Thursday, January 30, 2014

UConn's conference opponents for 2014 season

Since the home games were listed on the ticket promo on UConn's official site, it's not exactly a well-guarded secret who is on the Huskies schedule next season but UConn made it official by posting on Twitter that the Huskies will host Cincinnati, Central Florida, SMU and Temple while playing at East Carolina, Memphis, South Florida and Tulane. The dates will be announced at a later date.

UConn previously announced that it will host BYU on Aug. 28, Stony Brook on Sept. 6 and Boise on Sept. 13. The Huskies and Army are slated to play at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 8.

UConn went into South Florida and plucked a talented offensive lineman out of the powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas program as guard Kyle Schafenacker was a true freshman who redshirted this past season. With the graduation of starting guards Steve Greene and Tyler Bullock and uncertain health situation facing former starter Gus Cruz, there's a chance Schafenacker could earn a starting spot as a redshirt freshman.

Now multiple outlets in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area are reporting that St. Thomas Aquinas OL Ryan Crozier has been offered by UConn and is taking an official visit to UConn this weekend.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

With no UConn offer, N.J. tackle weighing his options

I've heard plenty about offensive tackle Trey Ratliff and linebacker Vontae Diggs returning home from their  UConn official visits with offers from the Huskies.

However, things have been significantly quieter about Edison (N.J.) High offensive tackle Derek Allen so I reached out to Edison coach Matt Fulham.

Here's what he had to say in an email to me.

"Derek Allen was very interested in UConn and it was his first choice but the coaching staff did not offer him.  Derek currently has offers from Navy, Fordham, Rhode Island, and Wagner University.  He should be making a commitment this weekend.  I believe he is a very talented player with a ton of potential that has been overlooked by some schools."

Pair of UConn commits named to Big 33 Classic

UConn commits Alec Bloom and Luke Carrezola were among the players named to the Pennsylvania team playing in the prestigious Big 33 Classic which will be played on June 14 at Hershey Park Stadium.

Bloom, a tight end from Ligonier Valley High, had 45 catches and 830 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior while Carrezola, a defensive end/tight end from Neshaminy HS, had 56 tackles, 20 sacks and 10 quarterback hurries.

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UConn commit changes schools - high schools that is

UConn commit Logan Marchi is heading home to finish up his senior year.

After a prolific career as a quarterback at St. Paul in Bristol, the Winsted native is transferring to Gilbert and planning to play basketball. Due to CIAC rules, he has to sit out 10 games as an in-season transfer so his first game is set for Feb. 21 at Litchfield.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Once again plenty of questions surround UConn's offensive line

Center Alex Mateas is the most experienced of UConn's returning linemen
There were plenty of question marks with the UConn offensive line even before the news broke that Xavier Hemingway, who was expected to compete for a starting offensive tackle spot, was not enrolled at UConn for the spring semester and no longer with the team.

With Hemingway gone, the status of Gus Cruz up in the air and four starters having graduated, there's no question that offensive line coach Mike Foley and head coach Bob Diaco will have their hands full in putting together the offensive line for the 2014 season.

Center Alex Mateas is probably the lone sure thing right now although Dalton Gifford showed tremendous growth as he started the final four games of the season at right tackle in place of Friend.

Guards Tyler Samra (who started against Cincinnati) and Kyle Schafenacker, who redshirted as a true freshman, came to UConn as highly-touted recruits from national powerhouse programs. If they are as good as advertised, the interior of the offensive line should be in good shape. Tackles Richard Levy and Paul Nwokeji, guard Zach Rugg and center Bryan Paull were all in the rotation a season ago. If Cruz gets a clean bill of health and that's a big if due to his season being shut down due to cardiac issues, he could always be bumped outside to tackle. Kyle Bockeloh could be another name to look at in the interior of the line while Tommy Hopkins is a tackle prospect who redshirted as a true freshman. Another option I would have to think the coaches should at least consider is moving defensive lineman Andreas Knappe to the other side of the ball. He certainly fits the size requirements as he was listed at 6-foot-9, 296 pounds as a redshirt freshman.

Diaco has made the offensive line a major priority in recruiting with a commitment from St. Joseph All-Stater Steve Hashemi and offensive tackle recruits Derek Allen and Trey Ratliff visiting last week. Still, expecting a true freshman to come in and start at offensive tackle might be asking a little bit too much.

I addressed the offensive line position with Foley when we met with the UConn assistant coaches earlier this month and here's what he had to say.

"With Kevin getting hurt Dalton got to play a lot," Foley said. "Dalton towards the end of the year played a lot and did a nice job, Alex Mateas I thought really developed as the year went on and really improved over the year before so you have those two guys and there are some good young players. I think the spring will be important for them and next fall in camp but that is college football, that is the way it is and the next guy has to step up and we have to get them ready to do the things we are going to ask them to do.

"There is definitely talent there and it is a matter of getting some experience. One of the things we tried to do and I went back with the offensive line and that was to make sure that during the individual work that they got a lot of work also, not just the starters but everybody right down to the last guy was getting work so I could evaluate them as players to see what they had and try to develop them. What we did in the two-deep is we rotated because we knew we were going to redshirt some guys so a guy like Kyle Schafenacker had been up and I watched him for a couple of weeks, then we put him down and brought about freshman up to look at them. It had nothing to do with Kyle as a player, I liked him, he was a good player and he is going to be a good player but it more so that I could get a look at somebody else up so I could get a look at somebody else. I think there is some talent there and it has to be developed. With O-linemen, very rarely are any of them ready as true freshmen sometimes even as a redshirt freshman it takes a couple of years in the weight room to develop and that is what we are doing."

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Hemingway, Norris, Williams gone from UConn

Running back Joe Williams is one of three members
of 2013 team not returning to team in 2014
Time for a roster update and at this time of the year it is rarely good news.

Three players who could have played significant roles in the upcoming season are no longer enrolled at UConn.

Offensive tackle Xavier Hemingway, who got a start at right tackle in place of an injured Kevin Friend in the season-opening loss to Towson, running back Joe Williams and defensive end turned tight end E.J. Norris are no longer with the program.

Williams was arrested last year on larceny charges, suspended from the team and never reinstated. Hemingway was also arrested on larceny charges after being accused of stealing $19 worth of merchandise on Nov. 29.

With Friend and fellow starting offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett graduating, Hemingway and Dalton Gifford, who started six games during the 2013 season, figured to be the frontrunners to earn the starting offensive tackle slots. Williams offered an intriguing combination of size and speed and perhaps he could have earned some playing time last season had he not been suspended after being charged with larceny, theft of a credit card and illegal use of a credit card.

According to the police report, Hemingway turned himself into the UConn police department on an outstanding warrant for his arrest on Thursday. He was charged with sixth-degree larceny and posted a $1,000 bond.

Norris showed flashes of his potential as a pass rusher as a true freshman in 2012 but with UConn thin at the tight end position and the emergence of Reuben Frank as a defensive end, he was shifted from defense to offense during the 2013 season.

Their departures do open up three additional scholarships which can be utilized in head coach Bob Diaco's first recruiting class.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Size a priority for new UConn staff

Two weekends of visits are in the books and if nothing else it's pretty evident that Bob Diaco and his staff has targeted the offensive line as a position of need.

The first commitment of Diaco's tenure came from St. Joseph offensive tackle Steve Hashemi and 265-pound defensive lineman Sheriden Lawley was also among the four commitments the Huskies received last week.

This weekend a pair of offensive linemen - Trey Ratliff of Wake Forest, N.C. and Derek Allen from Edison, N.J. visited UConn. According to what I've seen on Twitter, Ratliff and linebacker Vontae Diggs from Downers Grove, Ill. have been offered scholarships during their visits. UConn commit Tom Rodrick also was among those taking an official visit to UConn this weekend.

I also noticed that he list had Windsor defensive tackle Keith Benjamin as a UConn commit. That was news to Windsor coach Rob Fleeting. He said he spoke with UConn offensive coordinator Mike Cummings on Wednesday and there was no offer on table from UConn and he expects Benjamin to either head the junior college route or perhaps to an FCS school. Fellow defensive lineman Charles Baldwin was a player drawing attention from UConn's but Fleeting said Baldwin is most likely going the junior college path.

UConn commit named state MVP

For the second time in the last three years future UConn running back Arkeel Newsome was named the Register's State Player of the Year.

All Newsome did as a senior is rush for a state-record 3,867 yards and set state records with 68 touchdowns and 422 points to lead his Ansonia High School team to its third straight state title.He also finished with Connecticut records with 10,672 career rushing yards, 187 total touchdowns and 1,162 points.

