Thursday, February 27, 2014

Gus Cruz back on field for UConn, Ty-Meer Brown's status TBA

Gus Cruz is back on field taking part in conditioning drills after
 missing last seven games of 2013 season with cardiac issues.
UConn football coach Bob Diaco was at his entertaining and energetic self as he was the guest speaker at tonight's Nutmeg State Games Directors Club Banquet as he addressed a variety of topics including trying to expand on the "Husky Walk" tradition in an attempt to create a better environment on game day.

Afterwards I was able to get some updates from Diaco on injured Huskies Gus Cruz and Ty-Meer Brown as well as a timeline for the naming of a new running backs coach.

Let's start with the good news as Diaco said Cruz, who started 10 games at right offensive guard in the last two seasons before he was shut down due to cardiac issues, is taking part in conditioning drills with the team.

"He is working hard and trying to stay engaged," Diaco said. "The medical staff here is so good led by (athletic trainer) Bob Howard."

Considering that four starters from the offensive line graduated and potential starting tackle Xavier Hemingway left school, UConn is incredibly thin on the offensive line heading into spring drills so if Cruz could return to the field it would be an incredible bonus for UConn.

"It is a problem," Diaco said of the small number of offensive linemen. "We will have to be creative with how we practice in the spring, there is some manpower coming (in the fall when the freshmen arrive).

As for Brown, "we will talk about Ty-Meer next week" was all Diaco would say on the subject.

Brown has a neck issue similar to the one that ended the playing career of UConn athletic director Warde Manuel. Manuel happened to be hanging around after women's basketball practice ended because he wanted to talk to Geno Auriemma about some things so I asked Warde if he has reached out to Brown to offer any advice.

"I talked to him briefly and made sure we knew I was available if he ever needed to talk," Manuel said. "I understand what he is going through and dealing with. He knows we are all here for him and we want the best for them.

"I do that for any of our student-athletes who want to talk, I have an open door for our student-athletes and coaches. I am always here to talk to them but he’s a great young man and I know what he is dealing with and thinking about. We’ll be here for him every step of the way."

I also asked Manuel is an announcement in naming an opponent or opponents to fill the slots on the 2015 and 2016 scheduled which resulted when the signed home and home series was suspended so the Volunteers could play a pair of neutral-site games.

"We're working on it, it's a work in progress," Manuel said.

As for the naming of the replacement for Ernest Jones as running backs coach, Diaco said "it is imminent, human resources they are working through it."

Diaco also said that the position will be exactly the same so the new assistant will also be the director of player engagement.

Diaco also said he would like to see his team going through football-related drills before contemplating position changes.

"We need to get the guys playing," Diaco said. "They are in gym shorts right now but they are busting their butts right now, they are really working. I can not wait to get on the field with the guys and do football (drills).

Diaco is excited by what he is seeing from his players in the conditioning drills they are currently taking part in.

"It was great and the players were feeling it," Diaco said. "It was a cumulative effect and the players are feeling it. This is a purposeful group with spirit and energy so when you have that, they are willing participants to get the information so we will give them information, they are going to try hard and they are going to change. They are physically changing right now and the culture is changing right now."

While he spoke to a nearly packed house at the Aqua Turf in Southington, Diaco took questions from the crowd.

First up was one about Arkeel Newsome, the record-breaking running back out of Ansonia High.

"He is a fantastic player and what we are going to have to do is get him the ball in space, let him do what he does well and that is run in space."

Then came a question about the quarterbacks.

"We are at the end of week six (in conditioning) and seeing results," Diaco said. "One of the players, you are at a big skill position and you weigh 243 pounds and now he is 218 pounds and your percent of body fat is 29 or 30 and 5 ½ weeks later you are at 21 and you lost 15 pounds and you are stronger and faster. How do you not buy in? It is not even about football anymore, it is about putting your pants on, putting your shirt on, engaging with people on campus. You just feel better. We have a couple of different guys there and Chandler (Whitmer), who had a tough go of it, came back, he rejoined and reengaged the team , he has a blue-collar workman’s attitude, he is trying to be a great teammate. (Casey Cochran) and Timmy (Boyle) are doing a fantastic job of minimizing their opportunities so we can work on their assets."

Finally he responded to a question of how to get the tailgaters from actually coming into Rentschler Field instead of staying in the parking lot during the game.

