Thursday, July 31, 2008

Donald Thomas interview transcript

Here's the transcript of an interview with Donald Thomas and the Miami media conducted Wednesday after practice with the Dolphins, courtesy of SportsTicker.

On the challenge of going up against veterans on the defense like LB Joey Porter and DT Jason Ferguson) – “It definitely gets you nervous when you see them out there talking up a storm and everything like that. When you get out there, you just play football. You don’t try to think about that. You just try to do what you have to do within the play and within the scheme of the offense and just try to help out as much as possible. But going against those guys, knowing what kind of a reputation they do have, definitely is intimidating at times.”

(On picking up the scheme) -- “I think it’s more of tough love. They just tell me to have high expectations for yourself. The scheme, somewhat is what I’m familiar with at UConn from previous years. It definitely is a lot to learn within the scheme because it’s a lot more complicated. I think I’m picking it up kind of smoothly, but I still have a long way to go.”

(On trying to prove himself and moving practice into the bubble) -- “I really have no control over it. I just have to make the best out of the situation that I’m in each time I come out of the practice field. Whether we’re inside or outside, I just have to go out there and compete.”

(On what Head Coach Tony Sparano means when he says he makes himself “heavy” and hard to move) -- “Just trying to play as strong as possible all the time. I put myself in the best situation that I can. Basically, listen to coach (Mike) Maser, my offensive line coach, and him giving me the proper fundamentals and techniques that puts me in the position to be that way.”

(On the area in which he has made the biggest improvement since the start of camp) -- “I think my run blocking was a big concern for me but with the techniques I’ve been learning, it’s definitely made it a little bit easier and I still have a long way to go in the run blocking. Also, with pass protection, I have to move my feet a lot more. They’re a lot faster at this level then they are in college. I’m just trying to adjust to the speed of the pass rusher, so moving my feet is a big thing also in pass protection.”

(On if T Vernon Carey has been giving him any advice) -- “All the time. He’s told me to set off the ball a lot more. When I’m up too close, sometimes the defenders can get a jump on me. Make sure that in certain situations you have to know what it is. You have to know if you have to get out of your stance quicker on third and long because they are really going to be putting their ears back and coming. Just listening to Vernon , Vernon knows what he’s talking about. Samson’s (Satele) been out there for a year. Justin (Smiley) has been in this, this has been his fifth year and Jake’s (Long) a great player. Just listen to all of those guys. Then you have the guys behind you that have played before, too. Everyone around me has been giving me tips and really helping me out.”

(On G Justin Smiley being his roommate in camp) -- “When I found out it was the biggest relief knowing that Justin, a five year vet, was my roommate. He can help me out with, the “camp blues” so to say. Coming back to the room, thinking the world’s going to end because you had a bad day of practice. He reassures you. Having Justin is just great.”

SPARANO quote on Thomas
(On is Donald Thomas ahead at right guard or is he continuing to flip new guys in at that position)
– “Right now you have right side and left side, and with a young guy you’re trying to keep them on a side right now as opposed to starting to flip them early on. At the same time Donald is a big, strong kid that’s athletic. When you watch him out there, I know coming off the field yesterday, a couple of our defensive players thought ‘He’s really heavy.’ And when a defensive player says ‘Really heavy,’ he doesn’t mean heavy in size, he means in heavy when he hits you, and when he leans on you and those are good qualities to have in offensive lineman when they’re big and they play big. That was encouraging. It was good to get him out there and let him compete against some of the first team players out there and see how he responds. As we’ve said before we’ll keep moving them around until we find the right five.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Jarrell Miller leaves UConn

Looks like the riddle of the mystery player leaving the program has been answered. It's Jarrell Miller, who cited personal reasons for his departure. Here's a few more notes and updates sent out via a UConn email earlier this afternoon: an odd maneuver we rarely see. Miller's departure is snuck in at the end. News on Aaron Bagsby smarts, too.

