Bob Diaco has spoken about the his quest to change the culture inside the UConn football program rather often since being named the Huskies' head coach.
There might never have been a better sense of what Diaco has been able to accomplish than a recent video of the team's reaction when former Naugatuck High receiver Bryan Coney was given a scholarship and he signed the paperwork with the cameras rolling.
After Wednesday's practice, Coney spoke about what it meant to him to be rewarded in that fashion.
"This is the hardest summer in all of our lives because Coach (Matt) Balis is the best strength coach in the country so we were together all summer working real hard," Coney said. "Everybody around me once I got it, knew it was a group effort, we all worked hard. My family and me, I got it but they were also part of my family so they were all happy for me. It was like they all got their scholarship too so there was a lot of love and emotion.
"We are all a big family. One thing that happens here is coaches definitely don't treat walk-ons like you watch old movies like Rudy, it is not like that. They expect you to come out and do what you've got to do. There was a lot of responsibility put on me even when I was a walk-on so I just did what they wanted me to do and they rewarded me for it."
No player seemed to revel more in Coney's special moment than starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs who quickly moved in so he could congratulate Coney.
"So many of my friends coming here and building relationships with and then to see all the work they have put in, I couldn't imagine the feeling he had," Shirreffs said. "Every time that happens I get such a strong feeling. When he first came in, I honestly thought he was on scholarship. He is really working hard and he has skills too, I didn't know he was going to get a scholarship so I was really proud of him. I was partners with him in the weight room the other day just talking to him about how I was proud of him, just to keep working. It is awesome to see something like that and the stars align for him."
Diaco has made it a point of identifying in-state products who he wants be a part of the program and he brings them in as preferred walk-ons selling them on the possibility of earning a scholarship. Madison's Nick Vitale, Shelton's Jason Thompson, Hebron's Will Rishell and Higganum's Sean Marinan are among those who have taken that path and now it was Coney's turn.
"He has some talent and skill that has given him a chance to produce with the guys so he doesn't look out of place," Diaco said.."He works hard, he works his tail off. He worked hard in the fall, did everything that everybody asked him, was one of the top performers in winter conditioning, came out in the spring and was one of the top performers again in the summer so it ends up becoming easy.
"That is what you like to do. It would be very easy for us to recruit that numbers (fill all 85 available scholarships) but if we have guys who have earned it, are quality teammates, that is how we do it. I am not saying it is right or wrong, it is just right for us. We reward walk-ons that are exceptional teammates that we believe can produce on the field whether they have or not that are high achievers in the classroom."
So how special was it for Diaco to see the team's reaction to Coney getting the scholarship?
"It was beautiful," Diaco said. "It makes you feel great, I am so excited about Bryan and what he has done, his family and the benefits they are going to receive based on his hard work, all the commitment they have made to his development. He is a special guy and I couldn't be prouder of him."
STAPLETON'S ROLE GROWING?
In a recent blog I suggested that finding a way to get Luke Carrezola and Cam Stapleton on the field together might be beneficial for the defense since Stapleton is clearly not a reserve player even if he is listed as one on the depth chart.
I guess the UConn coaches had the same idea as late in Wednesday's practice I noticed Carrezola and Stapleton being on the field together with the first-team defense.
"Cam and Luke can definitely play together," Diaco said. "We are taking a look at Cam as the other outside linebacker. If he ends up becoming one of the best ones then it will be Cam and Luke so you will see a lot of plays with both of them. Based on style of play, Cam is a big physical player, he might he a different kind of tool to use to do a specific job opposite Carrezola. If we are playing an empty team (no players in the backfield), it is all spread out and we have to do work than maybe it is not Cam so it gives us more flexibility to add a little pressure where it is needed."
DIACO NOT WORRIED ABOUT OUTSIDE PRESSURES
Diaco was asked whether he feels any added pressure to put a strong product out of the field since UConn is among the schools in contention for potential Big 12 expansion.
Here's what he had to say on the subject.
"I have no idea, I don't know what is happening outside the Burton Football Complex and the Shenkman indoor (facility)," Diaco said. "I don't know anything but these guy's lives right now and the coaches' and staff's lives right now. It is a little narrow focus but that is what camp is. I have no idea what outside pressures are putting on these guys. I don't mean to minimize that; I am excited about that but if you cant get excited about people really wanting you to achieve, you are in the wrong business, the wrong game. It is the best. I love that, UConn Nation about what we are about to become and having the expectations for greatness, how do you beat that? That is fantastic. I don't want to have the players carry that on their shoulders every day, that would be taxing carrying a two-ton weight on your shoulders and your back. But they are working as hard as they can work. There is no level of pressure that somebody could apply to these guys right now to get these guys to do anything more than they are doing."
Labels: Bryan Coney