when I say grow, I don't only mean physically; I don't only mean what you can see tangibly. We have to grow as a team and obviously in your first year there's so many things you have to fix," Bell said. "There's so many things outside the white lines that have to come first before you truly can make a good football team. Especially in the situation we're in."

The Minutemen put away the pads after losing 56-24 to BYU in the 2019 finale. It was UMass' seventh consecutive loss, and brought down the curtain on a most disappointing season.

UMass gave up 52.4 points and 555.1 yards per game in 2019. The only win came at home against Akron, a team that went winless in 12 games.

Bell was hired on Dec. 3, 2018, which came right at the early signing period. At the end of recruiting, Bell and his staff had a 13-player class, 10 of whom had at least some — and many with much — playing time in 2019. That list included quarterback Andrew Brito, receiver Jermaine "OC" Johnson, and lineman Helber Fagundes.

Nine first-year players either started or were second on the UMass two-deep chart, with six sophomores also peppered throughout the depth chart.

Now, Bell and his staff have had 12 months to get ready for this recruiting class.

"Obviously the next two months are going to be huge for our football program in recruiting," Bell said, "and as soon as that is over we're going to back here getting better."

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When Bell and his staff come back from the Thanksgiving holiday, they will have two weeks to get back in contact with players who have either verballed to the school or who are considering UMass. The staff has Dec. 18 circled on the calendar, as it is the first day of the three-day early signing period.

According to several recruiting sites, UMass has a class of 18 players who are verbally committed. None of those commitments are set in stone until players sign their National Letters of Intent.

Among the 18 is one quarterback in Lawrence Academy's Brady Martin, who is listed as a three-star recruit on multiple sites.

Of the top three quarterbacks on the final depth chart of the regular season, only Brito returns. He will be a redshirt junior. So unless Bell signs a couple of quarterbacks, there won't be a ton of depth on the roster.

There are, however, two Division I quarterbacks who are entering the transfer portal, and could be a one-year stopgap pick. Michael Collins is leaving TCU while Chris Ferguson is leaving the University of Maine.

Collins is a New England guy, being from New Canaan, Conn. He started at the University of Pennsylvania before making the step up to the Big 12. Collins, who is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, made four starts this fall for the Horned Frogs.

Ferguson is a 6-4, 230-pound quarterback from suburban Philadelphia. He played six games for the Black Bears before suffering a season-ending foot injury.

There is no word on whether either quarterback would consider UMass a good landing spot for one additional year.

Each week in 2019, Bell would talk to reporters as if the glass were half-full rather than half-empty. In his final regular-season presser, the first-year coach took the same line.

"I think the biggest thing especially heading into Thanksgiving is how thankful I am for all of the kids and everything they've been through. Especially those guys that are fifth-year seniors. The 11 seniors we had out there today, from a winning and losing standpoint, had a tough four years of college football. That was kind of our talk in the locker room, their ability to allow us to come in here and embrace some instrumental changes, especially off the field academically and socially and embracing that new normal is what's going to allow us to be a good football program moving forward," Bell said in his post-game press conference after BYU. "So I'm really appreciative of those guys and really thankful for those guys. As a coach, to see some of those looks on the seniors faces and how tough it has been on those guys, but knowing all of those guys are going to have great success in life, be great ambassadors for this program moving forward, that makes it all worth it so I'm really appreciative and thankful for them."

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


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