From time to time this football offseason, we've made mention on this blog the amount of football talent rising in Western Mass. This time last year, Springfield Commerce linebacker Sha'ki Holines burst onto the scene, getting a number of Division 1 FBS/FCS looks before settling on UConn. Through much of the spring and summer, interest has slowly built for Springfield Central quarterback Cody Williams, who currently holds three FCS offers and could see more.
Is Amherst High rising junior Taj-Amir Torres the next big one out of the 413 area code?
Torres was named Massachusetts' Gatorade Player of the Year for track and field last June after winning state and New England championships in the 100-meter dash, taking the latter with a time of 10.73. One week after his New England victory on June 8, he placed ninth at New Balance Nationals in the 100.
On the gridiron, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Torres saw limited touches, thanks to the explosive emergence of running back Kieran Presley. On the season, Torres caught 24 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns, and made three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.
Still, he's got an impressive highlight tape to work with. Check out his Hudl reel by CLICKING HERE.
There is a considerable amount of hype beginning to build. Jim Pignatiello of the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported last month that Boston College, UConn and UMass have all extended scholarship offers; New Hampshire and Rhode Island have also expressed interest. You can't teach speed, and at camps at BC and UConn this summer he recorded 40 times of 4.40 and 4.41, respectively; his fastest 40 time this summer has been 4.38, according to head coach David Thompson.
"Taj is what we say extremely fast," said Thompson, himself a former All-American at UMass who briefly played with the St. Louis Rams. "He can catch the ball and he can turn around and play corner. Colleges are moving to quick, shifty guys in the slot, and he was New England's champ in 100-meter dash -- you can't coach that type of speed.
"The talent level is there. A lot of them are just waiting for him to show out, come out junior year and see how he does. Then they want him to gain 10 pounds, but he's actually put on some weight. They wanted him to get to 170 and he's 175 now. He's working extremely hard, he's a good kid."
Needless to say, Torres will be a focal point of the Hurricanes' gameplan this fall, in all three phases of the game.
"I'm just trying to get the ball in his hands every opportunity we get," Thompson said. "Whether it's out of the backfield, out of the slot, kick returns, punt returns, screens, I just wanna give him the chance to make plays. We're going to use him as much as we can and he's hungry right now, he wants to perform at the highest level possible."