Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Stephen happy to be back

One of the developments that flew a little under the radar in the last week and a half is Shamar Stephen working his way back into a starting spot at defensive tackle for the first time since injuring his knee early in fall camp.

Stephen got in for a few plays in the Sep. 15 win at Maryland and then saw a more expanded role in Saturday’s loss to Western Michigan. Stephen is back listed as a starter at defensive tackle and will make his 2012 home debut when the Huskies play Buffalo on Saturday.

“Watching people play and working all season to play and not playing was kind of hard but you just have to motivate and help the younger guys and just be a factor (as a leader).”

Stephen’s return allowed UConn to move reserve defensive tackle Angelo Pruitt out to defensive end to replace Jesse Joseph, who suffered a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury against Maryland.

Stephen is nearly back to 100 percent and looking to provide a strong presence in the middle of UConn’s defensive line for the remainder of the season.

“It was kind of exciting when I first got in especially against Maryland,” Stephen said. “It was pretty fun. I was excited to come back and play. I am having fun doing it and just creating a vibe where everybody is coming in and playing together as a defensive line.”

Like so many others around the nation, UConn players looked on in disbelief at the way the Monday Night Football game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers came to an end.

Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings appeared to intercept Russell Wilson’s desperation heave into the end zone but as Jennings was falling to the turf, Seattle receiver Golden Tate got his hands around the ball. After some indecision the ruling on the field was a Seattle touchdown. The call was upheld after a video review leading to even more calls for the NFL to agree to terms with the locked out officials and stop having replacement officials call NFL games.

“I thought it was a clear interception even though I am an offensive player I would want that ball like Golden Tate did,” UConn senior receiver Michael Smith said. “I thought it was an interception but I am no referee or anything like that but just from the naked eye I thought it was an interception

“After losing any game you are already heartbroken because nobody plays to lose but going home with a loss on a Hail Mary, I have actually had that feeling like when we lost to Rutgers a few years ago. I've had that feeling and it is a pretty bad feeling.”

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni, who spent the previous six years as an NFL assistant coach before taking the job with the Huskies, chose his words carefully when the subject came up during his weekly Tuesday press conference.

“All I will say about the officials is I promise you it is a very fast game and they have to officiate the game in real time,” Pasqualoni said. “They have one heck of a hard job. My heart goes out to the replacement officials. They have not experienced that level of football which things happen right away, how competitive and how tough these guys are not backing down from anything I can understand if there are some missed calls and a few messes out there, I can understand how it happens.

“The powers that be have a very good reason (for locking out the officials). I am sure in their minds, to do what they are doing. It is a business and I am sure the business side of it is a big factor. I hope they get it resolved.”

Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn spent several minutes on the phone with members of the Connecticut media. While he did not give an update on the Bulls’ injured running back Branden Oliver other than to say that he continues to be day to day after suffering a leg injury in Wednesday's loss to Kent State, he did have an entertaining story of a memorable fishing trip he took with UConn athletic director Warde Manuel when he held the same position at Buffalo.

“I outfished him,” Quinn said with a laugh. “It was a best fishing day I ever had, one of the best. We were out there, we were chatting and talking and talking and next thing he caught one, he caught two and before you know it he was (up) five fish to zero. There was no conversation - trust me. I went to work. We finished and I think I had one more fish than he did at the end of day.

“It was the funniest thing. We were having a great conversation for about an hour and the next thing you know (Manuel said) ‘I had five fish to your none and you didn't say a word.’ For the next hour we didn't say a word to each other and I just went to work, that is how competitive the two of us are. He is one of the finest in the business and you guys are fortunate to have him along with Doug Gnodtke (UConn’s associate director of athletics). He is a great family man, a great leader and I certainly couldn't be more appreciative of him that he gave me a chance to be the head football coach at the University of Buffalo.”

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