"I would like to change some of the formats," Diaco said. "Rather than Husky Walk, we’d like to drive down to (Lot) H, come over and have the walk down the lot and then I am going to have the team enter the field through the student section to create some energy there and interface, engage with the student body. I’d like to, I don’t even know the feasibility in it, but I’d like to get a cherry picker out to the lot where nobody comes in, blast some music, get the mike and invite them all to come in. Then take the field with some energy, give the fans something really exciting to watch. I was thinking of something between the third and fourth quarters, I’ll pick the song I will play my iPad and we will do a contest with three songs and what song am I going to play. We are going to do some things to engage the student body and engage the fans, we are going to have our team stay on campus the day before so we can interface with the student body because if the team leaves at 2 p.m. on Friday what’s the difference if we are going to Hartford or Houston? It is the same thing, we are packing up everything and we are going to a hotel. It is really nice to be on campus Friday nights and get a chance to interface with the student body and create some new traditions and try to create a lot of energy to the team."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Former UConn star on the move in Canada

Former UConn receiver/returnman Larry Taylor, one of the most dynamic return specialsts in the Canadian Football League, has been traded from Calgary to Montreal in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the upcoming CFL draft and a conditional third-round pick in 2015.

Taylor began his career in Montreal and averaged 21.3 on kickoff returns and 9.9 yards on punt returns including three he brought back for touchdowns.

Taylor was utilized more on offense in his three seasons at Calgary as he caught 39 passes and had four TD receptions but had no touchdowns and seven catches in Montreal. He also had 18 carries with Calgary and six rushing attempts with Montreal.

UConn spring day set for April 12

UConn announced that its annual spring game will be played on April 12 at 3 p.m. at Rentschler Field.

The game is set to have the regular amount of football with four 15-minute quarters. As we get closer I'm sure we'll get more details whether there will be controlled portions of the scrimmage.

I was already expecting the roster to be out but perhaps UConn is waiting to see what happens with offensive guard Gus Cruz (cardiac symptoms) and safety Ty-Meer Brown (neck/shoulder) who are dealing with potentially career threatening issues.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

15 UConn players named to AAC All-Academic team

Five starters were among the 11 UConn football  players named to the American Athletic Conference All-Academic team.

Leading the way were senior offensive linemen Steve Greene and Jimmy Bennett, who formed the left side of the line in the last two seasons, quarterback Casey Cochran who led the Huskies to three wins to end the season and defensive backs Obi Melifonwu and Byron Jones.

Here is the list
Jimmy Bennett OT Sr. Alexandria, Va. Economics, Political Science and Accounting
Kyle Bockeloh C Fr. Houston, Texas Accounting
Jeremy Claflin S So. West Hartford Accounting
Casey Cochran QB Fr. Monroe. Communications
Steve Greene OG Sr. Edensburg, Pa. Sport Management and Political Science
Byron Jones CB Jr. New Britain Political Science and Economics
Andrea Knappe DL Fr. Silkeborg, Denmark Communications
Ellis Marder CB Fr. Windermere, Fla. Political Science
Sean Marinan DE Fr. Higganum. Management Information System
Scott McCummings QB Jr. Natick, Mass. Business
Obi Melinfonwu S Fr. South Grafton, Mass. Exploratory Studies
Adam Mueller LS Jr. Park Ridge, Ill. Communications
Zach Rugg OG Fr. Windber, Pa. History
Tony Tully WR So. East Sandwich, Mass. Exploratory Studies
Justin Wain P Fr. Wilmington, Mass. Exploratory Studies

Monday, February 24, 2014

Season opener moved to Aug. 29

At the request of ESPN, UConn's season opener against BYU has been moved from Aug. 28 to the 29th.

It will also mark the debut of Bob Diaco as head coach.

The game will be played at Rentschler Field, will kick off at 8 p.m. and air nationally on ESPN.

“It is a great honor to be selected by ESPN to be the Friday night national game to begin the 2014 college football season,” said UConn head coach Bob Diaco in a statement."

UConn will play a return game at BYU on October 31, 2015.

UConn's Smallwood, Stephen get their day at NFL Combine

The running, jumping and lifting at the NFL Scouting Combine has come to an end for former UConn defensive stalwarts Yawin Smallwood and Shamar Stephen.

Stephen had a 30 1/2 inch vertical leap which was right around the middle of the pack for the defensive linemen (although most of the top performances predictably came from the defensive ends). Smallwood finished eighth among linebackers with a 36 1/2 inch vertical jump and had a broad jump of 9-0.

