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Signing day brings UMass quarterbacks, offensive linemen

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
Mark Whipple's first recruiting class at UMass includes four quarterbacks and five offensive linemen.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Mark Whipple's first recruiting class at UMass includes four quarterbacks and five offensive linemen.

By MATT VAUTOUR @GazetteUMass
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
(Published in print: Thursday, February 6, 2014)

“We had a good day, a really good day. It’s a tribute to the guys on staff and how hard we pushed and travelled. I think we got a bunch of good guys that will really help us,” said Whipple, who didn’t rule out the freshmen making an immediate impact. “We thought we needed to add competition at every position. It’s always been my philosophy that the best players play. We don’t care how old they are or where they’re from.”

Marshall transfer Blake Frohnapfel, who’ll have two years of eligibility beginning in September, is expected to compete to be the starter at quarterback right away.

“He’s a really good kid and a really good player who has experience at Marshall and can compete right away at quarterback,” Whipple said. “It worked out. He had a great visit. He has a great family.”

Whipple was enthusiastic about the upside of incoming freshman scholarship quarterbacks Ross Comis and Randall West.

“We watched (Comis’) tape and the kid was just a winner,” Whipple said. “When he came on the visit, he was a real winner. Coach (Shane Waldron) went down to see him and I’ve had other people tell me that they wouldn’t bet against this guy. He has a real sense of the game with the plays that he makes. We’re excited about him.”

West’s knee injury that ended his high school senior season, wasn’t enough to scare off the Minutemen.

“We think he’s got a really good upside. We think he’s a guy that can compete,” Whipple said. “We’ll see where he’s at injurywise.”

Andrew Verboys, a walk-on quarterback from Armonk, N.Y., is already on campus and will participate in spring practice.

Including Frohnapfel, who is 6-foot-6, the Minutemen added 12 players 6-5 or taller. The biggest is Ryan Johnson, a 6-6, 320-pound junior college offensive lineman from St. Louis. Liam Porter isn’t far behind at 6-6, 293. Porter began his college career at Boston College before transferring to Dean Junior College in Franklin. He’ll be a junior at UMass.

“They’re two bigger guys that have played a higher level,” Whipple said. “I think those guys can come in and be in the mix.”

They’ll be joined on the offensive line by true freshman Dimitri Angelas (6-5, 291), Dan DiNicola (6-6, 275) and Anthony Fernandez (6-6, 285). Fernandez is already enrolled.

Quarterback wasn’t the only position where Whipple addressed some immediate needs with older players. He replaced graduating tight end Rob Blanchflower, who was invited to the NFL combine, with two junior college tight ends. Jon Denton (6-6, 260), from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, is more of a blocker, but he had interest from Illinois, Indiana and N.C. State among others. Jean Sifrin is a 6-7, 250-pound Miami, Fla, native who attended El Camino Junior College. He is more of a pass catcher than Denton, but certainly has the size to block. He had offers from Kansas, Oklahoma and Southern Cal. Walk-on Jordan Fiske, a 6-3, 225-pound Hinsdale native who attended Wahconah Regional, is also slated to play tight end.

There looks to be added competition at wide receiver as well. Penn State transfer Alex Kenney, who’ll be a graduate student at UMass with one year of eligibility, is a 6-foot, 195-pound speedster. Because he’s already graduated from Penn State, he’ll be eligible immediately.

“He was on board before I got here,” Whipple said. “But he was somebody I had seen and knew a little bit because my younger son (Austin) is at Penn State. We had talked about Alex before hand and knew about his grades and his character.”

Jalen Williams, a junior college transfer from Georgia, gives whoever starts at quarterback a big target at 6-3, 205 pounds. Lamarriel Taylor, a 6-3, 185-pound California native who had offers from Duke and Indiana, rounds out the wide receivers.

Whipple praised the recruiting efforts of his predecessor, Charley Molnar. Twelve of the 24 signees committed to UMass when Molnar was still the head coach.

“The people that were here before I got here did a good job. There were a lot of good players that were committed that we’re happy to have here,” Whipple said.

Among them was running back J.T. Blyden, a three-star running back from West Grove, Pa., who is one of the highest-rated recruits UMass signed.

Whipple didn’t add a fullback, a position that’s been a productive part of his offense in past stops, including UMass. It’s possible a current player on the roster moves to fullback. Daquan Mack, who began last year as a running back then switched to defensive end, seems like a potential candidate at 6-1, 255 pounds.

UMass did lose one would-be signee late. Darian Josey, a wide receiver from Miami, opted at the last minute to switch is commitment from UMass to Hawaii.

Whipple alluded to the program’s likely switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense under returning defensive coordinator Tom Masella. The Minutemen added more defensive linemen than can start, as five signed, all of whom were recruited by the former staff.

Connecticut native Jake Largay (6-6, 280) could play nose tackle. Josh Smiley, a 6-6, 235-pound Chicopee native who spent last season at the Pomfret School in Connecticut, is the only scholarship player from western Massachusetts. Jack Wynne (6-5, 243) is the third defensive lineman from Connecticut. New Jersey native Chris Carter (6-4, 260) and New York product Da’Sean Downey (6-5, 240) complete the group that figures to be one of the tallest defensive lines in the Mid-American Conference.

Ezekiel Edmonds (6-0, 200) is the lone linebacker to sign. The West Palm Beach, Fla., native had interest from MAC and Sun Belt schools.

Jarell Addo continues UMass’ strong tradition with players from Leominster. The 6-2, 190-pound defensive back with a reputation for hitting shares a hometown with Blanchflower and former standouts Jonathan Hernandez and Dave Palazzi, who was Addo’s high school coach. He’ll be joined in the defensive backfield by Charan Singh, a 6-2, 192-pound Pennsylvania native.

According to 24/7Sports, UMass has the seventh ranked recruiting class in the MAC and 105th ranked class in Division I. The rankings do not include transfers.

REACCLIMATED — Whipple praised the returning Minutemen for helping to sell the program during recruiting weekends. But he said he hasn’t been around the current players long enough that he recognizes everyone yet.

“I did make a couple mistakes,” Whipple said. “Friday night when the recruits came in, I didn’t know if it was a recruit or one of our players.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed.