University of Massachusetts defensive lineman Sha-ki Holiness waits for a play to start during the first practice of the season Monday at UMass.
University of Massachusetts defensive lineman Daniel Maynes runs at the end of the first practice of the season Monday at UMass.
AMHERST — Daniel Maynes raised his eyebrows and cracked a slight smile above his long goatee when asked about the low expectations for the UMass football team. It clearly wasn’t the first time he’d thought about it.
“I think we’ll be proving everybody wrong. There’s a lot of people saying we’re not good enough. We’ll be better. We’re going to be a lot better,” the senior nose tackle said. “It’s always great to try to prove people wrong. It’s kind of what it’s all about right?”
That opinion is pervasive throughout the Minutemen, but Maynes has a legitimate opportunity to influence his ability to be right. The UMass defense, which switched its base from a 4-3 to a 3-4, is experienced at linebacker and defensive back, but other than Maynes, it’s very green on the defensive line. If the line, which will be led by Maynes, comes together fast, the whole defense should benefit. Maynes, who is battling an undisclosed injury that isn’t expected to sideline him long, is trying to focus on leadership until he can contribute on the field.
“Young guys don’t always know the right thing. Sometimes you’ve got to help ’em out and guide ’em,” he said. “I think we’re going to definitely be a better defense. Our young guys are athletic and they want to play. We’re going to be good. It fits what our guys can do.”
Defensive coordinator Tom Massella was looking forward to getting Maynes on the field.
“We’d like Dan to be out there. Not just from a leadership standpoint, but from a schematic standpoint, it’s the physicalness and toughness he brings inside,” Massella said. “We have to get him healthy. He’s going to help us in a lot of areas, there’s no question about it, not just on the field but off the field with the toughness and attitude that he has. So we’re hoping to get him back as soon as possible.”
UMass defensive line coach Dave Sollazzo is one of three assistant coaches remaining from former coach Charley Molnar’s staff. While the base defense was a 4-3 the past two years, the Minutemen played a lot of 3-4 at times and Sollazzo used the scheme in previous coaching stops.
“It’s just what the doctor ordered. It really fits our makeup,” he said. “I like the 3-4, but it’s what we’re doing with the 3-4 that I really like. We’re always in attack mode, but now we’re even more so.”
Some combination of sophomores Peter Angeh and Enoch Asante, and freshman Sha-Ki Holiness are expected to start alongside Maynes, while Robert Kitching has been working at No. 1 nose tackle while Maynes out.
After committing to and decommitting from UMass, signing with and transferring from UConn, Holiness, a Springfield native and Commerce alum, was glad to be back in western Massachusetts.
“It feels like I’m at home back in the state. It’s good to be back here,” Holiness said. “I wanted to be a part of building something that starts from the bottom and goes to the top. I wanted to be home and play for my home state. I didn’t feel right, like a traitor to the state.”
Holiness thought the defensive line would do a good job representing his home state.
“We have a good linebacking corps, a good DB corps. We’re young up front a little bit, but we’ll make up for that,” he said. “We’ll be a good defense. It matches us perfectly schemewise. (The 3-4) gets us moving, shows our speed.”
Sollazzo thought the young linemen all had high ceilings.
“Sha-ki has great potential. He’s still very raw, learning the game. But he hasn’t played one snap of college football in his life. But he’s very talented. When he gets everything down he has a chance to be a very good player,” Sollazzo said. “Two guys who had a great summer and really grew up for us were Robert Kitching and Enoch Asante. Kitch is a strong guy and has really taken that to the football field. He’s really gotten himself a lot quicker and faster. He’s learning that you can’t just do it in a test, you have to do it against a big-ass offensive linemen, which we’re getting ready to face. Enoch Asante had a very good summer. He’s a late bloomer that didn’t play a lot of high school football. He had a great deal of ability coming out of high school and he’s starting to put it together. If he continues to grow and put it together he could be a very good football player.”
WILLIAMS STANDING OUT — Junior receiver Jalen Williams, a transfer from Dean Junior College who was one of the breakout players in the spring, carried over his strong play into the fall.
“He’s taken a big step. The day he stepped in here I didn’t really know him,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. “He made some plays in the spring, carried it over to the summer and he’s had a good two days (in camp). He’s playing faster than he did in the spring.”
The Georgia native chose UMass because of the team’s available playing time at receiver. Williams is one of a large collection of receivers trying to earn a spot on the two-deep roster.
“I think ever since spring, I’ve gotten faster, stronger so I can add to the team a little bit more,” Williams said.
BYE BYE BLACK SHIRT — UMass’ much-debated black uniforms have apparently departed with former coach Charley Molnar, who was the driving force behind them.
Whipple said the Minutemen will mix and match their maroon and white combinations.