Monday, July 25, 2016

UConn's Puyol devastated by death of friends, peers

It all began with a phone call from a fellow college specialist who just a few days ago wished Sam Foltz and Mike Sadler well.

UConn senior kicker Bobby Puyol could barely believe his ears when he was told that Foltz, a highly-decorated punter at Nebraska and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler lost their lives in a one-car accident as they returned from a kicking camp in Wisconsin.

"It was crazy because I saw both of them on Saturday before I came back to UConn," Puyol said. "I was shocked, it was crazy.

"Football brings everybody together but it is so fragile, life is so much bigger. Just take a hold of every second you have and don't take anything for granted. I didn't know Sam very well, just met him this past weekend but he was a guy who did a lot more than just play football and did (so much) in the community at Nebraska. (Sadler) was more than just a football player, he was an academic All-American, it just shows that there is so much more than football.

Puyol had worked camps with Sadler in the past and like so many others who expressed their thoughts about the passing of the former academic All-American, Sadler's quest for life and desire to make a difference is what he has been reflecting on since he received the tragic news.

"I had a picture of Mike, his laugh, his smile, just everything and his spirit," Puyol said. "I saw him on the last day of the camp. He was the guy with the brightest light, the brightest guy in the room and when I heard that, it was all I could think about."

Puyol has worked in camps before and it is not unusual for a handful of kickers and punters to climb into a car and head back to either their hometowns or college they are attending. Puyol knows what took place over the weekend in Wisconsin could have happened to anybody.

Puyol has been a regular attendee at Sunday morning bible studies inside the Burton Family Football Complex since arriving in Storrs. His faith is something he is relying on to help him overcome the loss of Foltz and Sadler.

"It is huge," Puyol said. "His way is perfect, sometimes it is hard to grasp that. He is a guy who created this world, gave us all life, it is something I can hold onto. It is something I have been able to (draw) comfort (from) through all of this."

Puyol didn't know Foltz as well as Sadler. However, seeing how the Nebraska football community and those outside the program have reacted to the death of Foltz gave Puyol an indication of how special of a person Foltz was.

"I sent my condolences to the Nebraska kicker (Drew Brown), he seemed really upset," Puyol said. "It would be like if (UConn punter) Justin (Wain) got into a car accident."

There have been phone calls exchanged with other punters and kickers who worked camps with Foltz and Sadler in the past as well as plenty of interaction on social media.

"When we were there, the Baylor kicker (Chris Callahan) talked about specialists being a fraternity, a bunch of guys that went to camp I knew them throughout high school and my college career so I feel like we get to hang out and talk about more than just football," Puyol said.

"The craziest thing to me is just the amount of people that the specialists know and it is crazy to see the reaction of everybody."

Foltz and Sadler did much more during their college days than merely punt a football. Both were very involved in the community and top-notch student-athletes. Puyol has blazed a similar path. He was recently named to the watch list for the Wuerffel Trophy which is presented annually to the college football player who gives back to the community and contributes athletically and academically. Puyol won the Don Ruck Award at UConn, an honor open to all student-athletes at UConn and with a criteria similar to the Wuerffel Trophy.

Puyol said he doesn't seek out accolades and recognition for his good works but it is gratifying to use his platform to make a difference.

"I think it is who do I want to be?" Puyol said. "I know my platform is so much bigger because I play football so if I want to help people out and be somebody who shares more than football but who shares life with people, I think that is probably the most important thing to do."

KNAPPE, MELIFONWU, THOMAS AND WALSH HEADED TO NEWPORT
The American Athletic Conference announced the players who will be heading to Newport, R.I. for next week's football media day.

UConn will be represented by safety Obi Melifonwu, linebacker Matt Walsh, offensive tackle Andreas Knappe and receiver Noel Thomas.

It will be the second straight year Knappe will take part in AAC media day while the four-member UConn contingent includes a pair of state natives as Thomas hails from Norwalk and Walsh is from Madison. Media day is set for Aug. 2 although some events will also take place on the 1st.


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Friday, July 22, 2016

Illinois DB Swenson commits to UConn

A couple years ago the UConn staff secured a commitment from a defensive back out of Illinois and Aaron Garland could figure into the plans at safety during the upcoming season.

The Huskies went back to Illinois and added Ian Swenson to its current recruiting class. Swenson announced his decision on Twitter and according to the rivals.com database, Louisville and Iowa State were among the programs to offer Swenson a scholarship.

Officially committed to the University of Connecticut!! #huskyup pic.twitter.com/4XzPMSGsSU

Swenson was a starting cornerback for a Loyola Academy team which posted six shutouts including three in five playoff games as Loyola capped a 14-0 season by winning the IHSA 8A state title. He was one of three juniors to start on defense for Loyola. He was also a member of Loyola's state championship lacrosse team as a junior.

Friday, July 08, 2016

UConn's Summers named to Nagurski Trophy watch list

For the second time this week UConn cornerback Jamar Summers has been named to a national watch list.

Summers was the only Husky on the list of candidates for  Nagurski Trophy which is given out annually to the best defensive player in the country.

Summers, who was named to the Bednarik Award watch list on Tuesday, had eight interceptions as a sophomore and also led the Huskies with 11 passes defended. He is one of three returning starters in the secondary and look for Summers to be recognized again on Monday when the Jim Thorpe Award watch list is announced.

No UConn players were named on the Outland Trophy watch list.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

UConn's Puyol and Wain on national watch lists

UConn senior Bobby Puyol is one of candidates on the watch list for the Lou Groza Award, annually presented to the nation's best kicker while Justin Wain is one of the 28 punters on the Ray Guy Award watch list.

UConn joins Alabama, Arizona State, Idaho, Miami (Fla.), Nebraska and Oklahoma as the only programs with candidates for both the Lou Groza and Ray Guy Awards.