STORRS , Conn. (July 30, 2008) --- The University of Connecticut football team will open practice for the 2008 season on Friday, August 1. As the Huskies enter preseason camp, the following is an update on the Husky roster.

* Redshirt junior defensive tackle Brandon Dillon (Rochester, N.Y.) has been enrolled at the University during the summer sessions and is eligible to participate. He played in ten games last season, but was not enrolled in school during the spring semester.

* Redshirt freshman safety Aaron Bagsby (Henderson, Nev.) will undergo knee surgery on Thursday, July 31 and will not participate in preseason drills. He played in the season-opener last year against Duke and missed the rest of the year with an injury.

* Redshirt sophomore defensive end Mike Cox (West Hempstead, N.Y.) will see limited practice time in preseason camp and is still recovering from a knee injury that kept him out of spring practice.

* Defensive tackle Jarrell Miller (Richmond, Va.) has left the University and football program for personal reasons.

* * *

Television plans for UConn’s season opening contest against Hofstra on Thursday, August 28 at 7:30 p.m. have been announced. The game will be televised live by ESPN Regional Television and will be seen in Connecticut on WCTX-MyTV9. In addition, the game will be seen on SportsNet New York (SNY).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Media Day musings

Another Big East media day is in the books. I can't imagine there's a conference in the country that comes close to matching the two days we get here in Newport, R.I. Fantastic event, as always.

I'm holed up in the business center of the plush Hotel Viking, where $400 gets you one night in a room but Internet access on the hotel computer costs .80-per minute. I know that only because the couple sitting beside me still haven't stopped complaining about it. I have my own laptop, the ethernet is free for me and I'm not offering to share simply because they're really annoying.

Some news and notes from the morning:
  • UConn was picked sixth in the preseason poll. Oddly, no one was all that surprised. I mean, the league's co-champ, who doesn't lose all that much in personnel (19 starters are back, including the QB, both RBs and most of the defense), is predicted to finish behind three teams it beat last fall? Polls don't mean anything, but you can bet Randy Edsall will use that as motivation in some manner. "The poll is how the media perceives us. I guess they don't think we're very good. We'll have to go out and play with a chip on our shoulder."

  • Mike Tranghese dispelled the recent New York Post story on the Big East looking at Army and Navy for football. He said the conference had discussions two years ago, but haven't spoken since. "We had discussions two years ago, the service academies didn't feel it was in their best interest, and we dropped it," Tranghese said. "Now this story appears, and it sounds as if it's happening now, but that's not so."

  • Tranghese said as of now, there's no teams the Big East would consider a viable option to become a member for football. He says programs have contacted him about joining, but all have been dismissed for various reasons. "Having a ninth member would solve scheduling issues," Tranghese said. "But the (member) presidents aren't going to vote for another team simply to solve a scheduling issue."

  • Tranghese is scheduled to retire soon, but plans to remain active in some way with the league. He says a big reason why he's retiring is the travel schedule. "I'm not a good flyer as it is," he said. "The less time I'm in the air, the better."

  • Brandon Dillon will be at the Huskies first practice Friday, providing some depth on the defensive line. Marcus Campbell was back over the summer, and will also be practicing. Edsall said he's got a meeting scheduled for Wednesday in which he's expecting to lose one, as-of-now unnamed player. The good news is that spot will be filled Friday by one of the team's walk-ons, five of whom are unable to begin practicing until classes begin because UConn is over the 105-man limit.

  • UConn's media guide cover features game-action shots of D.J. Hernandez and Tyler Lorenzen flexing their biceps, while Cody Brown and Darius Butler are just kind of standing around. Brown suspects the photos of the offensive players were doctored. "They must have done something because D.J.'s not that big," Brown said. "I kind of like my picture, though. I still look pretty physical."

  • Get your portfolios ready. Lorenzen has spent the last two months interning for a financial firm in Hartford and keeping a daily eye on the stock market. He doesn't exactly instill visions of the creepy Gordon Gekko or Donald Trump screw-the-other guy tycoon (maybe it's the hair), but Lorenzen seems like the Wall Street type.