Smallwood appeared to pull up in the final strides of the first of the two scheduled 40-yard dashes en route to a 5.01. He did not take part in his second 40 of the day.

Stephen had a 5.25 time in the 40 and broad jump of 8-7.

A pair of Connecticut natives were among the linebackers taking part in the combine.

Stamford's Khairi Fortt, who played at Penn State and California, shared for the lead among linebackers when he bench pressed 225 pounds 30 times yesterday. He added some other strong results today. He had a time of 4.7 in the 40, a 36-inch vertical leap and 10-foot broad jump.

Norwalk's Kevin Pierre-Louis out of Boston College had a spectacular day with a 4.51 time in the 40 (the best among the linebackers), a 39-inch vertical (third among LBs), 10-8 in the broad jump (second best among linebackers) and time of 4.02 in the 20-yard shuttle (second among LBs).

Some numbers in for UConn's Stephen at NFL combine

Here are some of the results for UConn 2013 team MVP Shamar Stephen at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Stephen,  6-foot-5, 309-pound defensive tackle, posted a time of 5.25 in the 40-yard dash, had a 30.5-inch vertical leap and 8 foot, 7 inch broad jump.

Yawin Smallwood is about to get rolling with the rest of the linebackers.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Big day approaching for pair of former UConn stars

Former UConn defensive stars Yawin Smallwood and Shamar Stephen will get a chance to help their draft status when linebackers and defensive linemen work out at the NFL Scouting Combine tomorrow.

The process has actually already begun as Stephen bench pressed 225 pounds 25 times and Smallwood doing 18 reps.

Stephen finished 20 among the 50 defensive linemen with bench-press results posted on the NFL's official site while Smallwood was 20th among 25 linebackers.

A pair of Connecticut natives had strong showings in the bench. Stamford Khairi Fortt, who played at Penn State and Calfornia, posted 30 reps and Norwalk's Kevin Pierre-Louis had 28 reps.

Smallwood measured in at 6-foot-2 and 246 pounds while Stephen came in at 6-foot-5 and 309 pounds.

Monday, February 17, 2014

UConn's running backs coach Ernest Jones resigns

The saga of Ernest Jones, hired to be the running backs coach and be at the forefront of the football team's player engagement program,came to a surprising conclusion with the news that he has resigned his position effective immediately.

Here is a statement from UConn

University of Connecticut assistant football coach Ernest T. Jones has resigned his position at UConn effective immediately. The University or the Division of Athletics will have no further comment on the matter as it is personnel related.

Jones has been in the spotlight since he stated in an interview with the Hartford Courant that "players understand that Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle." However, it is uncertain whether the backlash from those comments resulted in his resignation.

The comments created an uproar and led to UConn president Susan Herbst releasing the following 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.”

UConn football coach Bob Diaco, who worked with Jones at Notre Dame, told the Courant that he was surprised by Jones' decision saying "it is entirely family and personally related.”

Diaco now is in the midst of hiring a new assistant to coach the running backs. UConn does return an experienced group of tailbacks led by Lyle McCombs and Max DeLorenzo.

It is not known whether the new running backs coach will be given the player engagement role in addition to the assistant coach responsibilities.

Jones also was given Fairfield County as one of his recruiting areas and he played a pivotal role in securing the commitment from St. Joseph OT Steve Hashemi. Considering that Fairfield County is one of the top areas for developing Division I talent in the state, getting somebody who can continue to open up the lines of communication to Fairfield County coaches (something Jones was doing exceptionally well) should be a top priority.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Defensive substitutions a hot topic

The NCAA is proposing a couple of rules changes. One is the next step in an attempt to legislate the targeting of opposing players but that is not the one that figures to draw the most debate.

There is a movement to prevent teams from snapping the ball before at least 10 seconds have elapsed from the play clock in order to allow the defensive team to make substitutions.

Under the proposed legislation a team could receive a 5-yard penalty for delay of game if it snaps the ball before the play clock has at least 30 seconds left on it. The rule would be waived during the final two minutes of each half. It will be interesting to see if this passes and what happens if a team is down by a couple of touchdowns outside the final two minutes and attempts to snap the ball quickly or a team tries to snap the ball quickly so a questionable play can't be reviewed by the officials.

UConn's home and away conference opponents announced

With the American Athletic Conference finalizing the separation agreement with Rutgers, the AAC has officially announced the home and away opponent during the 2014 season.

UConn will host Central Florida, Cincinnati, SMU and Temple and will play East Carolina, Memphis, South Florida and Tulane on the road. The dates of the game will be announced later.

