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Behind Enemy Lines: Talking UMass Football With Michael Traini Of Fight Massachusetts

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Check out Mike’s work at FightMassachusetts.com

NCAA Football: Massachusetts at Brigham Young Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

It is our pleasure to talk to Michael Traini of FightMassachusetts.com , 247’s UMass website. Michael has been covering UMass for a while, and chatted with us about BC’s opening opponent. Thanks to Michael for stopping by and make sure to check him out on Twitter and the web for all UMass news.

BCI: The final record in 2017 said 4-8 for the Minutemen, but looking at the games tell a different story. UMass kept it close with multiple teams including Tennessee Volunteers and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. How were you feeling about the future of the team after last season?

Michael T: Last year was really a tale of two seasons for the Minutemen. In the first half, when UMass went 0-6 and lost to the likes of Coastal Carolina (playing their first ever FBS game) and Old Dominion, the feel on the future of the team might have been as low as it’s ever been. In the second half however, after UMass had a two week break thanks to some rescheduling due to hurricane season, the Minutemen went 4-2 including a double OT win at home against App State and a win on the road at BYU. The win in Provo was their first victory over what we’ll call a Power Five-adjacent team since they moved up, and that six game stretch changed the way people looked at the future of the team, not to mention it saved more than a few jobs. I would say given the strong second half to 2017, the feeling for 2018 and beyond is looking cautiously optimistic.

BCI: Andrew Ford and Andy Isabella are quite the dynamic duo on offense. What have you seen from the pair that makes them so dangerous?

Michael T: Ford and Isabella are a good pair because they are dangerous at all levels in the passing game. Isabella can come out of the slot and catch a 5-yard in-cut for a key first down, or pull down a 25+ yard go route on the sideline. Isabella had over 1,000 yards receiving last season to go with 10 touchdowns, and he’ll be looking to match or exceed those numbers in 2018 as the #1 receiver for the Minutemen.

BCI: Adam Breneman is gone, and actually chose to retire after injuries derailed his offseason. Who are some players on offense and defense that may not garner attention, but could step up and have a big role for the Minutemen this year?

Michael T: Losing Breneman will be very tough for UMass, as he was not only an outstanding football player but an outstanding leader and young man as well. Aside from Isabella, you’re likely to see a lot of wide receivers factor into the offense in his place. Junior Sadiq Palmer, sophomore Jessie Britt and redshirt sophomore Brennon Dingle are likely to see the most reps out wide, while Syracuse transfer running back Jordan Fredericks is eligible to join the backfield after sitting out last season. On defense UMass will be looking to replace a lot of production in their front seven, and sophomore LBs Chinedu Ogbonna, Mike Ruane, and Cole McCubrey are going to be counted on early and often.

BCI: McGuirk Stadium finally opened, giving UMass their own FBS level stadium on campus. How did the first year go in terms of attendance, feel of the stadium and overall experience?

Michael T: We’ll have to correct a couple of inaccuracies on this one. To start, McGuirk Alumni Stadium opened in 1965 and played host to nearly all of UMass’ home games though 2011. When UMass made the move to FBS in 2012 as a member of the MAC, the construction of a new press box and practice facility at McGuirk meant UMass had to move all their home games to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough for two seasons, 2012 and 2013. In the following three seasons (2014-2016) UMass split their home games 50/50 between McGuirk and Gillette, playing three at each venue each season. Last year was the first where UMass was officially back on campus for the majority of their games, however they do still have certain opponents scheduled for “home” games at Gillette in the future, like BYU this season and BC in 2021. In general the feel of having the program back on campus is a positive one, and it was a necessary step for the future of the Minutemen in FBS. McGuirk is not without its flaws however, and there are amenity upgrades that must be addressed in the near future for the experience to be truly at an FBS level. Attendance at McGuirk home games over the past several years has fluctuated, driven primarily by the struggles of the Minutemen on the field and a small capacity of 17,000 seats. However, they say “winning cures all ills,” and a winning program should boost attendance figures.

BCI: Let’s look ahead, where do you see UMass football in five years? And if they could jump into a conference where do would you like to see them land?

Michael T: In five years ideally you’d like to see UMass as a consistently competitive Group of Five program, a team that has a few bowl trips and a least one bowl victory under their belt. Add to that in five years the next big wave of college football realignment will have just arrived, and more than anything else, I’d like to see UMass in a conference. UMass has been able to navigate the independent waters perhaps better than anyone initially thought, but it is not a long-term solution. The ideal conference home (based on current configurations) is in the American Athletic Conference with schools like Temple and UConn. The administration at UMass has made no secret of their desire to end up in the AAC, and they have made it clear that they are comfortable remaining in the Atlantic 10 for their other programs until the right all-sports option (read: the AAC) presents itself.

BCI: Hollywood producers are going to make a movie on UMass football, who would you have play Mark Whipple? How about Sam the Minuteman?

Michael T: I never quite realized how difficult it would be to pick an actor to play Mark Whipple in a movie until I was asked to do it. I’m gonna go with James Spader, and it has nothing to do with me recently re-watching The Office. For Sam it’s a little easier because he’s and icon and a legend. Only the biggest name in the action game would do. Sign up Dwayne Johnson and call it a day.

BCI: If BC fans visit Amherst for a football, hockey or other sporting events, where would you recommend they visit for food/drinks?

Michael T: Amherst is a great college town, often voted one of the best in the nation, and the food is a big part of that. BC students and fans might be familiar with Wings Over Brookline, but the original Wings Over is in Amherst. If you hit The Hangar you’ll be able to grab some of those wings along a wide selection of beers on tap, and it is within walking distance of McGuirk Stadium. The pizza debate in Amherst is a spirited one, but Antonio’s in downtown is known far and wide for their selection of toppings and is one of the most popular spots among students. Downtown Amherst has restaurant options for any taste, though if you happen to be leaning towards Mexican food my personal favorite is Bueno y Sano. If you’re a beer connoisseur (or snob, depending on who’s asking) make sure you hit the Moan and Dove in south Amherst. The Moan is old school, they do beer, more beer, other drinks, even more beer, and they don’t have food outside of the free peanuts; they know what they’re about.

BCI: What is the craziest or most unique UMass Amherst tradition that BC fans may not know about?

Michael T: Unfortunately UMass doesn’t really have any traditions that spring to mind for this question, but I will say that the Minutemen Marching Band’s performances are well worth seeing. Their sets at halftime and after the game are terrific, and the Power and Class of New England as they are known are tremendous at what they do.

BCI: It’s summertime. What is your beer and song choice for this summer?

Michael T: As it happens I myself am not a beer drinker, but if I’m relaxing this summer it’ll be with a bourbon and the blues. Berkshire Mountain Distillers out in Sheffield, MA are a quality craft distillery, I’ll take a glass of their Berkshire Bourbon Whiskey while listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s version of “Little Wing.”

BCI: Final question: Pick a GIF that best describes how you envision UMass’s season going this year.

Michael T: Picking a .gif is tough, but the general feeling is “bowl or bust” this season for UMass. They have the returning talent, the favorable schedule, and the ticking clock. With that in mind, this gem of Bill Murray from Kingpin celebrating his bowling success best sums up how I envision the season going for the Minutemen