Fellow UConn commit Steve Hashemi, a three-year starting offensive tackle for Class M champion St. Joseph, was also named to the first team 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

UConn's Stephen has two tackles in Senior Bowl

Former UConn defensive tackle and team captain Shamar Stephen had one solo tackle and assisted on another in today's Senior Bowl but it wasn't enough as the North team lost to the South 20-10 in the Senior Bowl.

He teamed with North Carolina's Kareem Martin to throw Coastal Carolina's Lorenzo Taliaferro for a two-yard loss on the North team's first defensive possession of the fourth quarter and made a solo stop on Taliaferro on the game's final play.

Stephen, named the MVP of the UConn team, had a pretty strong week of practice as the Senior Bowl by all accounts and he has been invited to next month's NFL Combine.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ex-UConn coach Pasqualoni hired by Bears

The Chicago Bears officially named former UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni as its defensive line coach.

The hiring has been reported in multiple outlets over the past week or so as Pasqualoni is one of the new assistant coaches being brought in to work with a defense which set franchise records for points (478), rushing yards (2,583) and total yards (6,313) given up.

Pasqualoni, who came to UConn after stints with the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys, posted a 10-18 record at UConn before he was fired after the Huskies got off to an 0-4 start.

Also, there have been multiple reports that former quarterbacks coach Shane Day has been added to the offensive staff by new Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden. Day worked with the quarterbacks with the Chicago Bears before heading to UConn. I thought he did an exceptional job with Casey Cochran who made remarkable progress from summer camp to the final couple of games in the regular season.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Britton, Summers enrolled at UConn

UConn has a pair of mid-year enrollees who will be able to take part in spring practice as Chris Britton, a linebacker out of Harrisburg, Pa. and Jamar Summers, a cornerback from Orange, N.J. who spent a postgraduate season at Milford Academy are already enrolled.

Both players were recruited by the previous staff but had their enrollments delayed. Britton, who had 125 tackles as a senior at Harrisburg High, chose not to take an postgraduate year while Summers had an outstanding season at Milford Academy and was considered to be one of the Falcons' most consistently effective players by Milford Acdemy coach Bill Chaplick.

"The UConn football team is proud to welcome these two fine young men to our family,” said UConn head football coach Bob Diaco in a statement. “Our veteran players and our coaching staff will immediately begin to help them with the transition to becoming members of the UConn student body and our athletic department’s culture."

I caught up with Summers when Milford Academy played the Yale JV team in West Haven in October. He was the only one of the three UConn players who headed to Milford Academy who honored his commitment following the firing of Paul Pasqualoni and George DeLeone. Offensive tackle Chasz Wright is headed to Penn State while tight end Jordan Fuchs is going to Indiana.

"It has been fun, it has been a new experience in my life, a new chapter in my life being that I didn’t qualify for the scholarship (out of high school)," Summers said back in October. "I got my head right, I got a bunch of guys who are hungry for scholarships who want to go to I-A and I-AA schools.

"I am looking forward to the competition level, the big lights, the different competition level."

I also went to see Summers play as a senior at Orange (N.J.) High the night before UConn played at Rutgers back in 2012. It was there I was able to chat with his brother Alvin Bowen, a fifth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills in the 2008 NFL draft who ad an interception and fumble recovery with Calgary of the CFL during the 2013 season.

What was interesting was that Bowen got to know DeLeone when he was being recruited as a high school star but Summers, Bowen and their family remained firm with UConn throughout the process.

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UConn commits earn All-State honors

UConn commit Arkeel Newsome was named the Register's State Player of the Year while his future UConn teammate Steven Hashemi was also named to the first team offense.

Newsome ran for 3,867 yards and scored 68 touchdowns to lead Ansonia to a third consecutive state title. It was his second State Player of the Year award as he was won the award as a sophomore.

Hashemi a three-year starter at right tackle, helped St. Joseph win the Class M title and rush for more than 4,000 yards.

UConn: Manuel not a candidate for Virginia Tech AD job

There have been multiple reports that UConn director of athletics Warde Manuel is on the short list of candidates for the same job at Virginia Tech. However. Manuel released a statement saying that

"I am not a candidate, have not been interviewed nor have I been contacted by Virginia Tech about its Director of Athletics position despite some recent media reports. I am very happy as the Director of Athletics at UConn and look forward to continuing to work with President Herbst, my coaches, staff, student-athletes, donors and fans to enjoy a high level of continued success in athletics at UConn.  I wish Virginia Tech all the best in their search to replace, one of the legends in our business, Jim Weaver.”


Monday, January 20, 2014

Shelton's Hashemi discusses his commitment to UConn

It's been a hectic couple of days including a trip to New Jersey to catch up with UConn women's basketball signee Sadie Edwards and cover the UConn/Rutgers women's basketball game but I was finally able to catch up with new UConn football commit Steve Hashemi.

Hashemi is a three-year starting offensive tackle for Class M champion St. Joseph of Trumbull and the Shelton native tells the story of how he was offered a scholarship and how quickly he accepted the offer.

"I (didn't have) any contact with them at all and I full scholarship (offer) to the University of Richmond. One of the coaches from Richmond (Wayne Lineburg) had actually moved to UConn (to become special teams coordinator and receivers coach) with Coach (Bob) Diaco. He called me up 10 or 11 days ago and said ‘Steve, we still like you and we’d love to have you up. I am not sure what the situation is and if we have any scholarships to offer you so I am not going to promise you anything.’ One day Coach Dell (St. Joseph football coach Joe Della Vecchia) got a call and it was from the recruiting coordinator (Kevin Wolthausen) from Connecticut. They said they love me and everything and they just want to give me a call. I gave them a call, provided them with some of my information and they invited me up on my official. I went up with my mother, my father and my brother.

"We went up the first night and it was absolutely fantastic. Saturday there was a tour of the entire campus and all the football facilities. On Saturday night we were eating in the alumni center before the UConn/Louisville (men’s basketball) game and one of the coaches tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to go to one of the offices. I was with my mother and my father and I was sitting down and Coach Diaco walked in, he shook my hand, shook my mother’s and father’s hand and we started talking and finally he said ‘Steve, what would you think about coming to UConn?’ I said ‘Coach, there would be no other place I would rather go, anybody who plays football in Connecticut dreams that they would love to play football at UConn and represent the state.' He said 'what are your options?' and I said I did have a few other I-AA scholarships and they are all full (scholarships) and that was when he said ‘Steve, we would like to offer you a full scholarship.’ I said,‘Coach, I’d like to take it.’ He said ‘are you committing?’ I said ‘yes sir.’"

It's been a pretty eventful couple of months for Hashemi who helped the Cadets win the Class M title and now he landed a scholarship from UConn.  He said the UConn coaches told him they project him to play offensive tackle.

"It was unbelievable and even when I was sitting there and saying yes, I couldn’t stop smiling and the goosebumps just kept rising," Hashemi said.

Hashemi said is not surprised to hear about commitments coming from the other players up at UConn on official visits over the weekend. Lawrenceville (N.J.) Academy receiver Anthony Watkins and defensive tackle and Palmetto Ridge (Fla.) running back Ron Johnson have committed.

"The energy that he (Diaco) has is just something else," Hashemi said. "You walk into a room and everybody can feel the energy that he has. At the basketball game he walked onto the middle of the court during one of the timeouts and starting getting all the fans (excited). I think is he is really going to turn around the program. He was talking all the parents into meetings and talking about his philosophy and how he believes in being positive 24/7. He doesn’t want to bring anybody down. If somebody does something wrong he is going to tell them how to correct it, he is not going to give them sarcasm or make them feel like absolute (garbage)."

Hashemi, who also plays on the St. Joseph basketball team, didn't play football until his freshman year at St. Joseph as that was the first time his mom gave him permission to play. By his sophomore year he was starting at right tackle.

"When I was a freshman, the varsity team was unbelievable and my sophomore year everybody left and pretty much our entire offense were all sophomores, a sophomore quarterback, three sophomore offensive linemen, two wide receivers so it was a very young team," Hashemi said.

Hashemi got to know some of the players up at UConn on the official visits and he got to see record-breaking Ansonia High running back Arkeel Newsome cap his high school career off with a third straight state title.

"He is unbelievable," Hashemi said. "The things that he did, breaking all the records, I had a chance to see him play in the state championship and the kid is nasty. He is unbelievable things and I am really looking forward to blocking for him one day and he is a great kid."

