No scholarship means no college football
salmon hunterThe dream of wasn’t just to play major college football. The Fall River 300-pounder wanted to be a stock player.
When that didn’t materialize, a baffled and disappointed Salmon decided it was time to say Amherst University goodbye to football and to focus more than ever on his studies and what he plans to do professionally in the next 40 years or so.
“It was a very tough decision,” said Salmon, a building and construction technology specialist whose father, Nick, was a starting offensive lineman at UMass. “But life keeps moving. You guess what tomorrow will bring.
Just a few months ago, Salmon told himself he was well on his way to becoming a major cog in the process of rebuilding UMass. Left goalkeeper, he said he missed the first three days of spring football with a shoulder injury, but he showed himself strong and started the spring intra-squad game. “I had a great game,” he said.
But not a great situation.
The former star of the Catholic Memorial did not have a scholarship. He had transferred to UMass after one season at Division 1 Merrimack College. (Both schools are NCAA Division 1; UMass competes in the FBS subdivision, Merrimack in the lower level FCS subdivision). When he walked into the NCAA transfer portal, Salmon said, UMass kept calling, telling him he had a real shot, a real shot at being part of something. He knew the coaches. He was ready to prove himself.
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The University of Mississippi, Ole Miss, was also interested, and Salmon also knew some of the coaches there. But UMass was in condition. Close to the house. His father’s alma mater. So he chose to be a walk-in Minuteman, starting in the fall 2021 semester. He wore a red shirt in 21, though he was in a handful of plays in a Season 1 -11.
Towards the end of this season, head coach Walt Bell was fired. He was replaced by Don Brown, who had coached UMass from 2004 to 2008 (43-19 record, then in the FCS).
Once the 2021 season ended, Salmon said he was told to drop his weight from 315 to 305 and moved to center, starting center. He did as said. But his career at the center did not last long. Salmon said in early 2022 he returned to Amherst early to get a head start on winter training. During winter training, he said, he had to miss an evening session to take a 7-9 p.m. macroeconomics test.
The next day, he said, he was told he was being traded from center to left guard and a defensive lineman was being converted to center. Strange, he thought, but “I didn’t say anything,” he said. “Any time you can start on the line, it’s a great opportunity.”
Winter turned into spring and spring football succeeded. “The offensive line coach (Alex Miller) was very high on me,” Salmon said.
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“No more scholarship”
Yet an important and crucial piece was still missing. The stock market.
Salmon recalls a spring meeting he had with Miller. “He said, ‘I know why you’re here. But we have no more scholarships.
Salmon said scholarships were used on new recruits, on defensive players. He was encouraged to hang on because it’s not strange that some scholarship recipients become academically ineligible at the end of a semester. The spring 2022 semester ended, Salmon said, with no scholarships rejected.
On some level, UMass always seemed to want salmon. He said Miller told him, “You’ve definitely proven yourself on the court,” and head coach Brown told him, “Your stock at UMass is exploding.”
The reality was that stocks through the roof did not pay dividends. Playing FBS football is a major commitment, eight hours a day, Salmon said.
It’s a job, he said, and he had and has no interest in working full-time for zero pay – a scholarship.
“It was a really tough situation,” Salmon said. “Maybe they were trying to wait until the end of the season to see if I proved myself.”
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Salmon, known as a fierce worker in the weight room and a student-athlete who kept his nose clean off the court, didn’t want to play this waiting game.
On May 25, he texted his coaches, letting them know he was quitting UMass football. “It was weird, they kept calling,” he said. “Maybe they thought I was playing.”
Asked by email about her views on the Hunter Salmon situation, UMass deputy director of sports communications and public relations Hana Johnson said the department would not comment on the matter.
Salmon said some of his friends on the team told him they thought he was just negotiating, playing hardball. They misread Salmon.
Curious, he even entered the NCAA transfer portal again. He said there was a full scholarship offer from Division 1 (FCS) Albany State, as well as offers from D2 schools. In the end, he says, his research was not ultra-serious. He had reached the point in his life as a footballer he said where it was UMass Amherst or nothing.
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A future in building and construction
But football was not his life.
Salmon had majored in mechanical engineering at Merrimack but, he said, getting into ME at UMass is very difficult. Someone who had long enjoyed using his hands — an amateur auto mechanic in high school — Salmon enrolled in UMass’ building and construction technology program. He was hooked.
He loves learning about building techniques, what happens with building materials down to the molecular level. He will tell you about the physical properties of cement, carbon reduction in construction. Outside of school, he loves his summer job restoring log homes.
Salmon, 22, has no trouble envisioning a future without shoulder pads or a belt. Fortunately, he swapped his football helmet for a helmet.
He has three semesters of his degree left. From there, he plans to work for a successful company, do some extra work on the side, and then eventually strike out on his own. “I would be more proud to build my own sustainable business than to reach the NFL,” he said.
Salmon didn’t suddenly become oblivious to UMass football. He has friends on the team. He saw the Minutemen get blasted by Tulane 42-10 in the season opener.
Shortly after leaving the team, Salmon said friends on the team told him how the players below him on the depth chart had scholarships and that in their opinion he would start. . It touches a sensitive chord. But he takes care of it.
“It was all hard on my dad – on me too,” Salmon said. “But life will keep moving. There’s more to life than college football, that’s for sure.