If you're looking for reasons to be optimistic as a UMass fan, coach Walt Bell found a few for you over the weekend, and one has to suspect there will be more to come.
He secured not one, not two, not three, but four verbal commits from visitors to Amherst over the past few days that only verified his reputation as an ace recruiter.
Keep in mind, Bell had his introductory press conference less than two weeks ago. No one would hold it against him if he only laid the groundwork for future commitments, or brought in one or two players. That would have been the more realistic expectation.
But Bell exceeded that, and one has to think he will continue to do so in that regard.
Here's a quick look at those four prospects:
— Taj Jones of Pope John XXIII in Sparta, N.J. is listed as a three-star on 247sports.com at 6-feet, 1.5-inches, 201 pounds. That website lists him as a receiver, but his highlights feature him also playing some defensive back. Whether or not Bell decides to use him on offense or defense, Jones is already a well put together kid who comes from a program that typically churns out quality players.
— At 6-7, 260 pounds, Bryce Wade out of Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss. is an offensive tackle with room to fill out and not lose his athleticism. He has a nice frame, his best attribute has to be his footwork and ability to move, both in zone blocking schemes and against edge rushers in the passing game. According to 247, he's a three-star prospect, and the Gilbert, Ariz. native can grow into a solid starter down the line.
— Coming out of one of the nation's top programs in DeMatha of Hyattsville, Md., 5-10, 165-pound cornerback Jermaine Johnson is another three-star according to 247. Like Jones, though, Johnson has experience on both sides of the ball, and one has to wonder if Bell would be tempted to use him at receiver. On film, Johnson has terrific ball skills and the speed to separate from defenders against good competition. That said, wherever he ends up, Johnson looks fast enough to be an asset sooner rather than later.
— Don't pay any real attention to the zero-star rating on 247 for defensive tackle Cletus Mathurin. Recruiting sites usually dole those out when they have not evaluated that player at all. The 6-2, 290-pounder is an interesting prospect out of Cheshire Academy, another program that has begun to churn out high-level players lately. Mathurin, a Hartford native, began his career at Prince Tech High School before coming over to Cheshire, and grew into one of the stronger, more athletic interior linemen in New England.
**UPDATE** 247 added a three-star rating to Mathurin after this piece was published.
We'll see which of these players sign on Wednesday, and which choose to wait until February. What we do know, however, is that Bell didn't waste time in showing everyone that his recruiting acumen can live up to the hype.