The commitment of Hashemi is a sign of how well the new staff is working together. When I spoke to Della Vecchia, he said he got a quick response from the new staff when he sent them tape of Hashemi. With running backs coach Ernest Jones opening up line of communication with Fairfield County, Lineburg recommending Hashemi after recruiting him at Richmond and both Wolthausen and Diaco getting on board, Hashemi is heading to Storrs.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

First commitments during Diaco regime rolling in at UConn

Well, it didn't take Bob Diaco long to add to UConn's list of commitments.

Yesterday I reported that Steven Hashemi, an All-State offensive tackle for Class M champion St. Joseph, has committed to UConn and now via some Twitter posts, the list of known commitments from the first batch of recruits to take official visits with Diaco has grown to four.

Lawrenceville wide receiver Anthony Watkins posted on his Twitter account that he has committed to UConn.

TONE @AntWatkins__

The 5-11, 185-pound Watkins had 49 catches for 872 yards as a senior and had at least six catches in each of his first five games. He caught 12 passes for 204 yards in 45-15 loss to Choate and had seven receptions for 216 yards and four TDs in 53-13 win over Mercersburg Academy. He also had kickoff returns of 86 and 90 yards and punt returns of 60 and 85 yards.

The Lawrenceville football program's Twitter page also said that DT Sheriden Lawley has committed to UConn.

Lville Football @LvilleBigRedFB
Congrats to #2 Anthony Watkins and #55 Sheridan Lawley on their commitments to UConn! Congrats guys! @AntWatkins__ @sheridenL44

Sticking with the announcing their commitments via Twitter, Palmetto Ridge (Fla.) running back/linebacker Ron Johnson announced that he has committed to UConn as well.

Ronnie E. @Ronniboi05
After meeting with the bossman last night, I decided to commit to UCONN #HuskieNation #3

Johnson has good size (212 pounds) if he is kept on the offensive side of the ball.

Johnson ran for 1,522 yards and 16 touchdowns and had eight tackles in a season-opening win over Lehigh.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

UConn's Jesse Joseph goes out on top

Former UConn defensive end Jesse Joseph had one solo tackle, stopping Bloomsburg's Franklyn Quiteh after a two-yard run on the National Team's first defensive possession of the fourth quarter, to help his team to a 31-17 victory in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.

Joseph was part of a defense which limited the American squad to an average of 3.7 yards on 29 carries.

Joseph, a native of Laval, Quebec,was second among UConn defensive linemen with 40 tackles during his senior season. He finished his career with 158 tackles and 14 sacks.

Unless he gets invited to another all-star game, the game was Joseph's final one was a college player. Regardless of what happens in the NFL draft, Joseph does have the option of heading to the Canadian Football League as he was selected in the third round of the 2013 CFL Draft by Montreal.


St. Joseph OT Hashemi commits to UConn

It didn't take long for the new coaching staff to reel in its first recruit.

St. Joseph offensive tackle Steve Hashemi committed to UConn tonight while up on campus for his official visit according to St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia.

The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Hashemi was a three-year starter at right offensive tackle

"He was a great pass protector, he has great feet and long arms," Della Vecchia said. "He brought a lot of energy to the game. He was excited every week, every play to play football. He loves the game, he loves to compete and I think he brings that attitude to the table."

Hashemi, a Shelton native, helped the Cadets win the Class M title and a 13-2 record as a senior.The Cadets averaged 8.8 yards per carry and 475 yards of total offense.

Running backs coach Ernest Jones, who has taken a ton of heat for his comments about "Jesus Christ being at the center of our huddle" is the assistant coach assigned to recruit Fairfield County and Della Vecchia, who coached Temple standout linebacker Tyler Matakevich in high school, said he received more of a response from the current staff then he had from the previous regime.

"It was the coaching change," Della Vecchia said. "Quite honestly, UConn. every kid we’ve thought we’ve had with them they have kind of told us no. When the new coaches came in I called them, sent tape up there and immediately they got back to us and wanted to know about him. This all happened in about the last two weeks when they brought him up (for a visit)."

Della Vecchia also said that three-year starting offensive right guard Pete Mestre has committed to Bryant..

This is the first major weekend for official visits under the watch of Bob Diaco so don't be surprised if more commitments are to follow. He becomes the third known offensive line commitment in the class as Timber Creek (N.J.) OG Lamont Bradford and Kent School OT Trey Rutherford committed when Paul Pasqualoni was still at the helm. UConn lost an OT commitment when Milford Academy's Chasz Wright flipped to Temple before ultimately enrolling at Penn State.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Looks like no surprise departures at UConn

While there's no way of telling what the roster is going to look like when the regular season rolls along, a source said that there are not expecting to be any academic casualties when the spring semester starts on Monday.

Quarterback Chandler Whitmer, who has already graduated and could have enrolled at another school and played immediately if he so desired,was the one player generating the most speculation regarding his future at UConn but word is that he is planning to be enrolled at UConn during the spring semester as he looks to fight for the starting quarterback position.

Look for an updated roster to be released in the next few weeks and then we will know for certain if any players have chosen not to be a part of the program for the upcoming season.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Former UConn coach reportedly headed to Bears; Dorsey honored

There are multiple reports that Paul Pasqualoni, who posted a 10-18 record in 2 1/2 seasons as UConn's head coach, has landed the gig as the linebackers coach for the Chicago Bears.

Before being hired at UConn, Pasqualoni spent the previous six seasons as an assistant coach in the NFL as he worked with the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins.

Pasqualoni will have plenty to work with with the Bears led by perennial Pro Bowl LB Lance Briggs, last year's leading tackler James Anderson and talented young players like Jon Bostic and Kasheem Greene (who Pasqualoni coached against when Greene starred at Rutgers). Former UConn linebacker Lawrence Wilson could also be one of the linebackers Pasqualoni will work with.

The Bears finished 30th out of 32 teams in total defense, surrendering an average of 394.6 yards per game while ranking last in rushing defense and yards per rush.

John Dorsey, one of the greatest players in UConn history, was named the 2013 Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers Association.

Dorsey's personnel moves in his first season as the general manager (including trading for former UConn fullback Anthony Sherman) helped the Chiefs go from a 2-14 squad during the 2012 season to finishing 11-5 and reaching the playoffs this season.

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Time to get to work for UConn staff

The coaching staff that Bob Diaco was able to compile topped what I thought he was going to be able to put together. Now the question is whether he can do the same in the player recruiting department.

With the NCAA's month long dead period ending yesterday, it is time for the newly-formed UConn staff to hit the road to finish out securing commitments to add to the 10 that the previous staff was able to secure and hold onto.

Following his appearance on the Geno Auriemma radio show earlier this month I asked Diaco how many players did he expect to have as part of the recruiting class.

"It is very easy to look at it and see the open scholarship numbers and add players to fill that group accordingly but what we really need to do is look at 2015, what does that number look like?" Diaco said. "Let’s say that it is 15 or 16 in 2015, is it better to add 20 (in 2014) and keep it there or is it better to add 18 and add two to the Class of 2015? That is the balance that we have to look at so I can’t say for sure what the number looks like. I would to say to me it is somewhere around 18."

That number sounds about right as UConn lost 14 seniors, Yawin Smallwood is bypassing his final season to enter the NFL draft and the scholarship slots were never filled when freshmen Richard Lagow and Sha'ki Holines transferred. There also figure to be some attrition whether it is fourth-year juniors who have already graduated and choose not to return or other players leaving the program.

It was during the furious push until national signing day a year ago that UConn received pledges from nine of the 25 players in the class including two of the most high-profile true freshmen on last year's squad (quarterback Tim Boyle and receiver Brian Lemelle).

What I'm curious to see is if any of the assistants are able to entice prospects that they were recruiting at their previous stop to join the fold at UConn.

"We are in the information business, we are pooling our resources and trying to put together the best class we possibly can in the next three weeks," said cornerbacks coach Josh Reardon during last week's meet and greet with the media. "There are some guys committed to us and we are excited about those players and we will get to know them on a more personal level and there are certainly players who will have the opportunity to play at UConn."

Although UConn did lose Noye, Jordan Fuchs (to Indiana) and Chasz Wright (to Temple), it looks like they are in good position with the other commitments.

Cornerback Jamar Summers and linebacker Chris Britton are expected to be enrolled when the spring semester begins on Monday and they will be able to take part in spring drills.Tight ends Alec Bloom and Luke Carrezola, running backs Arkeel Newsome (who was named to the MaxPreps Small School All-American team) and Brice McAllister, offensive linemen Lamont Bradford and Trey Rutherford, linebacker Tom Rodrick and quarterback Logan Marchi are the other UConn commits.

