AMHERST — New UMass offensive lineman Ryan Johnson doesn’t just look big to normal-sized people.
“He’s huge,” said 6-foot-4, 280-pound teammate Matt Sparks. “Just looking at him walk in, it’s like ‘wow he’s big.’ I’m really excited to have him.”
Monday was the 6-foot-5, 320-pound junior’s first full practice with the Minutemen. The junior college transfer needed to complete summer classes and have his eligibility cleared by the NCAA and UMass before he was deemed eligible, a process that lasted until late last week.
He was on the field with the Minutemen during Saturday’s game against Boston College, but NCAA rules require players to have five days of workouts before they can participate in full-contact practice. As of Monday afternoon, the only hurdle to clear was learning the offense.
“It feels good. There were a lot of sacrifices I had to make to become eligible, but it was worth it,” said Johnson, who had to pay for his summer classes out of his own pocket.
After the Minutemen’s running game was ineffective and quarterback Blake Frohnapfel was hurried and knocked down all game in Saturday’s loss to BC, any potential upgrade on the line was welcomed. UMass coach Mark Whipple said he thought Johnson would likely see action in Saturday’s 3 p.m. game against Colorado at Gillette Stadium.
“I think he will be on the two-deep,” Whipple said. “We’ll practice tonight and get to see him a bit more against some people instead of just (by himself). I’ll know by the end of the week. He will travel and likely be part of the extra point or field goal team certainly in that area.”
While his teammates practiced, Johnson tried to prepare himself on his own, lifting, running, watching film and studying his playbook.
“I watched film, watching a lot of guys’ mistakes trying to learn from their mistakes,” said Johnson, who’d turn to his veteran teammates for help.
Said Sparks, “He’d ask questions about the plays and really try to learn. It was hard for him because he couldn’t practice with us. He’d be out doing his own thing working hard and we would help him out.”
Johnson thought being able to practice would speed up his learning process.
“It’s one thing to be in the playbook studying it, I’m more of a hands-on guy. I have to be on the field,” he said. “I’m a fast learner. Throughout this week, I’ll compete and hopefully get a starting spot.”
Johnson wasn’t certain what position he’d be working at.
“I’m comfortable playing tackle, but I’ll play where there’s an opening,” he said.
SIFRIN STILL OUT — Tight end Jean Sifrin, whose status was similar to Johnson during camp, is still waiting to be cleared. Whipple said he was getting closer.
“A couple weeks maybe,” Whipple said. “He’s got to get in class. We’ll see what happens in the next couple of days.”
SEALS QUESTIONABLE — The status for junior linebacker Trey Seals, who suffered an undisclosed leg injury in the first half against Boston College, won’t be determined until closer to Saturday’s game.
“I would say he is probably 50-50,” Whipple said. “Da’Sean Downey played the rest of the time and played pretty well so I believe we will know more in a couple days.”