  • Edsall still sees Darius Butler playing 15 or so snaps per game on offense, returning kicks and, of course, playing cornerback. He wasn't adverse to the idea of Butler working in on punt returns at some point, either. Just not now.

  • From a personality standpoint, new West Virginia coach Bill Stewart is about as far from Rich Rodriguez as it gets. That's no coincidence. West Virginia wants to distance itself from Rich-Rod, who rivals A-Rod on the prima donna scale. Stewart seems like the friendly country neighbor who's always working on his roof or cooking hot dogs in the new barbecue pit. Actually, he kind of looks and sounds like Lou Holtz, without the speech impediment.

  • South Florida Jim Leavitt wasn't exactly the life of the party (that was Stewart), but he was close. Yep, the same Leavitt who has conducted conference calls in grunts and non sequiturs was reeling in the yuks from the group of media members around his table. He may have a future in stand-up comedy. OK, I overstated that. But he's funnier than Dane Cook. That's not that hard, either. But you get the picture.

  • Stewart actually encouraged his star quarterback, Pat White, to try out for the WVU baseball team last spring. "Coach, I can't hit the curveball," White told Stewart. White, who hasn't played baseball since high school, has been drafted each of the past two years by major league clubs. Stewart wanted White to have another option with baseball, but speaking Tuesday Stewart said he has no doubts White will be able to play in the NFL. He compared him to Antwan Randle-El, Kordell Stewart and even Warren Moon. Hopefully, White's NFL career will be more less like the first two and more like the last on that list. "The people of West Virginia have been blessed," Stewart said. "They have to savor having him back again, and savor what he's done. As an athlete, he's like no one I've ever seen."

  • Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe explained "noodling", a popular pastime amongst the Cardinals football players. In a nutshell, it's catching catfish with your bare hands. Catfish tend to burrow into the mud. A noodler finds the hold and pulls the fish out, hoping not to get bit. Seems to take the fun out of fishing. Oh, Louisville, picked to finish either first or second the last three years, was predicted seventh in the preseason poll.

  • Ben Mauk is still appealing the NCAA's decision not to grant him another season of eligibility at Cincinnati. But coach Brian Kelly is set to go with Dustin Grutza at QB. Kelly is still angling to build a program that has been successful on the field yet struggling to gain a foothold in other, off-field areas. The practice facility is substandard, the fan base is improving and a year ago Kelly used media day as a pulpit to express his disdain for the lack of attention his team received in Cincinnati. Kelly, you may remember, refused to speak with a New England-based free-lance writer hired by the Cincinnati Enquirer because the paper declined to send a reporter to cover the event. "We used the opportunity not to take a shot at the media, but to let the city of Cincinnati know we had a BCS football team," Kelly said. "If they can support the Bengals and Reds, they can support a BCS football program. Since then, we sold out three times last fall for the first time in the history of the school. Cincinnati has shown it will support college football. My job is to put out a good football team."

See you Friday in Storrs.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Desi lends a helping hand

Desi Cullen was recruited by former UConn kicker Graig Vicidomino to volunteer at Paul Newman's "Hole-In-The-Wall-Gang" summer camp for ailing children earlier this month. He said he had a blast, but the experience touched him emotionally, too. Here's the full article from today's New Haven Register.

By Chip Malafronte, Register Staff
STORRS — Desi Cullen, the fun-loving, spring-loaded starting punter at UConn, has enough energy and personality to fuel the entire football team.

In two years since arriving in Storrs from his hometown of Louisville, Cullen has managed to inject his individuality, vigor and ever-present zest for living into each practice.

As a true freshman, he greeted Connecticut media for the first time with a heavy drawl and self-appointed nickname, “Y’all wanted to talk to the Kentucky Hammer?” A year later, he dyed his hair bright yellow — “irresistible blonde” as he called it — to help gain some attention for the oft-ignored UConn kickers during Media Day (see above photo).