I should be interesting to see what the list of recruits looks like on Feb. 5

Former UConn DE Jesse Joseph gets chance to impress

Last week it was offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett who got the chance to help his NFL draft stock when he played in the Medal of Honor Bowl. Now it is defensive end Jesse Joseph's turn.

Joseph, who is listed as a linebacker, will play for the National Squad and wear No. 52 in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. The game will be played at 6 p.m. on Saturday at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. and will be aired live on ESPN2.

Also, rosters were released yesterday for the Senior Bowl and former UConn defensive tackle Shamar Stephen will play for the North squad and will wear the familiar No. 59. The game will be played on Jan. 25 at 4 p.m. at Ladd-Peeples Stadium in Mobile, Ala. and will air on the NFL Network.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Former pro coach excited to be at UConn

There are some intriguing backgrounds among the newly-formed UConn coaching staff. Pretty high up on that list is defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Kevin Wolthausen.

Not only has Wolthausen worked at 10 different colleges but also has professional stops with the AFL, UFL and NFL.

In a perfect world Wolthausen’s stay in the NFL would have lasted more than just one season but like so many others before him, he found himself as little more than collateral damage when those with the power to do so decided it was time to clean house.

So while Wolthausen had a tremendous experience coaching the defensive linemen with the Atlanta Falcons during the 2007 season, he found himself looking for work when he was not part of new head coach Mike Smith’s staff.

“To me it was a great learning experience,” Wolthausen said. “I would have loved to stay in the NFL longer obviously but it is a tough business and I happened to be on a staff that got blown up internally with what happened. It is all water under the bridge now.

“You are not going to have a chance to be successful unless you surround yourself with the right kind of people. It is not always the best player either, the right kind of player who fits what you are trying to do. Obviously if you have the right kind of people and they become a great player than you have the all-pro guy so it is all about talent evaluation and I have a great appreciation for that. There are good players on every team and what is the difference between Team A and Team B? Well, how you prepare, how you practice and the type of time you spend in preparing in practice and what goes into that. What do you want to do today? Well, there is a definite plan for everything and the detail you go through in that league is very impressive with pro scouts, college scouts, if you are in it long enough there are only so many players in the league and you as a member basically get familiar with everybody.”

Wolthausen was most recently coaching at Florida International and when he had a chance to reunite with new UConn football coach Bob Diaco, who he coached alongside as part of the Eastern Michigan staff in 2002, he did not have to be asked twice.

“I said (to Diaco) ‘if this ever happens I hope I get a chance to be a part of it’ and it happened. I am excited,” said Wolthausen who will coach the defensive line and also serve as the recruiting coordinator.
“This has been great. It is always concerning when you head out to the unknown but the type of person I know Bob Diaco, the type of people he has hired, everybody is in it for the right reason so you are all in, you go 100 miles an hour to make the adjustment.”

Wolthausen has some work to do as defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, the MVP of the 2013 UConn squad, has graduated as did top defensive ends Jesse Joseph and Tim Willman. Angelo Pruitt and Julian Campenni are the most experienced defensive linemen returning. With Diaco coming from a successful stint as the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame where he ran a 3-4 defense and defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter coming from a 4-3 base defensive system at Virginia, it will be interesting which is the undersized defensive ends get moved to linebacker to work with former New England Patriots star Vincent Brown and which of them stay as defensive linemen.

Regardless of who he works with, Wolthausen has no question that Diaco, a first-time head coach, has what it takes to be successful.

“There is nothing magical in this profession or in life,” Wolthausen said. “It is all about who you are, how you present yourself. What ‘that’ is, that factor of intelligence, communication ability, vision and all the things that go into being successful as a football coach, to me I think he has it. He gets the best out of the players that he has and to me he gets the best out of the people who are around him. He elevates everybody to that level. I was with him before and our time in between; it has always been a building process. To me he has done everything there is to prepare him for this moment. I like his plan to do this, I am biased I guess.”
Wolthausen does have some experience playing a game at Rentschler Field during his time with the United Football League as he was an assistant coach on the Las Vegas Locomotives squad which lost to the Hartford Colonials 27-14 on Nov. 20, 2010. Wolthausen left his gig before the league went belly up but has some unforgettable experiences in the UFL.

“From a coaching standpoint it was outstanding, from a business standpoint it was a total disaster,” Wolthausen. “The guy I worked for tried to make it as good a situation as he could, it just ended up being bad business. I got out of it.

“They (the Hartford Colonials) had a pretty good team if I remember right, they beat us.”

Another one of the new assistant coaches created a bit of stir when the new staff members met with the media last week as running backs coach and player engagement director Ernest Jones was quoted as saying "Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle."

After receiving complaints about the comments, UConn president Susan Herbst said in a statement: “At public universities we value everyone in our community, and treat each person with the same degree of respect, regardless of who they are, what their background is, or what their beliefs may be. Every student, including student-athletes, must know they are accepted and welcomed at UConn. Always. Our staff should educate and guide students, to ensure they are well-prepared for life at UConn and beyond.  But it should go without saying that our employees cannot appear to endorse or advocate for a particular religion or spiritual philosophy as part of their work at the university, or in their interactions with our students.  This applies to work-related activity anywhere on or off campus, including on the football field.   Our Athletic Director and Coach Diaco agree wholeheartedly with me, and have made this clear to their staff.”

Lawless named Operations Director at UConn

Sarah Lawless, who has spent the last four seasons at Notre Dame, has been named the Director of Operations.

Lawless' hiring completes the staff for Bob Diaco who worked with Lawless at Notre Dame.

Here is the release from UConn:

Sarah Lawless, who has been a member of the football staff at Notre Dame since 2010, has been named the Director of Football Operations at the University of Connecticut. In her role at UConn, Lawless will assist head coach Bob Diaco in a number of duties including coordination of team travel, organizing preseason camp, budgeting and acting as a liaison to various constituencies.

Lawless spent the 2013 season as the coordinator of on-campus recruiting at Notre Dame. She organized all official and unofficial visits by prospective student-athletes, managed compliance and academic records for recruits, oversaw student workers and helped organize and direct gameday recruiting efforts.

Lawless worked for the football program as an operations assistant from 2010-12 while she attended graduate school at Notre Dame. She assisted with daily logistics, travel preparations plus organization and management of football summer camps.

Lawless earned both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

While an undergraduate, Lawless was a student manager all four years. She worked with the football team in her first three years at Notre Dame and was the senior manager for the women's basketball team in 2007-08. 

She is a native of Morristown, N.J.

Two former UConn stars honored

A pair of former Huskies received some love from the Pro Football Focus site.

Anthony Sherman of the Kansas City Chiefs was named as the fullback on the PFF's All-Pro team as he had the highest blocking grade of any fullback this season and Sio Moore of the Oakland Raiders was named to the PFF's All-Rookie team as an edge rusher. Moore was also named to the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie team.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

UConn RB coach excited about player engagement role

There's no question that Ernest Jones' role as the new running back coach will put him under the spotlight considering the struggles the Huskies have endured in the running game in the last couple of years.

However, there the player engagement role is a part of his responsibilities that Jones is equally fired up about.

“It is not just about playing football not for Coach Diaco and not for me,” Jones said. “We want them to understand that they need to care about others more than they care about themselves and that is the staple of who you are. If you are an ‘I’ guy it is not going to work for us. We are going to visit retirement homes, visit churches, visit elementary schools whatever it is in that in the community. They are going to see us and we are going do it. We are going to go around the campus and make sure they have a voice in our program. We are going to be engaged with this campus, engaged with this community. They are going to know who we are. We are not going to sit up in this office and watch video and (have it) is all about football. It is going to be all about other people.”

So what are the priorities in the player engagement program?

“What we do is develop them in five areas,” Jones said. “We are going to develop them socially, intellectually, spiritually, physically and we are going to develop their skills. That is what they are going to get if they come to the University of Connecticut, we want to handle the social and spiritual piece. What we want to do is make a difference in their lives, make them men of character, men of integrity. What is going to be important about it is they are going to be around people who are going to be their best friends; be their best men in their weddings, this is where they are going to be in the next four or five years so we want to teach them how to grow in that environment to be better at that.”

During his 17 seasons as a college assistant coach Diaco had the chance to work at some elite academic institutions as seven of his last eight seasons were spent at either Virginia or Notre Dame. Somewhere along the way he decided that if he were to become a head coach that he would have tangible goals for what he wanted to instill in his players when they away from the football field.

