A year ago I made my way up to Newport for what proved to be the final Big East football media day and I remember UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni talking about the potential impact of true freshman running back Joe Williams and of course former Masuk High star Casey Cochran's name came up but that was pretty much it when it came to the freshmen. As it turned out, there wasn't much need to chat about those newcomers because the only one to make a significant impact was speedy defensive end E.J. Norris.
Well, things were significantly different today.
"I think this recruiting class, I think there are guys in this class that as they develop at UConn are going to be really good players, legit big-time players that you can line up against future opponents, let’s go play BYU, let’s go play Tennessee, let’s line up and go nose to nose," Pasqualoni said. "I think we are going to have guys who can do that."
When Pasqualoni was up at the podium he mentioned tight end Tommy Myers and offensive linemen Kyle Schafenacker and Tommy Hopkins. Off the podium as he was interviewed by primarily the same people who cover him regularly during the season receiver Brian Lemelle, defensive ends Cole Ormsby and Cameron Stapleton were other first-year players that Pasqualoni admitted he was anxious to see on the practice field.
Here are some of the highlights of Pasqualoni discussing the freshmen.
"I'm anxious to see Kyle Schafnacker from St. Thomas Aquinas. I want to see what he looks like on Friday. Tommy Hopkins, I want to see what he looks like. I think those guys may be able to compete in preseason camp and maybe provide a little bit more depth over there.
"We brought in Tommy Myers from the state of Connecticut. He's an in-state guy from Coventry. He's just an outstanding athlete. I don't know how far he'll come in preseason. So the tight end position we're working hard at. I think we've got a couple of guys that could help us there."
Pasqualoni was asked specifically about Myers during the group interview session.
"I would say that based on our needs at the position, the fact that we lost (John) Delahunt and we lost Ryan Griffin we are going to exhaust all possibilities over there. Tommy , track athletes are really pretty impressive. We went to watch him play basketball and at one point he was one of the top rebounders in the country and you put that all together with the track stuff ... It will just be a matter of the maturity level, learning (the offense) and does he have enough strength as a young guy. One of the factors for me when these guys are ready to contribute is their strength level. It is just going to depend of when he puts his hand on the ground, comes off the line of scrimmage and has to block somebody, can he move them? Is he strong enough and powerful enough as a young kid to do that. He was in our camp so we know he can catch."
Speaking about being able to catch, no Pennsylvania high school football player ever caught more passes and had more receiving yards than Lemelle did so that is another player Pasqualoni is intrigued by.
"We’ve got this guy Brian Lemelle who is a highly-recruited kid, he is a slot guy and I am kind of anxious to see what he looks like on Friday," Pasqualoni said.
Pasqualoni was asked whether more freshmen might play bigger roles than a season ago.
"I don’t care if they are freshmen or if they are seniors, the best guys are going to be on the travel squad," Pasqualoni said. "E.J. Norris was one of our better defensive ends and he was on the travel squad. He is another guy who was hurt and now he is back (elbow). I like the group, I like the size of them. I am kind of a (prototype) guy, a guy like Cole Ormsby from Windsor, this guy is a big guy. You shake this guy’s hand and you can’t even find your hand. You like guys like that, you really do. If one these guys can help us in some way, shape or form to create depth, competitiveness or go in on third down, play on first or second down we are going to use them.."
Pasqualoni was not the only person talking up these freshmen.
I asked quarterback Chandler Whitmer what his impressions were of tight ends Myers and Quinn Thompson.
"We were out there on 7 on 7 (drills), they are athletic guys and they have great hands," Whitmer said. "Once they get in the weight room a little bit, bulk up and get physical I think they will be very good guys to contribute on offense."
I also got offensive guard Steve Greene's take on Schafenacker and Hopkins.
"They are pretty far along," Greene said. "I was surprised personally with how well they know the playbook already so that will give them an advantage coming into camp. It is a little bit different when you strap on the pads and you will see how it goes then."
A couple of other things from Pasqualoni I thought was worth passing on was when he spoke about the athleticism of a couple of defensive backs.
He said that cornerback Byron Jones has one of the best vertical leaps of any player he has coached as it is in excess of 40 inches, He said the only player he could think of with a better vertical was Rob Moore, a receiver he coached at Syracuse and a player who had three 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his 10 years in the NFL.
Then there is this nugget on redshirt freshman Obi Melifonwu.
"Obi Melifonwu is one of the best athletes on the team and he might be one of the best athletes in this league," Pasqualoni said. "He's 6-4 he can run, he can jump, he can cover ground."
Labels: Paul Pasqualoni