Friday, August 09, 2013

Former Hand High teammates Walsh, Vitale reunited at UConn

Pretty high up on my list of priorities at UConn football media day was to catch up with former Hand High stars Nick Vitale and Matt Walsh who are both trying to carve out roles on the Huskies' offensive unit.

Just imagine my good fortune when I spotted Vitale and Walsh standing side by side chatting it up.

It didn't take me long to head in that direction and catch up with the two former Tigers.They were the focus of the story I wrote for tomorrow's Register.

Vitale, a speedy receiver, and Walsh, a bruising fullback, were two of the best players to come out of the dynamic Hand High prgram in recent years. And chances are, if you are to see one of the former Tigers at some spot on UConn’s campus, the other probably won’t be far behind.

Vitale went as far as proclaiming that knowing Walsh was headed to UConn played a role in his decision to transfer from Stony Brook.

The bond the two forged while helping the Tigers pile up victories at a dizzying pace is as strong as ever.

“His locker is almost right next to mine, so we see each other many times during the day and it is a great experience,” Walsh said.

“Coach Fil (Steve Filippone), he put us through tough times. I feel I am very mentally strong and I am sure Nick feels the same way.”

Walsh, a true freshman, has wasted little time in impressing his coaches. Running backs coach Kermit Buggs said he was surprised both by Walsh’s toughness and running ability. Head coach Paul Pasqualoni suggested Walsh could be one of the running backs to receive carries this season.

Jazzmar Clax is the No. 1 fullback, but Walsh has been seeing time with the second-team offense during the first week of preseason camp.

“I am in the rotation,” Walsh said. “A lot of people are rotating, I think we have six or seven backs right now and really everybody is getting reps because they are trying out everybody.

“Physically I feel like I am capable of keeping up with everybody here at this level. I feel like I am coming along well and I am working hard trying to get on the field anyway I can. I am not saying I can start and I don’t know where I will be, but I am going to do all I can.”

Vitale faces a tougher task carving out playing time at receiver. Deshon Foxx was one of the stars of the spring game and is the favorite to line up as the slot receiver when UConn opens the season by hosting Towson on Aug. 29. Highly touted freshman Brian Lemelle is another slot receiver to keep an eye on.

Still, Vitale is excited to be a part of the UConn program, regardless of what his role is going to be.

“It was a long, tiring decision,” Vitale said. “It wasn’t so much of a being-away-from-home thing, but it was more of the offense and how the offense was run. When coach (T.J.) Weist came to UConn (as offensive coordinator), I figured it was home. And I know the offense he runs and it is perfect for me, so I felt like this was the place to be.”

Vitale is still waiting to hear if he is eligible to play this season after transferring from Stony Brook.

“We will see as time goes on,” Vitale said. “If not, then this year I am going to buckle down, get to know the offense and next year I will try to get out there and perform.”

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