"It is teaching them how to write a resume, it is teaching them how to do an interview; it is teaching them how to set a table and place the fork and knife properly for etiquette,” Diaco said. “It is teaching them different life lessons, different social lessons and also developing a year-long plan where we are out in the community."
Jones expounded a little more on what he is looking to accomplish in the role of player engagement director which is similar to his role at Notre Dame during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

“We are going to have people in our program that this is how you write a resume,” Jones said. “This is how you dress, this is how you go and say hello to this young lady and invite her to dinner, these are people who can help you get jobs, our parents are going to love it and they are going know that we care about those young people and it is more than just football

“One of the reasons why I came is that I know that he cares about these young people and he truly wants to make a difference in their lives.”

Jones wants to make it clear, however, that he came to UConn to help improve a running game which has had its issues under the previous regime.

"I take a lot pride in that," Jones said. "We are going to make sure that they are smart, they are going to be physical and they are going to be able to run, they are going to be able to go out there and execute our offense. We don’t want to be in the bottom portion of the nation in terms of running the football. If they need us to get a first down we are going to get a first down, if they need us to catch the football we are going to catch the football, if they need us to run and score a touchdown, we are going to run and score a touchdown. If they need us to pass protect we are going to pass protect so we are going to pass protect. Some of the greatest running backs to play the game wore that helmet, wore those shoulder pads and played for the University of Connecticut so we have to understand that and we are going to try to continue that tradition in regards to running the football. That is going to be something that I am going to bring to the table. I am real energetic, I am excited and this is what they are going to get every day. They are going to take this to the football field and that is how we are going to run the football."

He is also going to take that energy into his role as the point man for recruiting Fairfield County. UConn has lost its share of top players from FCIAC schools to other program but Jones said he is determined to change that.

"I have a little piece of Florida, I little piece of New York and a piece of Connecticut," Jones said. "I talked to some coaches (Tuesday) night and they were excited that I was reaching out and they were telling me about some players that they had. We are going to leave from here and do some recruiting and I am going to be one of the first guys that is going to get some Connecticut players on the table because before I called New York, before I called Florida, I called Connecticut and talked to every coach in my area and said ‘who do you have?’ I am going to put them in front of our staff and I am going to give our staff a chance to know the Connecticut people in our area before I go somewhere else. If they say yes, why I do I need to go to Florida? Why do I need to go to New York?"

Martin's departure from UConn raises some eyebrows

It was a given that new football coach Bob Diaco was going to do a little housecleaning after being hired to breathe some life into the program.

Offensive line coach Mike Foley was the only assistant coach retained. Diaco also brought in a Player Personnel Director (Michael Painter) and will be hiring a Director of Football Operations. Nobody's departure has generated more backlash and reaction than the firing of Strength and Conditioning coach Jerry Martin. Former players have taken to social media to express their shock at seeing Martin, an award-winning strength coach, sent packing after 24 years.

One source told me that Martin was given three days to clear out his stuff which isn't exactly the most graceful way for somebody who has played a major role in helping the development of so many professional players to come out of UConn.

I felt it was only fair to get UConn's side of things before reporting on Martin's dismissal (his name is no longer on the UConn staff directory as Matt Balis was lured away from Mississippi State to take over the strength and conditioning program). After the game UConn AD Warde Manuel addressed the issue.

"Change is never easy," Manuel said. "While you want to make things as simple as you can, change happens. People come in and you need to make changes. None of this has been personal, it never has been for me but I am going to support Coach Diaco and our new coaches and that is just the way it has to happen. There is no easy way to do it. You try to be as sensitive and professional as you can but there is no easy way to say to somebody that we are bringing somebody else in and we really appreciate you but what they hear is 'I am not going to be here anymore.' You try to do as best you can. We are thankful for all the work that he did and now we are going to move on and bring somebody else in."

It should be noted that Balis, who worked with Diaco at Virginia, has received more than his share of support from his former players after news of his move to UConn became known.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Balis named UConn's Strength and Conditioning coach

UConn announced that it has hired Matt Balis to be the Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for the football team.

He comes to UConn from Mississippi State and previously worked with UConn head coach Bob Diaco at Virginia in 2007 and 2008. He replaces Jerry Martin, who was at UConn for 24 years but was recently let go.

Here is the timeline of his career.
2009-present: Mississippi State (Head Strength Coach)
 2007-08: Virginia (Director of Strength and Conditioning)
 2005-06: Florida (Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning)
 2004: Utah (Director of Strength and Conditioning)
 2003: Utah (Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning)
 2001-02: Houston (Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning)
 1998-2001: Wheaton (Chicago) North High School (Assistant Coach)
 1996-98: Wheaton (Chicago) Warrenville South High School (Assistant Coach)

Painter named UConn's Director of Player Personnel

UConn coach Bob Diaco's support staff continues to be finalized as it was announced that Michael Painter was named Director of Player Personnel for football team as he will assist in the recruiting process.

Painter worked on the Cincinnati staff with Diaco in 2009 and Notre Dame staffs in 2010 and 2011.

Painter was a defensive assistant and recruiting coordinator at UMass last season.

Former UConn OL Jimmy Bennett set for Medal of Honor Bowl

It's been a long road to get to this point for former UConn offensive lineman Jimmy Bennett but tomorrow at 2 p.m. he can take a major step towards helping his draft status when he suits up for the Medal of Honor Bowl being played in Charleston, S.C.

Bennett started the last 24 games at left tackle for UConn and was in Storrs for six seasons due to a series of injuries. He will wear No. 77 and play for the National Team which is being coached by former NFL head coach Chan Gailey. Don't believe the game is on television up here but according to the game's official site, a radio broadcast is available on Sports Radio 1450 AM

On Wednesday I got UConn offensive line coach Mike Foley's take on Bennett's appearance in the game and his pro prospects.

"I think it great," Foley said. "I have so much respect for Jimmy, here is a guy who came in and was probably the most highly recruited lineman we’ve had since I was here. He was going to start as a redshirt freshman and blows his knee out, misses that whole year. He comes back, gets back into the next year and he is going to start, breaks his thumb in pre-game warm-ups. They cast it up, he is ready to go and on the 25th play gets the other knee. A year later, he gets back, he is still getting through it and is still rehabbing, we get him back on the field and on a Thursday practice he turned and hurt his knee again. It was one thing after another and in the last two years he was able to stay relatively healthy but he couldn’t lift through the (2012) season and had the operation at the end. This is the first year he made it through completely healthy clean and not getting hurt. It says a lot about him and his character to do that. I am real excited for him and see how he does."

Bennett and fellow former UConn offensive lineman Steve Greene is among a group of prospects working out in the Pittsburgh area with the hopes of improving their draft status. Although I haven't heard of Greene being invited to an all-star game yet, Foley thinks he could get a look from the pro scouts.

"I think people are looking at him, he will get a good look," Foley said. "You never know, same with Kevin a lot of people were looking at Kevin after his junior year and he had two concussions, an ankle sprain but all three of those kids are great kids."

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Foley excited to be part of new UConn staff

Mike Foley isn't one to pull any punches and he wasn't about to start on Wednesday as he was available for interviews for the first time since being the only assistant retained by new head coach Bob Diaco.

When UConn's eventful season came to an end with a win over Memphis, Foley figured his chances of spent a ninth season coaching with the Huskies were rather bleak. He knew that Diaco, a year removed from being the architect of a defense which powered Notre Dame to the BCS championship game, was going to want to bring in his own group of guys. Diaco certainly delivered on that as he cleaned house at nearly every level. Foley was the only one left standing when the dust had settled as he will coach the offensive line which is something he has done at UConn for 5 1/2 seasons.

"You get into a situation that you know as a coach that things are happening and probably not in a real positive way, job possibilities coaches have to know that the chances of being retained were not very high and that is just the way it is," Foley said. "You know it when you get into it. When they hired Coach Diaco. It was a situation where we sat down and talked, I told him I wanted to be here and the fact that UConn could be a place where we could be successful, we have done it in the past. We slipped back a little bit but definitely could be a place we could win or I wouldn’t even have gone into the interview if I thought that way. I was excited when I met him, he has great energy and had a lot of great ideas on how to improve the program and take us forward so I am excited about it."

Less than a week after Diaco was named the head coach news broke that Foley was going to be the only assistant coming back which not only left Foley with a tremendous amount of work to do in attempting to keep the committed recruits in the fold but also left him with a sense of sorrow seeing his fellow staff members looking for work.

"It is tough," Foley said. "Unfortunately that is a part of the business. You hate to say it that way but it is. Some of these guys had young families with kids in school and I have been through that before but you know the business and stay in touch but those guys are all very good people, they are great people, very good coaches and you know good things will happen for them."

