While we reported that new UMass coach Walt Bell handed out a dozen scholarships to in-state juniors, we learned this past weekend that many of those were actually for preferred walk-on status.
What this means is, a player is promised to make the team, but won't be receiving a full scholarship unless he earns one on campus.
As we've learned from several coaches around the state, this is part of Bell's strategy. He wants to build up a strong base of in-state walk-ons — the NCAA full roster limit is 105 players that may take part in preseason camp — to supplement the 85-player scholarship limit.
How many PWOs will Bell take this cycle? From what we have been told, it can be a significant amount, because filling the 85 slots won't be easy.
As you can see above from the UMass financial aid services page, there are reduced rates for in-state tuition, just like you'll see in other state universities. The greater the individual need, the more that number can come down, as well.
However, the likelihood of being able to keep that many walk-ons on the roster is a tough sell. The lure of playing for a Football Bowl Subdivision team will entice some, but the Football Championship Subdivision teams in the area can offer both a better chance at playing time plus a free education.
What Bell must do is get on these kids early enough to make that pitch worth more than it seems on the surface. In that respect, going after these junior PWOs is smart, because it gets a jump on the biggest obstacle in that effort: the December early signing period.
This is where this PWO-heavy approach can run into trouble. If a player signs his letter of intent to an FCS team in December, he's likely the type of kid that could be more useful in the PWO capacity at a place like UMass.
Just this cycle alone, three Springfield Central players who made MassVarsity All-State teams are already signed on to FCS schools; wide receiver Myles Bradley and cornerback Keshaun Dancy went to Colgate, and cornerback Elijah Ayers signed with Albany. MassVarsity's Lineman of the Year, Ryan Clemente of North Attleboro, inked his signature to Sacred Heart.
Also, as usual, the Ivy League does a great job in Massachusetts. Harvard snagged two good ones in lineman Scott Elliot from Holliston, who only missed out Clemente's billing here by a hair, and Hingham defensive end/tight end Spencer Cassell. Brown will also be getting one of the state's best linemen in Xaverian's Lucas Ferraro. St. Sebastian's wide receiver Alex Cherry is going to Princeton.
There are more examples, but this is not a single-year phenomenon. Places like Holy Cross, the University of Rhode Island, Bryant University, the University of New Hampshire, and even the Division 2 Northeast-10 and Division 3 schools end up with players who could be assets in a PWO capacity at UMass.
But will Bell be able to get those players? That's debatable. On one hand, to say you are going to make the team at an FBS program carries a lot of weight with kids. And, as stated, Bell is building relationships with them early, which is the best way he can make a deal like that seem appealing enough to overcome the obvious factors working against it.
Also, from what we've gathered from local coaches, Bell is doing everything in his power to get a feel for how football works in Massachusetts. He has asked a lot of questions, stayed in buildings rather than just pass through, and made an overall good impression on those we've spoken to.
Right now, though, UMass has a lot of spots to fill in a short amount of time. Next year, Bell's staff will have a better shot of landing these players. But how many of them will turn down an Ivy or Patriot League education, or a free ride at a local FCS program, to come to Amherst?
This is something that some UMass coaches from outside the area tend to run into trouble with. In other parts of the country, the dream of playing for a state school is much higher, and more of the best players in those states would accept that deal.
Take a place like Iowa, for instance. The Hawkeyes have tremendous success with that strategy, in part because they can fill Kinnick Stadium with 70,585 screaming fans every Saturday. For UMass, it is not uncommon to see a home crowd of less than 10,000. Building up a solid gameday atmosphere is critical to impressing unofficial and official visitors, but that will take time for Bell to establish.
UMass has had good success with either PWOs or just plain walk-ons who found their way into the starting lineup. That can continue under Bell, but it will take the type of early relationship-building to make the strategy worth following through on. So far, it looks like he's doing that, but it remains to be seen if it will pay off.
Even going back to last year, other programs tried to wrest away Boston College defensive backs coach Anthony Campanile. The urge from BC to keep him at The Heights was so strong that the Eagles named him co-defensive coordinator this past season.
But multiple reports this week confirm that Campanile will be taking a yet-undetermined spot on the coaching staff at Michigan, which could start to gain an advantage in two of the major recruiting footprints for BC in New England and New Jersey.
The Wolverines already have defensive coordinator Don Brown, who recruits New England extremely well, as evidenced again this cycle when he helped pull Everett wide receiver/defensive back and MassVarsity Player of the Year Mike Sainristil, overcoming an excellent pipeline from the Crimson Tide to Chestnut Hill. BC defensive coordinator Jim Reid, the entire Eagles staff, and current BC players put on a massive push to keep Sainristil home, but it just wasn't enough.
Campanile locked down New Jersey for the Eagles, and now he's gone, too.
Most of all, though, Campanile was a great teacher who has consistently put players in the NFL since he started coaching at BC. A rising star in the coaching ranks, don't be surprised to see him leading his own program somewhere down the road.