If you ask Jamal Wilson how to become successful, he will tell you the path to progress is paved by repetition.
Wilson’s path began at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he captained the nation’s No. 1 team as a senior in 2010. He experienced firsthand the patience and dedication needed to become the best.
This time last year, Wilson gave the UMass football team little more than depth at running back. He remained steadfast to his trade, and by midseason, Wilson’s north-south running style earned him the starting job as he led the team in rushing yards (368) and finished sixth in receiving yards (106).
Tuesday at Gillette Stadium, Wilson flashed a smile when asked about the vacant starting job in the backfield. Despite his pedigree, Wilson wouldn’t allow himself to take the job for granted.
“I’m just working, man,” he said. “I’m just working hard every day at camp, staying on top of things, going throughout my day without mental errors and playing fast. So, hopefully, but we’ll see.
“I would love to be that guy that this team can depend on.”
On the eve of his fourth season, Wilson is expected to take a brunt of the rushing workload as UMass fights for its first multi-win season since making the jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2012. Considered a point of strength on the offense, UMass boasts a trio of experienced backs to carry the ball this fall.
However, Wilson’s encore performance was nearly clipped before it even began. In one of his biggest moves of the offseason, new coach Mark Whipple made a major addition with a commitment from Drew Harris — a junior college standout and former four-star high school recruit.
But when Harris and the Minutemen agreed to mutually part ways earlier this week, it was Wilson who moved back to the top of the running back depth chart.
“I never felt like I took a backseat,” Wilson said with regards to Harris. “I was just doing what I had to do: showing up, coming to work every day, and playing hard.”
With the departure of Harris, Wilson will be part of a Minuteman backfield that carries a pair of backs looking to make their injuries a distant memory.
A former three-star recruit in high school, Lorenzo Woodley made an immediate impact with UMass, finishing second on the team in 2013 with 314 rushing yards as a true freshman.
The 6-foot, 212-pound Woodley endured nagging leg issues dating to last fall. He was sidelined during training camp, but returned to practice Tuesday morning much to the pleasure of Whipple.
Jonathan Broadnax lost the starting job last fall because of an ailing right knee. He redshirted his junior season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery.
A year removed from the procedure, the 5-9 Broadnax acknowledges his knee experiences both good and bad days, but he remains excited about his potential on the eve of another season.
“My mom always tells me tomorrow is never promised to no man,” Broadnax said. “Everything happens for a reason . . . Maybe I was meant to be in this situation right now rather than last year where I have two years to play under [Whipple] and actually learn and develop even more.”
The Minutemen are looking to shed the memory of last season, where they finished dead last in the FBS with 11.7 points per game.
Having coached the Minutemen to the 1998 Division 1-AA national championship during his first tour in Amherst, Whipple has done away with the spread offense implemented by his predecessor, Charley Molnar. In its place, UMass will debut a pro-style offense that should cater to the burners in the backfield.
And when it comes to breaking tackles, the running back corps will be learning from one of the program’s best. Two-time All-American Marcel Shipp — who raced for 244 yards and three touchdowns in the 1998 national championship game — joined Whipple this January as the running backs coach.
Wilson acknowledged the whirlwind offseason has been difficult at times, but believes the team’s cohesion is peaking just in time to challenge Boston College in the season opener Aug. 30.
“I’m ready,” Wilson said. “My body feels good. I’m just waiting on BC. We’ve been waiting ever since the spring. We’ve been waiting to play somebody else. We’ve been scrimmaging the defense and we’re tired of kicking their butt.
“We just want to win. We want to compete. We want to be relevant.”