UMass coach Walt Bell playing wait and see with available scholarships

UMass coach Walt Bell was a short-seller on National Letter of Intent Day and that appears to be a national trend.
UMass on Thursday released a short list of 15 recruits, two of whom are transfers from Power-5 conference programs, one from a community college and 12 from high schools, with three from Massachusetts.
The NCAA’s transfer portal is currently bursting with quality players, college football’s free agents looking for fresh starts at programs like UMass. Coaches from G-5 programs like Bell figured it was prudent to hold back a fistful of scholarships and see what the portal yields.
“Western Kentucky signed one guy, just one and on purpose because they are going to wait as long as humanly possible,” said Bell during a Zoom press briefing on Thursday.
“You saw that at the G-5 level. Almost everybody at the G-5 level with the exception of a few, and there are always exceptions, you saw everyone at the G-5 level sign 15 to 20 leaving themselves with five, seven, eight or 10 (scholarships).”
If the NCAA on Jan. 12 votes to eliminate its current transfer restrictions that forces a player to sit out a year, Bell anticipates the portal’s floodgates will open. Bell plans to use his scholarship bankroll to shop for some winter bargains in the portal.
“Even though we are committed through 2021, we are purposely going to keep some spots open because there are more than 800 guys in there now,” said Bell.
“There is probably going to be another 100 or so in the next week when the rest of these teams finish their last regular-season games and people do exit meetings.
“There is going to be another wave on Jan. 12 when the rule finally passes. There will be another wave in spring football when depth charts start to solidify. There is going to be strengths and advantages to having spots available and as a program, where do you fit on that spectrum?”
Bell made the judicious decision to undersign untested high school kids when there is a surplus of players available with FBS experience and two or three years of eligibility.
The COVID-19 pandemic also played a role in programs signing fewer scholastic players. A whole class of seniors from lockdown states, particularly in the Northeast, either had their seasons canceled or will play an abbreviated spring schedule. The pandemic also shut down summer clinics that develop players for the college ranks. FBS coaches don’t have time or wherewithal to offer remedial football in training camp.
“I think the unintended consequence of this rule is going to be you are going to see teams take less and less high school players and it hurts them in the long run,” said Bell.
“You don’t have time to build it the traditional way so you’ll see coaches take more risks through the portal to elevate their rosters sooner. Patience helps but we purposefully left some open spots.”
Bell spent almost two-thirds of his recruitment capital on the defensive side of the ball. The group included defensive back Bryson Richardson, a 6-foot, 200-pound transfer from North Carolina. Richardson appeared in 11 games in the Tar Heels secondary and on special teams in 2018 but missed the 2019 season with an injury.
“He’s back healthy and a great fit for us,” said Bell. “He is a guy that started at nickel (back) and had the body of a safety and the ability to cover in the slot and allows you to play some man to man.”
Bell also signed defensive tackle Devin Baldwin, a 6-foot-4, 265-pound transfer from Rutgers. Baldwin played in two games as a true freshman and will have four years of eligibility.
“He’s been as heavy as 290 and as light as 265 or 270 for whatever was required and he has great position flexibility,” said Bell.
Bell’s most vital open position is quarterback. None of the three incumbents distinguished themselves in the Minutemen’s four-game season.
Bell liked what he saw from 6-foot-4, 195-pound quarterback Brady Olson, of Bellingham, Mass., who played for his uncle Dale Olson at Milford High School. Olson declined offers from Georgia Tech and Colorado State to stay local.
“He can really spin the football,” said Bell. “His continued development over this entire period has been incredible and I was excited to see him play his senior year.
“Great raw physical talent and a hard worker. He’s a guy completely invested in the process of what it takes to become a good college quarterback. The fact that he is local makes it even better.”

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