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UMass receivers Jalen Williams, Shakur Nesmith shine in spring game

JERREY ROBERTS
University of Massachusetts wide receiver Shakur Nesmith, right, talks to Liam Coen during a scrimmage Wednesday at McGuirk Stadium.

JERREY ROBERTS University of Massachusetts wide receiver Shakur Nesmith, right, talks to Liam Coen during a scrimmage Wednesday at McGuirk Stadium.

By MATT VAUTOUR @GazetteUMass
Thursday, April 17, 2014
(Published in print: Thursday, April 17, 2014)

AMHERST — A pair of tall receivers, who’ll try to crack the University of Massachusetts’ starting lineup in the fall, stood out in the annual spring game, Wednesday night at McGuirk Stadium.

Anyone watching the team for the first time this spring got their first look at junior college transfer Jalen Williams at wide receiver. The 6-foot-3 sophomore, who was playing with the first team, caught eight passes for 68 yards and a nice touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone from quarterback A.J. Doyle. It was the only touchdown for Team UMass (first team offense and second team defense), which fell 21-6 to Team Minutemen (first team defense, second team offense).

Shakur Nesmith, who is even taller at 6-4, was the talk of preseason last year as a true freshman before being injured in the season opener. He took a medical redshirt and will be a freshman again in the fall. He caught five balls for 57 yards and a touchdown from backup quarterback Todd Stafford.

There figures to be considerable competition for playing time at receiver as Nesmith and Williams will compete with: Tajae Sharpe, last year’s leading receiver who UMass coach Mark Whipple called “probably our best offensive player this spring”; Marken Michel, who returns to the team after sitting out last year; and Penn State transfer Alex Kenney, who’ll join the team this summer.

“We have a deep receiving corps and it’s only going to get deeper with the guys coming in,” Doyle said. “It was a lot of fun this spring.”

Whipple was pleased with spring practice, which closed with the game.

The guys competed, they were ready to play and they were excited. Their attitude was really good,” he said. “There were a lot more pluses than minuses. ... We have a long way to go, but there was a good foundation.”

When the Minutemen assemble in the fall, they’ll have quite a few new faces, especially on offense. In addition to the true freshmen, UMass will have several older players expected to come in and compete for starting jobs and playing time, including quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, Kenney, tight ends Jean Siffrin and Jon Denton, and offensive lineman Ryan Johnson.

DOYLE SET TO LEAD — Leading the players in summer workouts is usually a job that falls to the quarterback. As the returning starter, Doyle was prepared to fill the role.

“I’m the guy who’s been here. I’m the oldest guy. Obviously we have some guys coming in, but they don’t know the offense, they haven’t been around these guys,” said Doyle, who completed 18 of 33 passes for 182 yards, a touchdown and an interception aganist Team Minutemen. “It’s my responsibility to be that guy. I put in on my shoulders to make sure everything runs smoothly and we’re getting better.

KENNEY VISITS — Several players, who’ll join the Minutemen in the fall, made the trip to Amherst to watch the spring game, including Kenney. Because he’ll complete his bachelor’s degree at the end of the PSU spring semester, Kenney will have one year of eligibility remaining and won’t have to sit out.

“I’ve been doing drills on my own trying to catch at least 50 balls every day,” said Kenney, who is also a sprinter on the PSU track team. “I’ve been waiting for this experience for a long time.”

He was eager to get to Amherst.

“Talking to the players and coaches, I can’t wait to get up here and get started,” Kenney said. “I know they have a quarterback coming in from Marshall (Frohnapfel), I’m ready to get with him and start running some routes.”

MISCELLANEOUS — Sophomores Jamal Wilson and Robert Kitching each had to be helped off the field with ankle injuries. Kitching returned to action, while Wilson stayed on the bench.

“He’ll be all right,” said Whipple, who expects to have his full roster available for preseason in August.

At the end of the game, outside linebackers coach Charles Walker, who was coaching on the Team Minutemen side, got a Gatorade shower.

UMass has yet to name captains.

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