UConn will not play Houston and Tulsa during the 2014 season. It is the second year in a row UConn and Houston are not scheduled to meet in conference play.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bedard signed by Alouettes

The free agency period is underway in the Canadian Football League and the Montreal Alouettes resigned former UConn long snapper Martin Bedard to a three-year deal.

Bedard has played in 79 games with Montreal and has 36 career special-teams tackles in his five seasons in the CFL.

Also, not sure how I missed this when it happened but former UConn commit Lamont Bradford, an offensive guard at Timber Creek (N.J.) High, signed with Delaware State. Bradford was dealing with academic issues which kept him from signing with UConn and the Huskies went after some other linemen while Bradford explored other options.

UConn/Illinois agree to home and home series

UConn and Illinois announce a home and home contract has been signed.

UConn will host Illinois on Sept. 7, 2019 with the return game on Sept. 12, 2020 in Illinois.

UConn is still in talks to fill in slots in 2015 and 2016 schedules due to suspension if series with Tennessee so the Volunteers can play a pair of neutral-site games.

Here is a look at UConn's updated non-conference schedule

2014: August 28, BYU; September 6, Stony Brook; September 13, Boise State; November 8, Army (Yankee Stadium).
2015: September 5, Villanova; September 12, Army; October 31, at BYU.
2016: September 17, Virginia.
2017: September 16, at Virginia.
2018: September 8, at Boise State.
2019: September 7, Illinois.
2020: September 12, at Illinois.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Grad assistants added?

While there has not been an official release, the staff directory on the UConn site lists Doug DeBoer, Nick Lezynski and Joshua Zidenberg as graduate assistants.

DeBoer was a graduate assistant at Central Michigan, Lezynski was a walk-on at Notre Dame who spent two seasons as the assistant secondary coach at Holy Cross while Zidenberg is a former Virginia running back who served as a grad assistant at his alma mater while also interning with Miami Dolphins.

UConn had four graduate assistants on last year's team but all have moved on including Shelton's Doug Shearer, who is an offense and special teams grad assistant at North Carolina State.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

UConn's Smallwood, Stephen headed to NFL combine

The NFL officially announced the players invited to the NFL Combine and as it was previously reported, former UConn linebacker Yawin Smallwood and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen were among those heading to Indianapolis later this month.

The defensive linemen and linebackers will work out for the pro scouts on Feb. 24.

A pair of Norwalk natives, Boston College linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis and USC running back Silas Redd are also among the invitees.

UConn/Tennessee game in 2015 not happening

According to a report coming out of Tennessee, the scheduled game between Tennessee and UConn at Rentschler Field in 2015 has been "suspended."

Tennessee was supposed to play at Rentschler on Sept. 26, 2015 with the return game in Knoxville scheduled for Sept. 3, 2016.

UConn confimed the news saying in an email

"Warde (Manuel) and the Tenn AD (Dave Hart) have been in discussions about this for a few months. We have a letter from the Tenn AD agreeing that the current dates of the series will not happen and new dates will be determined by 9/26/15."

Hart met with the local media today and said he approached Manuel about redoing the dates of the home and home series so Tennessee could open the 2015 by playing a game in Nashville.

"Warde and I have had a conversation for several weeks about suspending that series so we could move forward with what we wanted to do here in Nashville," Hart said.

Tennessee announced that it would open the 2015 by playing UAB in Nashville.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

UConn's Diaco dishes on Arkeel Newsome

If there is a concern about Arkeel Newsome, the record-breaking Ansonia High running back who signed with UConn today, it is his lack of size.

UConn football coach Bob Diaco is not only of those worried about the 5-foot-7, 170-pound Newsome being able to make an impact at the collegiate level.

"I am not concerned about his size at all," Diaco said. "We are going to ask him to do things that serve his tangible traits. We really pride ourselves in not asking players to do what we know they can’t do and ask them things that we know that they can do. He is not diminutive. He is maybe not the tallest guy in the world. When you are looking at him he has stature. He can nice, big round shoulders, he has nice big legs and he is really grounded well. This is not a diminutive guy where you are not only short but small. There are things that he can do that are better than the rest and we are going to ask him to do those things."

Newsome's numbers at Ansonia are simply staggering.

This season he ran for 3,867 yards and 64 touchdowns (both single-season Connecticut record as were his 68 touchdowns). In his career he ran for a state-record 10,685 yards and had 187 total touchdowns even though he wasn't the go-to back on a full-time basis until his sophomore season.

