Minutemen counting on JUCO power

  • Junior college transfer Jacoby Herring has a chance to be an immediate contributor at wide receiver for UMass. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

For The Recorder
Sunday, August 20, 2017

AMHERST — Jacoby Herring said a knowledge of a teammate’s background isn’t required to tell which football players transfered to UMass from junior college.

“You can tell who’s JUCO out here,” Herring said after UMass’ scrimmage on Aug. 12. “We’re very hungry.”

Herring, a receiver, and safety Tyler Hayes will try to become the latest JUCO stars to find success as Minutemen.

Junior college football has none of the glamour of Division I. The games aren’t televised, the crowds are small and the amenities are scarce. It’s simply an opportunity for players to catch-up academically and/or earn a scholarship.

“In JUCO you have to get it for yourself. You have to find a way to get recruited. You have to gain a sense of hunger,” said Tedrick Lowery, a senior linebacker in his second year at UMass. “Coming here is a blessing, the food, the environment. JUCO is a harsh environment but I wouldn’t take it back for anything. It built a lot of character in me, a lot of disclipine.”

UMass has gotten a lot of mileage and production out of junior-college players under coach Mark Whipple. The Minutemen are counting on key contributions from several players who spent time on JUCO rosters. Returning contributors Lowery, Andrew Ford, Malik Lee, Ali Ali-Musa, Colbert Calhoun and Rod Jones Jr. were all at two-year programs before UMass.

Herring, a Moreno Valley, Calif., native, had 49 catches for 787 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games in 2016 for Riverside Community College. At 6-foot-4, 170 pounds, he’ll likely be the tallest receiver on the team’s two-deep.

“Jacoby Herring has done a real good job. He’ll definitely play,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said.

Former NFL receiver Leonard Hankerson, a graduate assistant working with the receivers, raved about him.

“He’s going to be a great player. He’s got all the ability in the world,” Hankerson said. “He’s worked hard each and every day. He can be a top receiver on this team.”

Hayes will certainly play and could start for the Minutemen alongside Jesse Montiero at safety. The Clarksville, Texas, native played at Tyler Junior College in Texas, the same school that produced Lowery.

“Tyler is a guy who is going to be able to help us,” new UMass defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham said. “He’s a competitor. He’s a little more mature. He handles adversity and pressure a little more than some of the younger guys. He still has to learn this system, but he’s doing a nice job for us.”

Hayes likes the fit so far.

“It’s been good. I’m getting to know the defense, getting to know the players, getting back in the groove,” he said. “It’s pretty aggressive and you have a lot of help over the top. I’m just getting used to the team and seeing how the culture is.”

Most junior-college transfers only have two years to play in Division I, so picking the right school is critical. Both players felt like they made the right decision.

“So far, so great, actually. This place is home already. I like it here. I love Coach Whip and how he treats us. He’s a great coach, a players’ coach,” Herring said. “Whatever was leading me to come here led me to come here. I thank God every day for it.”

Knowing that former UMass receiver Tajae Sharpe was drafted and Jalen Williams was invited to an NFL camp (Williams has since been cut by the Giants) made him excited about the opportunity.

“I was ready to hit the ground rolling. There’s big shoes to fill. It’s a big challenge,” he said. “(Seeing what those players did) opened my eyes a lot, especially playing the same exact spot. It’s almost a dream to be in that kind of path.”

Hayes, who also looked at Arkansas State, Middle Tennessee and New Mexico, liked the idea of playing in the north.

“It’s quite different from Texas, but I’m getting used to the culture,” Hayes said. “I’ve been down south my whole life. We don’t know much about what’s going on up here. I decided to get real curious about it.”

Hayes said people in Texas warned him about New Englanders and the weather.

“They told me people up here were mean. But people have been straight up, up here,” he said laughing. “I’m not ready for the winter. I haven’t felt that yet. I’m bracing myself.”

He said playing with Lowery again and the cohesiveness of the coaching staff helped sell him.

“We were roommates. He said it was pretty nice up here,” Hayes said. “When I was on my visit, it felt like there was a lot of togetherness on the coaching staff. That was different from my other visits. They made me feel like it was home, like I had a place here.”

Lowery was excited to have him.

“That’s my boy. Coming from JUCO we know each other like the back of our hands. Having him here is like home field. I could relate to somebody from back home,” Lowery said. “Having him and his energy and his character is really helping me out. It’s helping me grow more as a human.”