Losing record but winning interest: UMass football inks 18 new recruits

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AMHERST — Eleven losses in 12 football games may not have been how Walt Bell would have liked his first season as the University of Massachusetts head coach to have gone. That record, he said, had no impact on the new class of recruits who signed to play at UMass.

"Not one bit," Bell said. "For us, what we've been selling the entire time of recruiting is a vision of what could be. I think the young people, sometimes they're smarter than people give them credit for. They understand what this place can be. They understand the unbelievable academics, they understand the accelerated growth on this campus. At the same time, they also want to have a chance to play early and be a contributor, and do something that has never been done before — going to the first [BCS] bowl game in the history of the school.

"That's what we've been selling the whole time, and we've had a lot of kids really buy into that."

Wednesday was the first day of the college football early signing period. Through mid afternoon, Bell and his staff have received signed National Letters of Intent from 18 football players. The football early signing period runs through Friday, with national signing day set for Feb. 5, 2020.

UMass's 2020 season opens on Thursday, Sept. 3, at Connecticut. The home opener is Saturday, Sept. 12, against Troy.

The newcomers to the UMass program come from nine different states, the District of Columbia and two players are natives of Germany. One of the native Germans, offensive lineman Dominik Behrens, attended Williston Northampton.

"It addressed some obvious big needs in our program, especially on the offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage, and at the DB position and linebacker," Bell said, speaking to reporters on a midday conference call. "We feel great about our class. We're excited to get them here."

The first LOI's to cross Bell's desk belonged to wide receiver Onuma Dieke of Riverdale, Ga., and defensive lineman Hugo Klages of Braunschweig, Germany. Their letters arrived at 7 a.m., sharp. Nine of the 18 early signees had their Letters of Intent in before 7:30.

Defensive lineman Sammy Solomon of Exeter, Pa., sent his LOI in at 3:35 p.m., Wednesday afternoon. His was the final letter expected by Bell and his staff on the first day.

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According to the Rivals.com recruiting site, UMass has the No. 80 recruiting class in the nation, ahead of independent rivals Liberty (No. 84) and Connecticut (88). The recruiting site 247sports.com has ranked UMass with the 83rd best recruiting class, just behind former Mid-American Conference rival Miami (Ohio) and just ahead of Temple.

For comparison, 247 sports.com has Boston College ranked 60th, Liberty 101st and UConn 116th.

Of the 18 players who signed early, seven of them play in the trenches. There are four new defensive linemen and three new offensive linemen.

The four defensive linemen in the early signing period average 6-foot, 3-inches tall and 297 1/2 pounds. The three offensive linemen average 6-3, 303.

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"We got some big kids," Bell said. "We're unbelievably excited about especially on the defensive line. Between [Josh] Atwood, Taishan [Holmes] and Aaron Beckwith, it's going to be a complete reconstruction of the D-Line. We're really confident in those young guys [on the offensive line].

"We know it's a line of scrimmage game, and we need to be able to win that first."

While Bell did say that players for the trenches were positions of need, he and his staff recruited to find as many players to play as many different positions as possible.

"Obviously, when there's a roster reconstruction as large as this one, you can't address everything at once," he said. "In terms of the structure of the numbers, they've been the same since we got here. We knew how we wanted to attack it in terms of what additions when. We hit right on numbers we felt we needed. Obviously, right up there at the end, with the natural attrition on the roster, it felt like we needed to add one more of these as opposed to the best-available guy.

"I felt like we hit the number on the nose, and now we have to go finish in February."

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Seven of the first 18 will enroll at UMass in January. Bell said the seven are defensive back Tristan Armstrong, running back Jared Cole, defensive lineman Taishan Holmes, defensive lineman Hugo Klages, quarterback Kyle Lindquist, offensive lineman Reggie Marks III and running back Ellis Merriweather.

Lindquist and Will Koch are the two quarterbacks in this class. Lindquist comes from Butte College, a junior college in California. Koch played high school football in Florida.

Bell and his staff will be heading into a dead period through the holidays. They will resume their recruiting in mid-January before National Signing Day on Feb. 5.

In addition to finishing up recruiting, there are more than 600 Division I-FBS players in the NCAA's transfer portal, so it more than possible that a few of those athletes could end up on the UMass roster.

"Coming out of the day, we have anywhere from three to five spots left. We hope to know who those three to five kids are," Bell said. "The biggest thing is not only addressing our needs for the rest of this class, also at the same time, getting a head start on 20-21. Now we have a much smaller number of kids that we have to recruit, which should enable us to get out and do a better job on 20-21, and get a head start on next year."


UMass 2020 Recruiting Class

Tristan Armstrong, DB, Washington D.C.; Josh Atwood, DL, Natick; Aaron Beckwith, DL, Germantown, Md.; Dominik Behrens, OL, Hamburg, Germany; Jared Cole, RB, Ashburn, Va.; Onuma Dieke, WR, Riverdale, Ga.; Taishan Holmes, DL, Tappahannock, Va.; Joe Horn, OL, Hamilton, N.J.; Gerrell Johnson, LB, Washington, D.C.; Cody Jones, DB, Fayetteville, Ga.; Hugo Klages, DL, Braunschweig, Germany; Will Koch, QB, Niceville, Fla.; Kyle Lindquist, QB, Chico, Calif.; Nahji Logan, LB, Yeadon, Pa.; Reggie Marks III, OL, Havre de Grace, Md.; Ellis Merriweather, RB, Alpharetta, Ga.; Ethan Mottinger, OL, North Attleboro; Sammy Solomon, DL, Exeter, Pa.,

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


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