WEIRTON - Madonna senior Ross Comis has given a verbal commitment to play football next year for the University of Massachusetts.
"The place was great," he said. "We went to a basketball game and the atmosphere was awesome. It was better than I had expected. The arena was packed.
"The coaches are great guys. They talked to me the whole day. It made it feel like I wasn't going to be far from home. It's a great campus. Amherst is really a college town. There's UMass and the College of Amherst is three minutes away. Everything is close together."
Comis said head coach Mark Whipple, hired on Jan. 14, also played a big part in his decision.
"He's a great guy," he said. "We went over some coverages and looks. He showed me some tape. I can't wait to play for him. I'll get better and learn from him."
But, another Whipple, also played a role.
Spencer Whipple, son of Mark, was a member of Pitt's staff and had been talking to Comis about being a Panther.
"Coach Whipple got hired and his son came over and showed them my film and they loved it," said Comis. "They called me and wanted me for a visit.
"I talked to him (Spencer) a lot when he was at Pitt. It was great to be with him down there."
UMass plays in the MAC along with Bowling Green, Buffalo, Ohio, Akron, Kent State and Miami (Ohio) in the East and Northern Illinois, Ball State, Toledo and Central Michigan in the West.
"When I saw who my teammates were going to be, along with meeting the coaching staff and everything about the school, it was pretty easy to give my verbal," said Comis.
That includes a state-of-the-art $34.5 million football training complex and press box at McGuirk Stadium to help facilitate the transition to the FBS. The training facility will be a 55,000- square-foot complex at the north end of McGuirk Stadium containing coaching offices, meeting rooms, a strength and conditioning area and athletic training space along with the team's equipment and locker room.
"This is a huge weight off my shoulders," said Comis. "The fact that I was discouraged about the opportunity to be in a position to play D1 football - I felt I would have an offer by now - to the point of visiting UMass and being around coach Whipple. It is a great coaching staff. Coach Whipple coached great quarterbacks in the NFL and the QB coach at UMass (Liam Coen) set all the records there not too long ago.
"You could not get better coaches than that. I can't wait to see what they can do for me to help this football program and take the next step in my career.
"I knew if I did not get a scholarship, I was probably going to Pitt. I knew I could play, but it was whether anyone would give me a chance or not. Coach Whipple gave me that chance and I am grateful for that. I made the decision to try to play D1 football and if someone gave me a chance - which was all I needed - I was not going to disappoint anybody.
"I will do everything I can to start my freshman year."
That means at quarterback.
"I have no clue what it will be like only playing one position," Comis said with a laugh. "I am pretty excited that I get to to focus on is the offensive side of the ball. I liked playing defense, but quarterback is the position I've always wanted to play. I was not taking no for an answer about playing quarterback in college.
"I am going to work as hard as I can to play quarterback. UMass talked to me only about being a quarterback and I felt really comfortable with them knowing that.
"It's going to be pretty cool playing the one position that I love and getting better at it each day."
It is Whipple's second stint with the program. Whipple led the Minutemen to new heights by winning the NCAA I-AA national championship in his first season (1998) and making two other postseason appearances in the following five years (through 2003).
"Sometimes, you need to go away to find out where your home is and I have found it," said Whipple during the introductory press conference. "I can make a bigger impact than I have ever made in my life with people young, old and in between at the University of Massachusetts and that's what I am really excited about. I believe in this place and it hit me after the interview when I drove around campus and then got out and walked.
"This is a special place and I will represent this university better than I ever have. I am trying to do it better than anyone ever has. People ask me, 'Why would you leave the NFL?' They haven't been to UMass. They haven't been to the University of Massachusetts."
Whipple won a Super Bowl ring while a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers' staff in 2006.
That also made an impression on Comis.
"Mark Whipple as a football coach is not just a great teacher, but an excellent motivator," former Steelers coach Bill Cowher said on the UMass web site. "The Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowl XL and he was an integral part of our success. The University of Massachusetts is getting a head coach who is a leader of men and committed to excellence, both on and off the field."
Added recently hired Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who was on that Steelers staff, "Well I'm excited for UMass in hiring Mark Whipple. I had the opportunity to work with him in Pittsburgh for a number of years and not only is he a good football coach, but he's a good role model.
"I think he'll do a great job with those young men. He did a great job with a young quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger and we had some success, so I know he has a good offensive mind. He'll do great in the community. I think it's a great hire and I'm excited for the school."
A 1979 graduate of Brown University with a bachelor's degree in political science, Whipple was the starting quarterback for the Bears in 1977 and 1978 leading Brown to a 13-5 record and a pair of second-place Ivy League finishes. He was a member of the Bears' 1976 Ivy League championship team, the first Ivy football championship in school history.
During his three-year varsity career, he completed 175 of 340 passes for 2,365 yards and 13 touchdowns, while running for 518 yards and 10 touchdowns. A two-time honorable mention All-Ivy pick in football, Whipple earned four varsity letters on the baseball diamond as Brown's starting shortstop. He was inducted into the Brown Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996.