Puyol was 16 for 18 on field goals as a junior with one of the misses from 49 yards. He booted a career-long 52 yarder in the St. Petersburg Bowl loss to Marshall. He ranks eighth in program history with 26 field goals and needs 10 FGs to move into the top three.  He needs 44 points to move into the top 10 on UConn's career scoring list.

Puyol, a Groza semifinalist as a junior, is also a decorated student-athlete and was honored for his work in the classroom and in the community when he was named the winner of the Don Ruck Award, an honor open to all UConn student-athletes and which recognizes commitment to community service and leadership.

Wain, who multiple times has attained a 4.0 grade-point average at UConn, averaged 38.2 yards per punt as a junior. He averaged a season-high 44 yards per punt in the season opener against Villanova and averaged 43 yards per kick in the bowl game. His most impressive statistic might be the 13 returned punts considering that the Huskies allowed an average of 29.8 punts to be returned in the previous five seasons. UConn allowed only 71 punt return yards in 13 games which ranked 22nd nationally.

Semifinalists for the Groza Award will be announced on Nov. 3 with the Ray Guy Award semifinalists being revealed on Nov. 11. Finalists for both awards will be announced on Nov. 22 with the winners being honored on Dec. 8 at the College Football Awards airing live on ESPN.

Puyol and Waine join Jamar Summers (Bednarik Award) and Ryan Crozier (Rimington Trophy) are UConn players named to national watch lists with six of the 16 national watch lists having been released.

TICKET PACAKGES ON SALE
UConn announced that ticket mini-plans are now on sale for the 2016 UConn football season.

There are options for three-game plans starting at $72 with fans able to choose to attend either the Virginia or Syracuse games and then two games between Maine, Cincinnati, Central Florida, Temple and Tulane.

Prices start at $86 for a four-game plan with fans able to choose any of the four home games.

For more information, call 877-AT-UCONN or visit www.UConnTickets.com.


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Wednesday, July 06, 2016

UConn's Crozier on the Rimington Trophy watch list

Sophomore Ryan Crozier is one of 61 centers named to the watch list for the Rimington Trophy.

Five players have been added to the original watch list released in May although Crozier was on the list in May as well as being included in the updated watch list.

Crozier has been on the Rimington watch list in each of the last two seasons. Last year he suffered a knee injury forcing him to miss the 2015 season. Crozier returned and worked as the starting center during spring drills.

Crozier played as a true freshman in 2014 and took over as the starting left guard for the final three games of the season. Following the graduation of Alex Mateas, he was expected to take over as the starting center.

The John Mackey Award watch list was released on Wednesday morning and it was a little surprising that neither Tommy Myers nor Alec Bloom were among the 45 candidates for the award presented annually to the nation's best tight end.

ACADEMICS FIRST FOR GIACONIA
It's been previously reported that Valley Regional lineman Jack Giaconia would be among the Connecticut players joining the UConn football team as walk-ons.

The 2016 roster has not been posted yet so I reached out to the coaches of the local prospects expected to go the preferred walk-on route. Hamden Hall cornerback Kyle Williams is among those on the squad but Valley Regional/Old Lyme lineman Jack Giaconia is focusing on academics first but hasn't ruled out giving football a shot once he gets settled at UConn according to Valley Regional/Old Lyme coach Tim King.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Powerful first-hand account from former UConn QB Casey Cochran

Whoever has spent time around former UConn quarterback Casey Cochran knows he is mature beyond his years. It is something that served him well in high school and during his time at UConn and will continue to do so moving forward.

Cochran's football career ended when he suffered his 13th concussion in the 2014 season opener. He has remained involved in football most recently working with the UConn Radio Network team's coverage of the football games. Cochran took the step of using his own trials and tribulations as he embarks on life while dealing with the impact of the head trauma he has suffered. He could have handled it privately but understanding how important of an issue it is, he used the Players Tribune to give a powerful first-person account of not only the play that ended his football career but the challenges he faces moving forward. Cochran took it a step further, providing his personal email address for people to reach out to him.

I can't urge you strongly enough to check out Casey's entry titled "13 Concussions."

UConn's Summers on Bednarik Award watch list

UConn junior cornerback Jamar Summers was among the players named to the watch list for the Bednarik Award which is presented annually to the nation's best defensive player.

Summers led UConn with eight interceptions and 11 passes defended as a sophomore. He also had 39 tackles for the Huskies.

Summers did not have an interception in the first four games of the season (of course two of those games were against triple option offenses) but had at least one interception in seven of the last nine games. His 67-yard interception return was the only touchdown in a 7-3 win over Tulane, he picked off two passes in a 31-13 win over East Carolina and also had one in the upset of Houston.

Here's a link to the players on the watch lists for the Maxwell and Bednarik Awards

This kicks off the release of watch lists for most of the awards as the Mackey Award (tight ends) and Rimington Trophy (center) will be announced tomorrow, kickers and punters will get their day with the release of the Groza and Guy watch lists on Thursday and the last of the watch lists released this week will be the Nagurski and Outland lists on Friday.

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Monday, July 04, 2016

Staples TE Ryan Fitton commits to UConn

UConn received a commitment from Ryan Fitton, a tight end out of FCIAC powerhouse Staples.

Fitton had 22 catches for 279 yards with a pair of touchdowns as a junior for the Wreckers highlighted by making six catches for 85 yards and a touchdown in a 35-0 win over Stamford.

Fitton was listed at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds as a junior and he also serves as Staples' punter, averaging nearly 39 yards per punt as a sophomore. He is UConn's fifth commitment from the high school Class of 2017 but first one from Connecticut.

Staples kicks off the 2016 season with a home game against McMahon on Sept. 9.