Elizabeth Muirhead ’20 | Assistant Sports Editor
Three weeks ago, I flew down to Atlanta to visit a friend at the University of Georgia (UGA) and watch a football game. The UGA Bulldogs are one of the most high-profile teams in college football, with an enormous fan base and high rank. That weekend, the Bulldogs were slated to play the UMass Amherst Minutemen. Given the records of both teams, it was expected to be a blowout in favor of Georgia. The final score was 66-27 Georgia, but the UMass offense put up an admirable fight. Amongst UMass’s tenacious offense, one player stood out in particular — Andy Isabella. I could hear Georgia fans behind me talking about how fast and crafty he was, making him difficult to cover. An old man sitting to my right was cursing him every time he made a catch: “That damn Isabella.” His presence on the field was unmistakable, and everyone around me noticed. In that game, Isabella — a senior math major from Ohio — received over 200 yards and scored two touchdowns, including an impressive 75-yard touchdown.
Isabella is one of the best receivers UMass has ever seen. This season, he broke the school’s records for receiving yards in a single game, with 303 yards against Liberty back in early November. But his skill and success go well beyond the scope of UMass. He racked up the most receiving yards in the entire NCAA this season, beating out the next closest receiver (Antoine Wesley) by almost 300 yards. Additionally, he’s one of the three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award. Andy has too many accolades to go through them all, but if you’re interested in delving further into his achievements, a quick Google search reveals the breadth his success.
Last week, I got the opportunity to sit down and talk with him about his remarkable season and experience with UMass football. Something that immediately struck me about Isabella was his humility and friendliness; throughout the interview, he was never withdrawn or arrogant about his accomplishments.
One of the first things I wanted to understand was his level of fame and recognition in day-to-day life. When I asked about it, he talked about getting recognized around campus: “Sometimes people come up to me in the dining hall.” He noted that he gets recognized more in his hometown of Mayfield, Ohio. He moved on to talking about how his schedule was becoming crazy, and he had just signed with an agent to manage his career moving forward.
Transitioning into football questions, I asked Andy about the best piece of advice a coach had ever given him. He said, “Listen to the people who have done it before you.” His answer emphasizes the importance of appreciating the perspective and experience of people who have been in his position and found success.
One of the recurring themes that came up in multiple questions was his relationship with his teammates. In any team sport, so much of the success comes from the chemistry between players. When I asked Andy what he loves the most about his team, he talked about the community in the locker room and how much he enjoys meeting people from different places. There are members of the UMass team from all over the United States and the world, including Canada, Germany and Australia.
When I asked him about his most memorable moment on the team, he immediately went to a story about a prank where he put a lobster in his teammate’s locker. The final question I asked was, “Are there any fun football traditions you’re going to miss when you leave UMass?” He used the question to circle back to how much he enjoys spending time with his teammates in the locker room and how he’s going to miss them.
Given his performance and achievements thus far, Andy’s football career looks bright. He was invited to the Reese’s Senior Bowl, which will air on NFL Network Jan. 26. I encourage everyone to tune in and support one of Pioneer Valley’s best athletes. At the Sophian, we will continue to follow his career with optimism. And this April, everyone should keep an eye on the draft because there’s a chance that UMass’s star wide receiver will be headed for the NFL.