Saturday, February 22, 2014
Before Mark Whipple was hired as the new football coach at the University of Massachusetts, Ross Comis had started getting a little bit frustrated.
The Weirton, W.Va., native had just finished second for the Kennedy Award, which is annually given to West Virginia’s best high school football player, after a senior year that saw him post eye-popping numbers as part of an undefeated state championship team.
But whether his school was too small — Madonna High School plays in the state’s smallest classification — or he was, the 6-foot-1 quarterback hadn’t received any scholarship offers from Bowl Subdivision schools.
“I realized it wasn’t going to be easy to get recruited because it’s easy to overlook guys who aren’t 6-5 or 6-4 at quarterback,” said Comis, who had preferred walk-on offers from Pittsburgh and West Virginia. “A couple days before UMass called me I was talking to one of my high school coaches. He kept saying to have faith and that something will come through.”
That was sage advice as it turned out. Comis, who rushed for a state quarterback record 2,037 yards and 35 touchdowns and passed for 1,731 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2013, heard from UMass a couple days later and visited campus Jan. 26-27. He committed while in Amherst and will be part of Whipple’s first recruiting class that will sign Wednesday on National Signing Day.
Whipple and quarterback coach Liam Coen, who owns every significant passing record at UMass, were active in his recruitment.
“I always told myself, all I need was a chance. If I got a chance I wasn’t going to disappoint people. I’m ready to make the next step,” Comis said. “I couldn’t find myself in a better spot. Coach Whipple really hasn’t coached any of the other quarterbacks so it’s an open job. I’m ready to compete and ready to play my freshman year if that’s possible.”
UMass was hunting for quarterbacks even before former coach Charley Molnar was fired. Sophomore Mike Wegzyn had announced he was transferring and verbally committed recruit Randall West had suffered a season-ending knee injury, which left his status for 2014 uncertain. Only A.J. Doyle, who has struggled in two seasons, and Todd Stafford, who has yet to play a down, remained as scholarship quarterbacks.
Molnar’s staff didn’t pursue Comis, but he was an early target once Whipple was hired.
Shortly after committing, Comis tweeted a picture of himself wearing a No. 2 UMass jersey, the same number he wore at Madonna. Comis said he’s been wearing the number long before he even knew who Johnny Manziel was, but he and the Texas A&M Heisman winner have similar builds and, Comis hopes, similar styles. In his recruiting video, some similarities are visible.
“Johnny Manziel has been my favorite player, but I’m not on his level right now,” Comis said. “He’s one of those guys like (Seattle Seahawks QB) Russell Wilson that people don’t believe in because of his height. People say Manziel is a running quarterback, but he can throw with he best of them and he showed that this year. I think he’s going to have a great career in the NFL. I like the way he leads his team. Guys like that you want as a role model.”
Comis takes leadership seriously.
“As a quarterback, you don’t choose to be a leader, it comes with the position. As a leader you have to win games,” he said. “I believe I can come in and win games with these guys.”
NOTES — Former UMass linebacker Charles Walker is returning to Amherst to join Whipple’s coaching staff. Walker, who played for Whipple as a freshman, was a defensive quality control assistant at Vanderbilt each of the past two seasons.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed.