AMHERST — Jackson Porter has been a cornerback for mere weeks. The redshirt freshman and former safety has plenty of potential, but he’s still learning the position. So why is Randall Jette studying him?
Jette should prominently figure into any conversation about the best players on the UMass football team, a leader and a role model for his younger teammates. But when he looks around at coaches, teammates, even the walk-ons, he sees educational opportunities.
“Jackson has been rotating with the (starters) so I look out for him, but I can learn from him too. He’s a big physical, strong corner. He’s bigger and stronger than me,” said the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Jette about his 6-foot-1, 190-pound teammate. “I’ll take something from his game. Everybody has something to contribute.”
Jette’s game is kind of a jigsaw puzzle of those contributions, lessons he’s learned from everyone around him interlocking with his own considerable athletic ability.
There are a few pieces of former teammate Darren Thellen, whose approach to playing defensive back and off-the-field preparation, Jette watched and admired.
There is some of current UMass junior linebacker Kassan Messiah, who Jette has tried to emulate.
“He’s always the last one left in the weight room,” Jette said with a hint of reverence.
There are pieces of each coach he’s worked with, a sizable club. Mark Whipple is his third collegiate head coach. Jette was recruited and played his redshirt year under Kevin Morris and the last two under Charley Molnar. Each head coach had a different defensive coordinator and Molnar had a different cornerback coach in each of his two seasons.
“I’ve learned something from every coaching staff,” said Jette, who is on his way to becoming one of the best players ever from Martha’s Vineyard. “I’ve gotten better, but I’ve got a long way to go. You’re never good enough. I’m lucky. I had older guys teaching me like Darren Thellen. I’m trying to be a good leader and pass it on like it was passed to me. I try to my best play in play out to set an example.”
Tom Masella is both UMass’ defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. Jette is trying to soak up his knowledge.
“Coach Masella is a genius, how he can read defenses so fast from watching film,” Jette said. “I have gotten a lot better, but I want be on that level. I want to be a coach on the field.”
Masella returns the admiration.
“Randall’s done a great job. He works extremely hard. He’s very talented. He wants to be good and he’s a pretty good leader,” Masella said. “If you’re going to follow somebody around, he’s a pretty good person to follow around.”
One of those following Jette is Porter.
“I feel very safe with Randall Jette out there,” Porter said. “Randall is a very good player, one of our best defensive backs. I just try to learn from him and take what I can and model my game after his game.”
COMPETING FOR TIME — While Jette is a lock to start at one corner, Trey Dudley-Giles’ move to safety has opened up playing time at on the other side.
Porter, a redshirt freshman, has been in the mix to start.
“As soon as camp started I knew it was go time, time to start making an impact. My redshirt year was good, but it’s actually time to play now. I’m happy about that,” Porter said. “The coaches have a lot of confidence in me. It’s time to start having some confidence in myself. I’m ready to go out there and make plays.”
Whipple has been impressed.
“He’s got talent and I think he’s a lot better there than he was at safety,” Whipple said. “He’s playing with a little more confidence and a little more swagger. That’s good to see.”
WOODLEY OUT — Sophomore running back Lorenzo Woodley, hurt his ankle in Saturday’s scrimmage and has been out of action since. Whipple seemed unconcerned.
“He should be back (shortly),” Whipple said. “He tried to practice (Monday) but couldn’t go. It’s day-to-day.”
QB WATCH — Whipple is expected to name either Marshall transfer Blake Frohnapfel or returning starter A.J. Doyle as his team’s starting quarterback by the end of the week. Whipple has a set list of what he’s looking for out of them as they make their final push for the job.
“Lead and take care of the football. Move the team. Know their progressions. Know when to take a chance and when not to,” Whipple said. “Both have really improved.”