Now that official practices have finally begun, we can all get into the full spirit of college football. This includes continuing our lesson in recent UMass history. Previously we looked at defensive players. In this post we'll be highlighting some of the team's best offensive players since 1990. Skill positions are the attraction here, and the Minutemen have had no shortage of firepower in that department. The athletes on this list have all been part of the two most impressive scoring machines the school has seen.The drill is the same as with the previous list: I based these rankings on a semi-scientific method that included statistics, honors and awards, and my own opinions. Any Top 5 list is going to have omissions, and this one is no different, as UMass has seen a great amount of talent come through the program in the past couple decades. Feel free to sing the praises of salsa king Victor Cruz and run-blocking menace Bill Durkin in the comments, as they did not make this cut. On to the top five:
5 – Adrian Zullo, WR (1998-2002)
Zullo has plenty of competition for the title of Greatest Receiver in UMass History. What sets him apart from the rest, however, is his consistency and versatility over the length of his UMass career. Zullo made an immediate impact, starting 9 of 14 games as a true freshman on the way to winning the Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Year award and the National Championship. He picked up the pace in his sophomore year, earning his first of two first-team All-Conference awards to go with his 81 receptions for 1,253 yards (both second all-time) and nine scores.
After a devastating knee injury midway through the 2000 campaign, Zullo missed all of 2001 but was able to return in 2002 and perform well enough to gain his second All-Conference nod and finish first all-time in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. In addition to his football accolades and in the spirit of the Olympics, Zullo also holds the school record in the 100 meter dash and 4x100 meter relay. Impressive.
4 – Todd Bankhead, QB (1998-1999)
The origination of most of those Zullo catches was this guy. Were it not for the next athlete on this list, Bankhead would still hold practically every passing record in school history. Bankhead only played two seasons for the Minutemen as a JUCO transfer, but those years were prolific. In his first year, Bankhead led the offensive attack to a national title and earned himself a third-team All-American spot. He was named second-team All-Conference both seasons, and finished his career as the greatest passer the school had seen.
Only one of his career records still stands (passing yards per game), and the passing game was no doubt aided by the best rushing attack the school has had, but Bankhead performed admirably in all situations. After his time at UMass, Bankhead played in the CFL and Arena League. He is now serving as one of San Diego's Finest.
3 –, QB (2005-2008)
Liam Coen is more efficient than you. His full list of accomplishments is much too long to list here. Coen came to UMass after a slight drought in the team's success, and quickly brought the team right back to where Bankhead left off. Brought into the game as an injury replacement his freshman year, Coen quickly proved he belonged behind center for this team. He led the Minutemen to a berth in the 2006 National Championship and frequently led the nation (all NCAA divisions) in passing efficiency throughout his time at the school.
Coen never garnered too much national attention, but was named to the All-Conference team three times. He holds the team career records for completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns, completion percentage, and passing efficiency. He is currently in the top-15 in FCS history in both passing yards and touchdowns. Quite simply, he is UMass' best quarterback. After college, Coen began a coaching career and currently serves as the quarterbacks coach for FCS Rhode Island.
2 – Steve Baylark, RB (2003-2006)
The yin to Coen's yang, Baylark would be on this list even if it weren't restricted by time. All-American, four-time All-Conference, and Atlantic-10 Offensive Player of the Year are some of the awards that Baylark raked in while wearing maroon and white. Baylark is only the third running back in NCAA history to gain 1,000 yards in four separate seasons, and became the second UMass back to eclipse the 5,000 yard mark his senior year. That season was undoubtedly his best, as he finished just 40 yards shy of 2,000, scored 15 touchdowns in as many games, and averaged over 130 yards per contest.
His finest performance may have been in the 2006 semifinals against Montana, when he racked up 245 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns to help the team advance to the championship. After UMass, Baylark suited up in various NFL training camps and played for the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL.
1 – Marcel Shipp, RB (1997-2000)
Shipp is arguably the best player to ever put on the UMass colors, and as such he tops this list. The owner of every school rushing record that matters, Shipp was the featured threat on the 1998 championship team. His ball-carrying prowess was complemented nicely by his receiving skills out of the backfield – he is first of all non-quarterbacks in many all-purpose records as well.
Shipp was named a first-team All-American twice, second-team once, and gathered three first-team All-Conference selections as well. When we define greatness in sports, it is often the performance in a clutch situation or a championship game, and Shipp simply blew away the top-ranked and heavily favored Georgia Southern team in the 1998 title game. He finished that match with 244 rushing yards and three touchdowns, one of his seven 200+ yard performances.
Shipp graduated as all-time leading rusher in the Atlantic-10, a record that should stand forever, or at least until that conference begins sponsoring football again. Post-college, Shipp was the featured back for the Arizona Cardinals before going on to win two UFL championships with the Las Vegas Locomotives.