National signing day: UMass football adds experience, talent with 13 transfers

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 02-01-2023 2:39 PM

Youth didn’t serve the UMass football team last season, so head coach Don Brown sprinkled in some experience.

The Minutemen announced 13 transfers joined the program Wednesday as part of national signing day. Three are graduate transfers with one year of eligibility remaining while two others have played at least two seasons of college football.

“If you look at us a year ago, the one thing that I don't think I did a great job in terms of the recruiting piece is we were probably one of the youngest teams in America. When you start searching for vets and guys that have experience that can take leadership roles, it's a pretty thin crop,” Brown said. “We made it a point to get older, to get guys that have been through college practices, been through college seasons. That was really something that we felt very strongly about, is getting a little bit older to provide some experience and some veteran guys that could provide leadership and show guys the way things should be done.”

Four are from Massachusetts with imports from New Hampshire and Connecticut emphasizing his New England ties. Five were at Brown’s former school Arizona (two of whom are Massachusetts kids).

Add those transfers in with the six-player high school class announced in December, and the Minutemen’s recruiting cycle is about wrapped up. Additional transfers could still filter in over the coming days. Brown said they’re working on two other players, but the bulk of the class is signed and emphasizes the relationships Brown has built in his career.

“They know they’re gonna get an honest day’s work from me. I’m a big relationship guy. That’s all there is with me,” Brown said.

Tyler Martin, a linebacker from Acton, Jermaine Wiggins Jr., a defensive lineman from Boxford, wide receiver Anthony Simpson, (Pawling, N.Y.), and running back Jalen John (Lake Oswego, Ore.) all committed to Brown for the second time after transferring from Arizona. Martin had actually committed to Michigan when Brown was there and followed him to the desert and back home.

“When you're genuine with the players and you tell them the truth, those things can happen. Guys will tend to follow you because they think you can help them get where they need to go, and that's a good thing,” Brown said. “At the same time, there's demands, there’s all those things about being a player, and, obviously, we're offering a great education as well. All those things count.”

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Simpson played in 11 games primarily as a kick returner. He ran twice for eight yards and caught four passes for 56 yards. The other three did not see the field for the Wildcats.

Quarterbacks Carlos Davis joined from Western Carolina and Taisun Phommachanh transferred from Georgia Tech after originally committing to Clemson.

Davis, a 6-foot-3 grad transfer form Baltimore, led the Catamounts to a 6-5 record last season throwing for 1,837 yards and 16 touchdowns in seven games. He ran for another 221 yards.

“He’s a much more experienced guy that can provide leadership in the room. A veteran guy that’s played a lot of football,” Brown said.

Phommachanh, whose brother Tyler plays at UConn, spent three seasons as a reserve at Clemson before going to Georgia Tech. He was a four-star prospect and a consensus top-10 quarterback coming out of high school. Phommachanh appeared in two games for the Yellow Jackets last season, running 15 times for 56 yards and two touchdowns while completing two passes for 13 yards.

They’ll compete with freshman Ahmad “the Problem” Haston, a freshman who signed in December from Florida, and incumbent starter Brady Olson for the job.

“We feel like we’ve addressed the quarterback position the way it needed to be addressed. We feel like that room’s completely done over,” Brown said. “We feel like we’ve addressed it, and we’ve created competition for that spot.”

Brown also leveraged the state of Florida to add former four-star talent. Safety Jalen Harrell is coming from Miami, defensive lineman Shambre Jackson is on the way from Florida State and Mark Pope is a Miami native that began his career at the U before spending last season with Deion Sanders at Jackson State.

Pope caught 52 passes for 680 yards and four touchdowns for the Hurricanes but didn’t have as large a role with the Tigers.

DaShaun Jerkins will be a grad transfer safety from Ole Miss who also spent time at Vanderbilt. He played in five games for the Rebels after starting in 27 for the Commodores.

Former Minnesota safety Steven Ortiz is an Arizona native that was a four-star recruit coming out of high school. He did not play as a freshman and debuted for the Gophers as a sophomore.

Offensive lineman Brandon MacKinnon from Lakeville spent one year at Northern Illinois and will have three years to play for the Minutemen. He’s one of just three offensive linemen in this year’s class after the Minutemen added two freshmen in December.

“The most sought after position group in the older sector, the guys that go into portal is the offensive line,” Brown said. “We've marched a lot of young men through the door and out the door. And guys that are Division II players, (FCS) players, Ivy League players… they're going to Power Fives, they're going to Division I and we've seen it now. We're still involved with other guys, and we will continue to be involved in the offensive line. We'd like to get to more offensive linemen, and then we think we'd be fully loaded ready to go.”

New Hampshire native Jackson Paradis joined from Buffalo after not appearing for the Bulls last year.

TIMES A CHANGING – Brown has seen just about everything in his four decades coaching college football in some capacity. The impact of social media has shifted the most in recent years.

“Our athletes have a lot more to overcome than in the past in terms of this piece. Social media can be a real negative for players, especially if they let it attack their positive mindset. Crazy things get said on Twitter and all those other operations that are available, and they're not true. They're not meaningful. They're just out there,” Brown said. “Some guys let that stuff really attack their positive mindset and their positive self talk, and that's a concern. That's the number one area that, as a coach, you've got to come in educating your guys about that, and trying to get them to reduce screen time and stay away from what John Smith thinks of you. If I did that, I wouldn't be coaching anymore for crying out loud. You just can't let that stuff impact you.”

Brown also said he didn’t use name, image and likeness rights as part of his sales pitch. It’s something he can’t be involved with, and he’s grateful for it.

“You're selling yourself as a coach and as an advocate for the athlete. That's really important. The nice thing is academically we're the No. 26 public research university in the country. We're selling the academics. You're in a great college town, not a college city. You may not appeal to everybody. You're really selling the strengths of the school and not the NIL,” Brown said. “The NIL is part of the process once you're here, but it's really not supposed to be part of the recruiting, the reason that you come. That's important, I think because the most important thing that you do is develop players, develop young men. That's the next level, when it should come down to dollars and cents, not the college level. I think the NCAA is right keeping it out of the coach's hands.”

LOCALS – Northampton native Maximus Lockett, who played football at Springfield Central this fall, signed with Youngstown State. He’ll play offensive line for the FCS school.

South Hadley’s Adam Campbell signed to play Division II soccer with Caldwell University, a small private school in New Jersey.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>