James Ihedigbo: UMass football is now ‘on the map’
|12.08.11 at 2:07 pm ET|
FOXBORO — James Ihedigbo is one happy and proud man.
The Patriots safety is in position to watch his college alma mater play football in his own office.
That’s because the UMass Minutemen will start playing their home games at Gillette Stadium in 2012 and they’ll have a new head coach, to boot.
After Thursday’s introductory news conference for new head coach Charley Molnar, the UMass program will hit the streets looking to position itself as New England’s third major college football program, behind Boston College and Connecticut.
“Them being able to play here and use that a marketing tool to recruit and get students to come here is huge,” Ihedigbo said. “It’s an opportunity for the players you can only dream of. You’re going to a great school to get a great education and you’re also going to be playing for a premier football team and a premier program. I look for only big things from here on out.”
Ihedigbo played for UMass from 2003-06, redshirting his freshman year in 2002. Now, assuming he’s on the Patriots in 2012, he’ll be able to leave a Saturday walkthrough at Gillette and go right down the tunnel to a UMass game.
“I’ll be able to sit right here on a Saturday and walk right out this locker room and watch them play, which will be great,” he said.
These are indeed heady days for the Minutemen. They have hired a head coach from a big time program, as Molnar was the offensive coordinator under Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, and previously the Cincinnati Bearcats.
They are joining the Mid-American Conference, a conference that has produced such Patriots as Julian Edelman (Kent State) and Taylor Price (Ohio). When Ihedigbo was there, he played two years for Mark Whipple before he left for the Steelers and Don Brown. Ihedigbo said Thursday that today is another big step in the process of moving to big-time college football.
Now, the Minutemen, under the leadership of athletic director John McCutcheon, appear ready to take on the challenge of filling up Gillette Stadium on Saturday afternoons, after making the decision to leave the Amherst campus.
“They were saying even before I got there in ’99, after they won a [I-AA] championship in ’98,” Ihedigbo said. “And then when I got there in 2001 and 2002, they were talking about it. It really is a testament to the guys that played before, the Steve Baylarks, the Brandon Londons, Jeff Krohns, those guys that kind of paved the way for the success of UMass. And here we are.”
Ihedigbo said there’s no reason not to stay more current on UMass football now.
“Not as much as I would like,” Ihedigbo admitted when asked if he had been keeping up on the Minutemen, who finished just 5-6 this season. “They run things great over there. I was very close with the old coaching staff and I know McCutcheon very well. I definitely want to have the opportunity – now that they’re closer – to be a part of that more.
“They had floor plans drawn up for what they wanted the stadium to look like, what they wanted the jerseys to look like and we knew that was our goal, that’s what we were playing for, we could pave the way for other guys to come and experience that, and essentially put UMass on the map, and here we are.”