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Hernandez to carry running game load for UMass
University of Massachusetts football fans know former Minuteman running back John Griffin is battling for a job with the Cincinnati Bengals.
They might not realize that the best UMass runner is still on campus.
Jonathan Hernandez, who led the Minutemen in rushing yards and touchdowns, is back for his senior year and ready to carry the load for the run game as UMass prepares for its final season of Football Championship Subdivision play.
“It feels good, we got a lot of young players coming up, moving up and stepping up today,” Hernandez said Wednesday when the team held its annual preseason Media Day at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. “I feel positive about this year and we’re going to take every game like it’s our last.”
Hernandez and Griffin, a senior transfer from a Northeastern team that dropped its program, worked as a two-pronged attack for the Minutemen. Hernandez had 938 yards on 219 carries while Griffin ran it 168 times for 843 yards.
Those two had all but 79 of the rushing carries for UMass last season, most of the rest coming from quarterbacks and wide receivers.
Now, the weight of the running game is firmly on the 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame of Hernandez, who says he is prepared for any and all extra work to come his way.
“I’m not the only running back since we have Jamar Smith and Alan Williams who are two other great running backs so we’ll be good,” Hernandez said. “I’ve been training all summer and working real hard for my senior year and I expect a lot from myself.”
And so does coach Kevin Morris, who has witnessed the Leominster native’s growth on the football field for five years.
“Last year we brought Griffin in because we could and we were able to get both guys a lot of carries and both almost rushed for a 1,000 each,” Morris said. “This year, Jon is truly going to take the load and we think he can certainly handle it.
“Running, catching the ball, blitz pickup, he’s excellent at it all,” Morris added. “His practices have been outstanding and he’s won MVP jerseys multiple times and he’s won what we call the ‘money shirt’ which is three MVPs in a row which is unheard of.”
Of course, Hernandez will not be alone in the backfield. Smith is a redshirt sophomore who saw limited action last season but showed signs of being a standout tailback, and redshirt junior Williams has performed well in camp.
“Hernandez is going to be the feature back but we do have a couple of guys who have stepped up this preseason in Jamar Smith, who has been waiting in the wings, and Alan Williams,” Morris said. “Those guys have had an outstanding preseason camp for us and will be able to take some of the load off of Jon.”
Combined with an experienced offensive line that includes Quinton Sales, Josh Samuda, Stephen Milhim and Nick Speller and two quality tight ends in Emil Igwenagu and Rob Blanchflower, the Hernandez-led ground attack for the Minutemen has the makings of a good one.
By Jeff Thomas, The Republican