AMHERST — As he got set to head out to Thursday night’s practice, University of Massachusetts football coach Mark Whipple was far more concerned with getting his team better that night than what conference it would be playing in three seasons down the road.
UMass is hunting for a new home after the school and the Mid-American Conference announced that 2015 would be the Minutemen’s last season in the MAC.
“I knew that was coming when I took the job,” Whipple said. “This is a great place. We’ve got a great opportunity. It’s a great challenge. Whether we’re in the SEC or the Ivy League that doesn’t affect what I’m doing or what those guys are doing. We’re just trying to get better.”
He admitted that if the team had success in its final two seasons in the MAC that it would make UMass more attractive to other conferences.
“If you win it helps,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Whipple didn’t expect the uncertainty to affect recruiting.
“The school sells itself,” Whipple said. “Since I was here, you look at the basketball facility going up, you look at our facility. It’s headed in the right direction.”
Freshman running back Lorenzo Woodley will be a senior in 2016 when the Minutemen land in a new conference.
“I’m very excited to see what’s the next step during my last year at UMass,” Woodley said. “Right now I’m jut worried about the MAC and what kind of success we’re going to have this year in the MAC.”
WOODLEY 2.0 — Woodley, who was UMass’ highest profile incoming freshman last year, had a disjointed rookie season that was slowed by injuries. Other than his 38-carry, 163-yard game against Northern Illinois, his impact was minimal.
Healthy again, Woodley was eager to make the most of spring practice.
“I’m just trying to get back right, get back to where I was before the injury,” said Woodley, who thought the year under his belt was still valuable. “I know what to expect. I know how to approach it. I know how to prepare and how to stay prepared and how to stay healthy for each task I have coming up.”
He expected that a year of practice, being in the weight room and summer conditioning will go a long way.
“I think it’s going to make me better physically and a better football player. I’m going to be a lot better going into the season learning how to read defenses and read my blocks,” Woodley said. “Physically I’ll be bigger, stronger and faster from the winter workouts and summer conditioning. I’ll be way more prepared than I was last year.”
Woodley thinks the change from Charley Molnar’s spread to Whipple’s pro-style offense would benefit him as well.
“I feel like this new offensive scheme fits my running style,” he said. “It’s the same offensive scheme that I ran in high school. I feel like this is the type of offense I belong in. I’m very excited to see what I can do this year. ... I feel like I can be a work horse and take over a game. I feel like 25 carries a game, I could be the type of back that can carry the workload.”
IHEDIGBO OFFICIALLY A LION — The Lions signed former UMass safety James Ihedigbo to a $3.1 million, two-year contract, according to an Associated Press source. The person, who said the deal included a $750,000 signing bonus, spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday on condition of anonymity because the terms had not been announced.
Ihedigbo earned a spot in the NFL after being an undrafted free agent and a walk-on at UMass.
Ihedigbo ranked second in tackles for Baltimore Ravens last season (103) and had three interceptions after having one in his previous five years in the league. He will be reunited with first-year coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, both of whom were assistant coaches last year in Baltimore.
He started 12 games in 2011 for the New England Patriots and had 67 tackles, ranking fifth on the team. Ihedigbo made his NFL debut with the New York Jets during the 2008 season.
Information from the Associated Press was used in the Ihedigbo note.