Walt Bell era with UMass football begins as Minutemen open camp

AMHERST — There was no discernible key in the hands of 35-year-old Walt Bell Thursday but you can bet the first-year UMass football coach was eager to open the gates to Warren McGuirk Stadium to welcome approximately 73 scholarship players for Friday night’s initial preseason practice.

The Bell era won’t officially get underway until  Aug. 30 when the Minutemen travel to Rutgers for a Friday night game to begin its 137th season.

“I can’t wait to go. Back here, about two weeks ago, we had camp scripted and we’re finally getting going,” said Bell, who was hired as the program’s 30th coach on Dec. 3, 2018, succeeding the embattled Mark Whipple, who went 65-70 in 11 seasons, including a national title in Div. 1-AA in 1998, but only 16-44 against FBS foes the past five seasons.

On the field, Bell, who owns an impressive resume, primarily as an offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach as such institutions as North Carolina, Arkansas State, Maryland, and most recently Florida State, will be focused on replacing graduated talent like wide receiver Andy Isabella (Arizona Cardinals), the rotating quarterback duo of Andrew Ford and Ross Comis, veteran running back Marquis Young, and defensive stalwarts Lee Moses and Bryton Barr.

Off the field, the challenge is a bit more intrinsic, involving an improved cultural approach to winning. UMass ended up 4-8 as an independent a year ago.

“I just want to see improvement every day of the season even if it’s in Week 9 on a Wednesday. I just want to see us get better every day. Now, how fast we do that is up to the kids,” said Bell, who cited authenticity and being invested in the players’ lives as important credos to that success.

“Be where you’re supposed to be, when you’re supposed to be and do your job as well as you can. We want to have consistency in enforcing that every single day. We’re going to be pretty hard about enforcing that every day,” Bell said. “It comes down to how you play: Hard. Then, play smart: Minimize mistakes. If you do those two things we’ll be really tough to beat.”

Immediate on-field areas of concern that need to be addressed is finding depth in the defensive backfield and keeping the offensive line healthy. Look for a pair of recent graduate transfers in former West Virginia cornerback Jordan Adams and linebacker Jarvis Miller, who played in four straight bowl games for Penn State, to help in that effort.

Miller, who is the third Nittany Lion to transfer to UMass in recent years, likes what he has seen.

“I just want to lead by example. I’ve played with a lot of good players who are in the NFL right now, so I know what to expect. I’ve played a lot of football. This is not my first rodeo,” said the 6-foot-2 Miller. “This linebacker group, for guys who are 230 pounds, this is an athletic group. They can all run.”

The lanky 6-foot Adams, who also appeared in four bowl games, wants to bring the Mountaineer attitude to the Minutemen camp.

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