The top 10 UMass football players you need to know for 2016. These are the stars to watch out for on the Minutemen.
1. RB Marquis Young, Soph.
The UMass offense was pass-happy, but it needed Young to balance things out a little bit. The freshman didn’t get too much work early on with just 35 carries in the first six games, but he made the most of his effort highlighted by a huge play against Notre Dame on the way to 103 yards and a score. He became the man late in the year with 30 carries for 155 yards and a score against Eastern Michigan, and closed out with 35 carries for 240 yards and three touchdowns against Buffalo.
The 6-0, 196-pound gliding runner finished with 96 yards and seven scores, averaging over six yards per carry. While he’s not built for it, now he’s the workhorse.
2. S Khary Bailey-Smith, Sr.
Trying to get back after suffering a knee injury that knocked him out early on last season, his return is a big deal for a secondary that needs help. Great to kick things off, he came up with 12 tackles against Colorado and nine against Temple – after making 62 stops with three picks in 2014 – but he hurt against the Owls. At 6-2 and 198 pounds, he’s got decent size and enough speed to be a terror of a kick returner, averaging 24.5 yards per try two seasons ago with a touchdown. Now that he’s back and ready, this should be his defense to lead.
3. LB Shane Huber, Jr.
The run defense might have been a problem, but Huber tried doing his part with 95 tackles including 12 against Bowling Green, 11 against Miami University, and with five double-digit stop performances in all. He’s not going to do too much to get behind the line, and he’s a little bit undersized on the inside at 6-3 and 228 pounds, but he’s active against the run and experienced enough to be the leader of the defensive front with Jovan Santos-Knox gone.
4. S Charah Singh, Soph.
One of the key parts in the secondary now with so many changes and key personnel losses, he had a nice freshman season with 45 tackles with a sack, a broken up pass, and three tackles for loss. He didn’t see much time early on, and missed two games late, but he found his niche midway through the season with ten tackles in back-to-back games against Toledo and Ball State. Ultra-athletic, he was a good offensive player who moved over to the other side. At 6-2 and 188 pounds he’s built like a receiver, but he can hit.
5. QB Ross Comis, Soph.
Is it going to be his job? He’ll have to fight through the pack and take the starting gig, but he’s a decent baller with a little experience seeing time in six games and hitting 15-of-21 passes for 171 yards and two scores. At 6-0 and 208 pounds, he’s not all that big, but he offers something different than former starter Blake Frohnapfel – he can run. He didn’t do much of it last year, but if the job is his, he’ll add a decent rushing element to the offense.
6. WR Shakur Nesmith, Jr.
The leading returning receiver with so many key parts gone, he needs to grow into a No. 1 target after making a few big plays last year. He only caught 15 passes for 204 yards and three scores, averaging 13.6 yards per play before missing the last three games of the season. At 6-5 and 205 pounds, he’s a big target with track speed, but he needs to rise up and be more consistent.
7. WR Jalen Williams, Sr.
Back after redshirting last season, the Atlanta native should be ready to take over a key starting role – at least that’s the plan. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, he’s got good size and the experience from seeing time in the JUCO ranks before catching 20 passes for 307 yards and four scores two seasons ago. He needs to be a deep threat.
8. DT Sha-Ki Holines, Jr.
An active 6-3, 264-pound interior presence, he was a part-time starter last season but turned into one of the team’s most active playmakers. He’s not big enough to be an anchor, but he’s tough enough to come up with 34 tackles in each of the last two seasons and was one of the key stars behind the line with nine tackles for loss.
9. QB Austin Whipple, Jr.
Deep in the hunt for the starting job, the head coach’s son knows the offense and obviously knows what his dad wants to do – can he rise up and make the spot his at some point? At the very least, he’s a veteran backup who can step in at any time. The 6-1, 210-pounder started out his career at Penn State before transferring, getting two starts when he first got to UMass in 2014. He completed 25-of-48 passes for 325 yards and three scores with three picks during his brief time late in the season, struggling by losing both starts.
10. P/PK Logan Laurent, Jr.
While he did a decent job as a placekicker – hitting 8-of-12 kicks including three from 40 yards and beyond – he was at his best as a punter averaging over 42 yards per kick putting 15 inside the 20. At 6-4 and 210 pounds he’s got a big leg and can blast away when needed – he should again be a lock to average well over 40 yards a try.