So when former UConn place kicker Graig Vicidomino volunteered to work with ailing children at The Hole In The Wall Gang Summer Camp a year ago, he knew he had to return this summer with Cullen.

“We used to go to charity events at UConn, and Desi loved those situations,” said Vicidomino, a Seymour resident who took a job on Wall Street shortly after returning from the camp. “He’s great with kids, and I knew he’d have a ton of fun doing it.”

The camp, tucked away in the hills and expansive timberlands of Ashford and Eastford, was started in 1987 by actor and Westport resident Paul Newman as a retreat for children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. There, they could enjoy every activity associated with an overnight summer camp on a lake in the woods.

The experience was enlightening for Cullen, an elementary education major who has worked in the past at YMCA camps back in Louisville. They spent the week working with children ages 10-12 suffering from sickle-cell anaemia, a disease that affects the body’s red blood cells.

“I had a blast, but at the same time it was tough,” Cullen said. “These kids had huge smiles on their faces the whole week. It was so much fun. But you also see what kinds of things they have to go through on an everyday basis. The stuff they have to deal with because of the disease are things that you really can’t relate to.”

Before the campers arrived, the volunteers went through an orientation process with doctors to learn about sickle-cell disease and how to keep the children safe. Most afflicted with the disease can take part in everyday activities, but Cullen said they needed to monitor the children’s body temperature to protect against various sickle-related crisis.

“We had to make sure they wore sweatshirts at night and were consistently hydrated,” he said. “When they swam, the water was heated to 90 degrees, and once they got in, they couldn’t get out and go back in. It was a lot more responsibility than I’m used to when I’m with kids.”

They were also instructed how to handle a child who suddenly becomes ill, but there were also trained counselors, nurses and doctors available around the clock.

One morning, around 2 a.m., Cullen said he was awakened to the sound of one of his campers who had lapsed into “sickle shock”, a painful attack that periodically affects those with the disease. Two of the counselors trained in the condition came to the camper’s aid and brought him to the infirmiry.

“He was back with us in two days, but it was nerve-wracking for me,” Cullen said. “Earlier that day, I played a little 1-on-1 basketball with him. We were having an awesome time, and then you’re brought back to reality a little while later when you remember that he’s a sick child.”

Cullen said he was in his element the rest of the week with the kids, playing, joking around and running a non-stop commentary with anyone and everyone.

He may have also converted a whole new crop of UConn football fans, partly due to the matching UConn arm and wrist bands the two distributed to children. At one point, they gathered the group for a kicking demonstration, booming footballs high and deep into forest.

“The kids were all trying to catch balls, and I was kicking between a couple of telephone poles,” Vicidomino said. “It was a lot of fun. He and I jumped right in with the kids and participated in all the activities. It was a lot of fun.”

The toughest part for Cullen and Vicidomino came when the week was finished. They had to say goodbye. Most of the children cried because it was time to go, but they weren’t the only ones who’d grown attached.

“I really wanted to stay,” Cullen said. “Those kids all became my little brothers. I was really fond of them, and grew close with a lot of them. At one point we were putting them on busses to go back home and I felt like a parent sending each one of them off to college. Those kids might not understand it, but they touched me more than I could ever touch them.”

Chip Malafronte can be reached at

Saturday, July 19, 2008

It's about time, Malafronte!

(waking up, rubbing eyes)...Who are you? Where am I? Oh, yeah. The blog.

Summer's been busy. When I haven't been changing diapers and watching Bob the Builder or Caillou with my 10-month old baby, I've made several trips to Yankee Stadium, trying to remain professional and holding my tongue while listening to A-Rod, Jeter and Joe Girardi, written a few Sunday columns and a lot on local minor leaguers along with doing some other stuff.

But, about a week from now, the Runway blog will shake off the rust and get back to the business of UConn football. To tide you news-starved readers over, check out the New Haven Register Sunday morning for a feel-good feature on a popular Husky. It should also be online at Maybe I'll post a photo in the morning to add a little more.