Foley coached the offensive line at UConn from 2006-10 and even after Donald Brown ran for 2,083 yards during the 2008 seasons and Jordan Todman ran for 2,883 yards in the following two seasons, Foley was relieved of his offensive line coaching duties when Paul Pasqualoni brought in long-time friend George DeLeone to coach the line. All Foley did in his new stint coaching tight ends is help develop Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt into professional players. This past season he had an untested group of tight ends which he worked with but when UConn opened the season with four straight losses, Pasqualoni and DeLeone were fired and Foley returned to work with the offensive line. It was pretty evident to anybody watching that the play of the line, despite some injuries, improved dramatically with Foley in charge. That was one of the factors resulting in Diaco bringing Foley back.

"Coach Mike Foley is here because every single person I talked to, not one person, I talked to a lot of person did not have Mike Foley at the top of their list when asked ‘you are going to your alma mater, you are leading your alma mater and who are you taking with you?’" Diaco said. "He has been a great fit so far and he is going to be a great blend with the rest of the staff."

Foley's players were among those who vouched for him which is something that meant the world to him.

"It makes you feel great," Foley said. "It was probably the reason I got hired and it felt great that a lot of people at the university, some players and people within the administration that he talked to had high praise for you, it made you feel great that people feel that way and now you have to go do it.

"Sometimes change is good and I think you had to look at it that way, whether I ended up here or I ended up somewhere else sometimes change is good.

"This is like a new job for me. Yeah, I am going into the same building, I am going to the same office but it is a new staff, a lot of new faces, fresh faces and the offensive line I know all those guys but we graduated a bunch of guys and it is going to be, it is not like I have the same five guys coming back and we will kind of roll from there, there is a lot of work to be done. I think there are a lot of good young players who will be good in time. It is the same thing as if I went somewhere else and coached some new guys. We tell our players that we have to fight through the adversity and that is what you have to do."

Four starters are gone. Left tackle Jimmy Bennett and left guard Steve Greene started all 12 games, right guard Tyler Bullock started the final six games of the season while right tackle Kevin Friend was limited to five games in an injured-plagued senior season.

"With Kevin getting hurt Dalton (Gifford) got to play a lot, Dalton towards the end of the year played a lot and did a nice job," Foley said. "Alex Mateas I thought really developed as the year went on and really improved over the year before so you have those two guys and there are some good young players. I think the spring will be important for them and next fall in camp but that is college football, that is the way it is and the next guy has to step up and we have to get them ready to do the things we are going to ask them to do.

"There is definitely talent there and it is a matter of getting some experience. One of the things we tried to do and I went back with the offensive line and that was to make sure that during the individual work that they got a lot of work also, not just the starters but everybody right down to the last guy was getting work so I could evaluate them as players to see what they had and try to develop them. What we did in the two-deep is we rotated because we knew we were going to redshirt some guys so a guy like Kyle Schafenacker had been up and I watched him for a couple of weeks, then we put him down and brought about freshman up to look at them. It had nothing to do with Kyle as a player, I liked him, he was a good player and he is going to be a good player but it more so that I could get a look at somebody else up so I could get a look at somebody else. I think there is some talent there and it has to be developed. With O-linemen, very rarely are any of them ready as true freshmen sometimes even as a redshirt freshman it takes a couple of years in the weight room to develop and that is what we are going."

As I mentioned before, Foley was the lone assistant in place for almost a month meaning he had tremendous responsibility in the recruiting department. I spoke to Milford Academy coach Bill Chaplick a couple of times from the end of the regular season until the time Diaco was hired and pretty much each time I asked him about UConn he would say 'I spoke to Coach Foley last night.'"

Even Foley efforts were not enough to keep the Milford Academy duo of Chasz Wright and Jordan Fuchs from decommitting and committing to Temple and Indiana or Rochester (N.Y.) quarterback Justin Noye flipping to Old Dominion but if not for Foley's efforts, it's highly unlikely that UConn would still have 10 players committed as it does at the current time.

"It is one of those things when you are trying talk to the players and let them know how things are going, know where we are in the process as far as hiring a new coach and also once Coach Diaco was hired he talked to all of those players," Foley said.

So how did his conversation with the recruits go?

"'When’s the staff going to be hired?' You tell them 'don’t get too nervous' so you have to hang in with them and build a relationship. We have a few spots left so we will get on the road and that is what we are doing right now, we are spending a lot of our time on the recruiting piece of it trying to get everybody caught up and get the staff indoctrinated to UConn, get them over to HR (human resources) and at the same time where are we going to be in terms of trying to finish up this recruiting class, the kids that we do have keep them committed and finish up these final few spots."

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Former NFL linebacker excited to be coaching at UConn

When his NFL career was winding to a close Vincent Brown figured it was time to put football in his rear-view mirror.

Brown, who was taken by the New England Patriots with the second round of the 1988 NFL draft after an impressive career at Mississippi Valley State. He went onto make 811 tackles in eight seasons with the Patriots. He had two seasons with four sacks and had seven of his 10 career interceptions in his final two seasons. When he was cut by the Patriots after the 1995 season, Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells believed that Brown would be an excellent coach if he chose to go that way.

"When I retired from the Patriots in 1995 I had no part of coaching out and working with my son who is 5/6 years old I realized there is something to this of being able to teach," Brown said.

"When I was cut by the Patriots, Coach Parcells told me ‘you have the ability to influence others and you have to find a way to use it’ and it took me a few years to realize what he was saying. It was been rewarding ever since."

After a year as a graduate assistant at Virginia in 2007, he followed former Virginia assistant coach Mike London to Richmond before returning to Virginia when London was hired as Virginia's head coach. Four years later he made the decision to leave to become the linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator at UConn.

"It was very difficult to leave because my wife and I, we loved the community we were in but I also recognized the opportunity to work with quality people they don’t always come around in our profession," Brown said. "I know Bob Diaco. I had a chance to spend time with him during the 2007 season. He is very passionate, energetic, very detail orientated and his philosophy on playing the game and my philosophy on coaching the game are very closely aligned. I believe in his vision of what he wants to get accomplished and I want to be part of helping shape that."

UConn will lose top linebacker Yawin Smallwood, the Huskies' leading tackle in each of the last two seasons, as he chose to enter the NFL and bypass his senior season. Ryan Donohue is also moving on. Jefferson Ashiru was fifth on UConn with 58 tackles and tied for third with eight tackles for loss. Reuben Frank had two tackles after moving from fullback to defensive end and there's a chance he could be shifted to linebacker when UConn uses a 3-4 defense. Graham Stewart, Marquise Vann and Brandon Steg also saw some time last season.

Diaco knows that UConn's young linebacking corps will be eager to listen to a coach who had as much succcess as a player as Brown enjoyed.

"You can’t hide from the fact that is a big reason why he is here," Diaco said. "He did it at the highest level, he does it with class, he does it with hard work, he does it with integrity and in that room and he has great credibility because he did it, he is going to tell me how to do it because he knows because he did it."

Brown has spoken to some of the players he will be coaching and the opportunity to work with them during spring practice can't come quickly enough.

"Just looking at how we have here, I am excited about working with some of these kids," Brown said. "The combination to work under Bob Diaco, to work with Anthony Poindexter and I know intimately know what his DNA is about regarding working with kids, it just bring a level of excitement that you need to keep it rolling.

"Change is difficult for a lot of people but then in brings about some exciting opportunities, being able to wipe the slate clean and nobody has opinions and notions on these kids, you just go by what you see and I think that excites the kids that ‘I am going to get a fair shot to go out and play.’"

The hard-hitting Brown earned the "undertaker" nickname for his relentless play and high work ethic is what he will be asking for from his players.

"That is one of the things I truly believe in is that effort can make up for a lot of things," Brown said. "If you just play hard you have a chance and you add in being smart to the mix, you add being a tough guy to the mix you are going to be successful."

According to a report by the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., Mississippi State strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis is taking the same job at UConn.

Balis worked with Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen for the last five years and also worked with Mullen for two years in Utah where Mullen was an assistant coach.

Balis was the Director of Strength and Conditioning at Virginia in 2007 and 2008 when Diaco was an assistant coach there.

During his appearance on Geno Auriemma's radio show on Monday night, Diaco said "there is nobody more important than that hire" when discussing the strength and conditioning job.

Also, the site reported that former UConn defensive coordinator Hank Hughes interviewed for the same position at Cincinnati and former defensive assistant Darrell Perkins has interviewed at New Mexico.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

UConn's new quarterbacks coach has quite the story to tell

UConn decided to make all the assistant coaches available in one shot rather than setting up conference calls with each and every one of them so today was that day.

