Arizona Cardinals running backs Marcel Shipp (31) and J.J. Arrington (28) talk on the sidelines during a break in practice at training camp in Prescott, Ariz., Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2005. (AP Photo/Tom Hood)
AMHERST — When he found out a former University of Massachusetts running back was going to be his position coach, freshman Lorenzo Woodley looked up Marcel Shipp’s college stats.
The 6,250 yards rushing and 58 career touchdowns got his attention.
“I read his stats and from his stats I can tell that he was a great running back,” Woodley said, his eyes widening just thinking about the numbers. “I don’t know how he did it.”
Those numbers and Shipp’s six-year NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals have the current Minutemen paying close attention to him.
“He’s one of the best guys to have as a coach because he’s played the position very well,” Woodley said. “When he teaches you something you know you have to listen. He’s done it at the college level and the NFL.”
Other than his shaved head, Shipp, 35, doesn’t look much different than he did during his playing days.
After his pro career ended, he participated in the NFL’s Minority Coaching Fellowship program, that helps aspiring coaches work with teams during the offseason and during minicamps. The experience convinced him that he wanted make coaching a career.
“It was great preparation. It was something that was much needed. I think I’m benefitting from it now,” Shipp said. “I coached in the UFL. I was leaning toward this.”
Shipp was recruited to UMass by former head coach Mike Hodges, but became a star in three years playing for Mark Whipple, who is now his boss.
“It was the perfect situation being back here with Coach Whipple. It’s fun. He’s so smart and knows so much about the game,” Shipp said. “I’m trying to take everything I can from him to be a better coach.”
Whipple said he could see the influence of playing alongside NFL career-rushing leader Emmitt Smith, Shipp’s Arizona Cardinal teammate.
“Marcel brings a lot of knowledge. He’s so respectful and smart,” Whipple said. “He learned a lot from Emmitt Smith. He’s taken it and applied it to his craft and the profession and he’s been really great.”
In its first recruiting class, the UMass coaching staff brought in older players to help at quarterback, receiver, tight end and offensive line. But the team only added true freshmen at running back, meaning returnees Woodley, Jamal Wison, Jordan Broadnax and Shadrach Abrokwah will likely carry the load.
“I think they can get it done. They’re showing all the right signs,” Shipp said. “I’ve got a bunch of great guys that are hard workers. It’s a fulfilling thing for me. I love these guys. They all bring something to the table. They all push each other which is a good thing.”
Shipp said he hasn’t yet taught them his trademarked spin move.
“We’re not there yet,” Shipp said, laughing. “We’re working on it. It’s coming.”
ABOUT TO DEBUT — Broadnax, who sat out last year after knee surgery, is expected to return to practice at full-speed this week. He’s eager to make an impression on the new coaching staff.
“Six months of just sitting out was horrible,” Broadnax said. “Staying back, watching the games on television, knowing I couldn’t be a part of it, was one of the toughest things I’ve been through.”
He received a medical redshirt, so he’ll be a junior again next year. Given how bad last year was for the team, which finished 1-11, the chance to be part of a season that could be better had him optimistic.
“Initially when I got hurt, I was very emotionally down. My family always told me to keep my head up, that this might be a blessing in the disguise,” Broadnax said. “It gave me a year of just getting fired up and getting ready to get back in the field. I’m looking forward to getting out there and doing my thing.”
Broadnax has enjoyed working with Shipp, but has set a goal of breaking his coach’s single season rushing record of 2,542 yards.
“We’re best buddies almost. He’s my coach and I have much respect for him. The records he set, I have them hanging on my wall,” Broadnax said. “I want to break ’em. I can’t break maybe his career record but I can go after at least the season.”