Spread around the cafeteria on the second floor of the Burton Family Football Complex, each coach sat at a designated table and then the media was unleashed on them.

I was one of four reporters who headed to quarterbacks coach Don Patterson's table and part of me wanted to go nowhere else. Patterson had already held court for 25 minutes by the time I reluctantly got up to speak to the other coaches.

Where do I start with telling Patterson's story?

Perhaps that he gave new UConn football coach Bob Diaco his first full-time job at Western Illnois? Or Patterson's tremendous run at Western Illinois. Then there was his fight with cancer and then battle with the Western Illinois administration who fired him after telling him that they did not want to deal with another coach with cancer. Did I forget something? Oh yeah, he was a candidate for the UConn head coaching job which went to Randy Edsall back in 1999.

Patterson, who gave new UConn football coach Bob Diaco his first full-time coaching job, was among the first assistants hired by Diaco was credited for the development of Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata. Licata threw for three touchdowns in a 41-12 win over UConn in the game which marked the end of Paul Pasqualoni’s tenure with the Huskies and put into play circumstances for Patterson to join Diaco at UConn where he will work with returning quarterbacks Casey Cochran, Tim Boyle, Chandler Whitmer and Kivon Taylor.

“Honestly, I wasn’t looking for another job I was happy at Buffalo and made good progress at Buffalo. I told (Buffalo head coach) Jeff Quinn that Bobby needs me more than you do. Bobby is new to the head coaching profession and honestly I might not have been hired at Buffalo if it were not for Bobby because Bobby picked up the phone, called Jeff Quinn and said if you don’t hire Coach Patterson you are crazy, I don’t care how old he is, I don’t care how much cancer he has had, if you can hire the man you should’ and thankfully Jeff did.”

Following his dismissal at Western Illinois, prospective employers weren’t lining up to hire a veteran coach with an uncertain medical prognosis. But even as he endured 35 grueling radiation treatments which purged the cancer from his body, there was never a question that Patterson wanted to return to coaching.

“I left for 11 months and about nine of those months you can’t do anything and you are literally sustaining your life through a feeding tube but it is all good because the doctors told me ‘we are not going to let you die but the bad news is the treatment is almost going to kill you but we are not going to let you die,’” Patterson said. “I went through the treatment and it takes three months to see if you are OK or not because you are radioactive by the time you finish the treatments. Dec 16, 2008 found out I had no cancer in my body at that time."

I had to leave much of the stuff about how he was diagnosed with cancer out of the story I filed for tomorrow's paper but here it is.

"Back in the summer of ’08 as I explained it to my wife, I feel like I had a piece of popcorn stuck in my throat and a month or two earlier I had an earache and I went to my family doctor, he gave me something and I kind of forgot about it. I know what it is I missed my six-month checkup and had a tooth issue. I went to the dentist and he said ‘Coach, your teeth are fine.’ I could tell by the way he looked at me that I have a problem, He said 'I think you better go back to your family doctor' and he kind of scared me the way he said that. When I got in my car I looked in the rear-view mirror one side of my face is a healthy pink and the other side is purple in the back of my mouth and it is because I had Stage IV tonsil cancer and same thing Michael Douglas went through.

"I went back to my doctor. He said 'you have Four stage cancer and we need to treat you immediately or you may not be around. 51 days they can only give you 35 radiation treatments and that is what I did.

“I wasn’t in any position to coach and barely in position to get out of bed and recovered over time. They named an interim coach at Western and this is what I didn’t realize. I was pretty sure what I wanted to do, I wanted to come back to work and he said ‘Coach, you don’t realize this but most people don’t want to go back to work, they are done and are grateful that you do want to work again, you are going to be the right kind of role model for the other cancer survivors out there.’ I never really dreamed about not going back to work, I want to go out on my terms and somebody else’s terms.”

However, according to Patterson, Western Illinois athletic director Tim VanAlstine had other ideas.

“He called me and we lost a baseball coach to leukemia and he said ‘Coach I can’t let you coach anymore,’” Patterson said. “He said ‘I’ve already lost one coach and I can’t deal with it.’ It angered me because I fought hard to come back and Coach some of your players came in and told me we need to make a coaching change.”

Patterson has fought back against cancer and he was not giving up his job without a fight.

“I called the captains because who knows better than the coaches and they didn’t know anything. I called them in and I called them in and it was an off week so we had a little bit of time to talk,” Patterson said. “I want you guys to be brutally honest with me and I want you to tell me honestly how you feel about me as a coach and they said we wouldn’t be interested in playing the game if you couldn’t be our coach. It was a very emotional meeting because they knew that I might or might not live, when they finish the conversation Tim VanAlstine lied to me, he told me that you wanted a coaching change and they said that was absolutely untrue. I am not going to quit, I am going to tell him ‘hell no, I am not going to resign because I talked to my players and you lied to me.’ He said ‘I am still not going to let you coach anymore, you are done.’”

In January of 2010 Western Illinois settled with Patterson. The money was not the primary priority for Patterson but righting a wrong was incredibly important to him.

So was accomplishing four things on his “things to do before I die” bucket list he came up with. He was able to go the first three as he went back to see a football game at Army where he played, saw a Late Night with David Letterman show live and not only got to see Neil Diamond (whose music he had played for each of his 35 radiation treatments) play in Las Vegas but also got the meet the singer backstage in large part because Diamond’s mother survived the same type of cancer. All that is left is for Patterson to play a round of golf at Pebble Beach to accomplish all the things on his bucket list.

There will be plenty more in the coming days from the other assistant coaches but I decided to start off with the best stuff.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Recruiting process about to kick into high gear at UConn

During his appearance on UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma's radio show new UConn football coach Bob Diaco didn't pull any punches in identifying the priorities for his newly-formed coaching staff.

"Get to know the team and recruiting, there is really no time for anything else," Diaco said.

As for the current players, he has been in contact with all the players. He addressed the quarterbacks during the show.

"Casey (Cochran) popped through today, Tim (Boyle) has come through, I had a phone conversation with Chandler (Whitmer) so we have been engaging all of those quarterbacks. They have moxie, guts, can spin it very well and all of those guys have great tangible traits."

Of the air he said he has been getting tremendous reports on the skill set of freshman Kivon Taylor who redshirted last season.

The NCAA's month-long recruiting dead period ends a week from tomorrow so that doesn't give Diaco a heck of a lot of time to get his staff organized so they can hit the road in the quest for new prospects to go with the ones still committed to UConn.

"It is needs and what the group looked like in terms of the players who are committed and how we are going to assimilate into that (picture)."

So how many players can Diaco sign for the upcoming season?

"It is very easy to look at it and see the open scholarship numbers and add players to fill that group accordingly but what we really need to do is look at 2015, what does that number look like?" Diaco said. "Let’s say that it 15 or 16 (available scholarships) in 2015, is it better to add 20 (in 2014) and keep it there or is it better to add 18 and add two to the Class of 2015? That is the balance that we have to look at so I can’t say for sure what the number looks like. I would to say to me to somewhere around 18.

"Everything’s a challenge, you are trying to get turnarounds for reimbursements or stipends to hit the road faster than you would normally have to plan for it, recruiting areas, where do you want to send the guys? Where they were as opposed to where they were going to be, the recruiting contacts that they want to continue and have relationship with because they have players but we are looking forward to sending them in different areas as long as what the needs are in trying to get new players evaluated in two weeks, it is a challenge."

Diaco said "we are not going to chase talent just for talent sake" as he is looking for the combination of talent (skill and power are the words he used) and the right fit for the football team and university.

There are currently 10 recruits committed to UConn and Diaco repeated what he said following his introductory press conference and that is he will honor all previous commitments.

UConn typically doesn't announce the January enrollees until the spring semester starts and that is still a couple weeks ago but Chris Britton, a linebacker from Harrisburg, Pa., and Jamar Summers, a defensive back from Orange, N.J. who spent a postgraduate season at Milford Academy, are slated to enroll later this month.
"I think we are trying to work through two, I am going to know more (Tuesday) morning," Diaco said.

If the football coaching thing didn't work out for Diaco he could have made a killing in the public relations field because he is a first-rate salesman. Case in point is what he had to say about tickets going on sale for UConn's home football games today.

"The schedule is fun, energetic, exciting games and the in-conference schedule is going to be awesome, we are excited about putting a team out there together and getting an absolutely great environment going in that facility with the people and fan experience. We are working with sales and marketing right now to talk about that game experience, we are trying to create environment where it is a great family way to come spend three and a half hours."

Some of Diaco's most intriguing comments on the air might have been about player engagement role given to running backs coach Ernest Jones.

"It is teaching them how to write a resume, it is teaching them how to do an interview; it is teaching them how to set a table and place the fork and knife properly for etiquette. It is teaching them different life lessons, different social lessons and also develop a year-long plan where we are out in the community."

Diaco references the work former baseball coach Andy Baylock who has spent more than a decade as the Director of Football Alumni Affairs as being pivotal to the type of environment he is looking to create at UConn.

Diaco hasn't decided where he is going to live.

"I have no idea haven’t thought about it."


Monday, January 06, 2014

UConn's Diaco thrilled with his coaching staff

UConn football coach Bob Diaco appeared on the radio show of UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma and the two gregarious coaches put on an entertaining show at Geno's Grille at Storrs Center.

Afterward Diaco discussed the formation of his coaching staff which was announced earlier today.

"It is an awesome staff, it is an honor to be with these guys for me . Some guys from different backgrounds, some guys that have different expertise's but they are all the same guy. They are good people that love coaching and teaching college football. They are loyal and trustworthy; they are all communicators.

"We met for the first time last night when they got on campus. We got together as a (staff) today for the first time and as I sat there and said to them ‘you guys don’t really know each other but I love every one of you and I am confident that you guys are going to love each other. You are really all the game guy.' We have somebody on the staff who is in the 60s, somebody who is his 30s...

"A lot of guys go different ways. They have their own formulas, some guys won’t hire anybody that they already know. The ones that I have grown to enjoy and the model, the Hayden Fry model, the Bob Stoops model, higher guys you know, hire guys you love, hire guys you trust."

Here's some more from Diaco.

"You know when nobody’s watching, how they are going to act. We have three more spots so we are still working so don’t jinx us. Director of Football Operations, Director of Player Personnel and a Director of Strength and Conditioning and there is nobody more important than that hire. We are looking to build on the momentum we have right now.

"The way the pieces fit together are really pretty interesting. It was really well thought out in terms of who was balancing who.

"It was a dead sprint from 4:30 a.m. until now. Actually it was like two wheels coming around the corner to get here and I feel like I could go back and work – I don’t know how many more hours are in this game. It is a lot of work right now and it is a labor of love.

"Get to know the team and recruiting, there is really no time for anything else. It is needs and what the group looked like in terms of the players who are committed and how we are going to assimilate into that piece."


Closer look at UConn's assistant coaches

Kevin Wolthausen, seen during his time as an Atlanta Falcons assistant, is part of new UConn staff
Obviously there's a lot of information to go through with the eight new assistant coaches brought in by new head coach Bob Diaco. I thought the most interesting part of the staff he put together is that every coach he brought in is somebody he worked with. So I decided to break it down. The listing of time spent on a staff or staffs with Diaco is in bold type

Coach (Alma Mater)                                Reponsibilities                                         Yrs as college coach                  
Vincent Brown (Miss. Valley St. ’88) Co-Defensive coordinator/linebackers 7
Virginia ‘07
Mike Cummings (Buffalo ’84)                 Offensive coordinator/tight ends               27
E. Michigan ‘00-01; W. Michigan ‘04
Mike Foley (Colgate ’78)                         Offensive line                                               35
Ernest Jones (Alcorn St. ’95)                 Running backs/player engagement               13
C. Michigan ’05; Notre Dame ’12-13
Wayne Lineburg (Virginia ’96)                 Special Teams/wide receivers                        19
Virginia ’07-08
Don Patterson (Army ’73)                 Associate HC/quarterbacks                        35
Iowa ‘96-97; W. Illinois ‘99-00
Anthony Poindexter (Virginia ’99)         Defensive coordinator/safeties                        11
Virginia ’06-08
Josh Reardon (C. Michigan ’06) Co-Special Teams coordinator/cornerbacks       8
Notre Dame ’12-13
Kevin Wolthausen (Humboldt St. ’81) Recruiting coordinator/defensive line              25
E. Michigan ‘02

UConn announces its coaching staff

All eight new assistants hired by Bob Diaco worked
 with the new UConn coach in past seasons 
Familiarity was obviously pretty important as new UConn football coach Bob Diaco put together his first coaching staff as the eight new assistant coaches worked with Diaco in the past.

He brought Josh Reardon, who is the co-special teams coordinator and cornerbacks coach, and Ernest Jones, who will coach the running backs, with him from Notre Dame.

Diaco worked with new defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Vincent Brown and special teams coordinator/receivers coach Wayne Lineburg at Virginia. Offensive coordinator Mike Cummings worked with Diaco at two different stops and quarterbacks coach Don Patterson also coached with Diaco at two different schools. Running backs coach Ernest Jones also worked with Diaco at Central Michigan and Notre Dame and has the added bonus of being the head coach at Alcorn State in 2008.

Cummings spent the last three seasons as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach where one of his star pupils was Eric Fisher, who went from being an under the radar recruit, to being taken first overall in the 2013 NFL draft. Although Cummings did not call the plays, he was instrumental and putting the staff together.

Cummings worked with Diaco on the staffs at Central Michigan and Western Michigan while Patterson was on the Iowa and Western Illinois staffs with the new UConn coach. Patterson spent 11 seasons as the head coach at Western Illinois, compiling a 63-47 record.

Lineburg worked with Diaco at Virginia where he spent time working with receivers for two seasons and running backs for a year before leaving to join the staff at Richmond. Lineburg was the Spiders’ interim coach during the 2011 season and when he did not get the head coaching job, he was retained by new coach Danny Rocco.

Kevin Wolthausen, who will coach the defensive line and be the recruiting coordinator, was on the 2002 Eastern Michigan staff. Wolthausen had three stints as a professional coach including spending the 2007 season coaching the defensive line for the Atlanta Falcons.

Poindexter was the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 1998 and was a member of the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl championship team. After he was released, he was hired at his alma mater to coach the safeties.

Brown spent eight seasons as a linebacker with the New England Patriots before beginning his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Virginia in 2007 where Diaco was one of the assistants. He took a job at Richmond and was on the staff when the Spiders won the 2008 FCS national title.

Mike Foley is the only holdover to remain with the staff and he will handle the offensive line which he did for the final eight games of the season.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Super Bowl dream still alive for two former UConn stars

The Indianapolis Colts brought in former New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw to become the featured back and when he was lost for the season, the Colts traded for former No. 1 pick Trent Richardson for the same purpose. However. the go-to back was there all along.

Former UConn star Donald Brown, taken by Indianapolis in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft, had a rather pedestrian first four seasons with the Colts as he failed to average more than four yards per rush in three of those four years.

After carrying the ball 22 times in the first six games, Brown's work load began to increase as he had at least 10 carries in five of the last 10 games and he scored six touchdowns in the final eight games of the regular season.

He delivered again in yesterday's playoff thriller.Brown ran 11 times for 55 yards and had 47 yards on four receptions. He had a pair of third-quarter touchdowns as Indianapolis rallied from a 28-point deficit to record a 45-44 victory. Here's a video of a post-game interview with Brown

Brown could have had a third TD but he fumbled in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Andrew Luck recovered the fumble and ran it in for a 5-yard TD.

Another former Huskies, safety Darius Butler, had five tackles in the win. A third UConn product also made an impact as Kansas City fullback Anthony Sherman had a 5-yard touchdown reception.

Today former UConn defensive lineman Kendall Reyes will make his playoff debut when the Chargers face Cincinnati.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

UConn's Bennett member of National team at MOH Bowl

The rosters have been released for next week's Medal of Honor Bowl and former UConn offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett will be a member of the National team. Instead of his normal No. 72, he will wear No. 77 for the game being played a week from today.

Bennett started all 24 games at left tackle the last two years for UConn and the NFL Draft Bible site has Bennett projected to be fifth-round pick in the NFL draft.

Pair of UConn commits honored

UConn football commits Alec Bloom and Luke Carrezola were named to the Pennsylvania Football News All-State teams.

Bloom was the first-team tight end in Class AA after catching 45 passes for 830 yards and 12 touchdowns in eight games as a senior at Ligioner Valley.

Luke Carrezola was the first-team tight end in Class AAAA as he helped junior running back D'andre Pollard rush for 2,928 yards and Neshaminy HS run for 4,218 yards in 15 games. Carrezola also had four catches for 45 yards and as a defensive end had 20 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

Carrezola, who is also in the running for the Mr. Pennsylvania Football large division award, is planning to take an official visit to UConn from Jan. 17-19.

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