Here is where he finished ranked nationally
Rushing TDs       172 (3)
Total TDs           187 (3)
Points                 1162 (3)
Rushing yards    10685 (6)
100-yard games     41 (7)
Rushing yards         3687 (7)
Rushing TDs            64 (4)
Total TDs               68 (3)


With recruiting class in place, UConn's focus turns to returning players

Since getting hired as UConn's football coach the majority of Bob Diaco's time has been spent on putting together a staff and compiling the best class of recruits possible. Now it is time to use the next month to get to know the returning players who will ultimately decide the win/loss record in Diaco's debut season.

"The day that you don’t recruit, it is like shaving, you don’t look very good so we are going to recruit every day," Diaco said on Wednesday. "We are going to do our recruiting in the morning. Not that it is not our top thing that the guys want to do but the guys want to do football, the guys want to be with the team so when they have all the energy in the morning we are going to have them do recruiting initially. The main drilled down focus for the next four weeks is going to be on our team, our physical, mental and cultural development of our team for the next four weeks."

While I haven't seen an updated roster yet, the only players I've heard who are gone who had eligibility remaining are offensive tackle Xavier Hemingway, running back Joe Williams and tight end E.J. Norris. Diaco is thrilled that there wasn't more attrition with players deciding that being on their third coach in about six months was too much.

"That is what I am most excited about honestly," Diaco said. "We had a pretty good handful of guys who weren’t sure they wanted to continue to move forward based on how jaded they were per how things ended and to show them a commitment to how we were going to serve them and try to do a great job of communicating with them how important they are, everyone. We have a group of guys that are busting their butts, they are trying hard, they are making a great investment and they all want to be here. It is very exciting."

Diaco didn't have any updates on guard Gus Cruz (cardiac issue) and safety Ty-Meer Brown (shoulder/neck), who were sidelined for the second half of the 2013 season .

"I can’t at this time do any medical release," Diaco said. "I am not sure where our sports performance team is in their overall mechanics there so I am going to have to punt on that one."

In terms of trying to convince those players previously committed to UConn before he was hired, Diaco said he didn't do any of that.

"I didn’t do any convincing. Zero," Diaco said. "I didn’t do any selling. Zero. I simply presented what I believed the university to be, what I believe to be the resources for the football team and presented our staff, our culture and how we are going to conduct our business. If it was something that was going to be exciting for them to be a part of, fine. I called every one of them and this is exactly how it is going to be and if you have any issue with that you definitely don’t want to come here because you are not going to have any success, you are not going to make it. This is going to be too intense of an environment for you if you are not 100 percent completely bought in, voluntarily bought in so the selling, the convincing are not words that we do and not the way we conduct our business in that world."

UConn's Diaco kind of, sort of addresses Logan Marchi situation

Like it or not, one of the main story lines surrounding Bob Diaco's first recruiting class at UConn centers around unsigned quarterback Logan Marchi.

The former St. Paul star was the first member of the class to commit and was planning to sign with UConn today until he received notification last week that he was not being admitted into the university and therefore no longer a part of the class of recruits.

There are those who think this is merely a case of Diaco not thinking Marchi can play at UConn and removing the scholarship offer. Diaco cited NCAA rules which will not allow him to discuss unsigned prospects but a couple of questions later he did talk in general terms about the unfortunate scenario Marchi finds himself in without actually discussing Marchi's situation.

"In my past, PSA’s the prospective student-athletes you could cite a myriad of examples and it is typically a late April, early May drop which is really sad," Diaco said. "At that point the PSA has no opportunity to do really anything. When rulings come down earlier from universities when it relates to the ability to recruit or not recruit, the earlier the better. It gives PSAs, families and high schools opportunities and months to find another solution. My understanding is there is not a national time or national day or any real consistency and predominant cases of this happened have happened at the very end of spring or early in the summer when it is the most detrimental."

The ratings game

Since the final letter of intent was received and UConn officially announced its incoming freshman class Twitter has been abuzz with mentions of how poorly this class is rated. A few years down the line perhaps those "experts" will prove to be correct in their opinions but recent history will indicate that the people putting out this information are pretty much clueless.

I don't get worked up on whether a person is a three-star recruit or only received two stars because I doubt these national recruiting analysts have even stepped foot in Connecticut. Just for the heck of it I went onto the site because they do have an archive of previous recruiting classes. Just out of curiosity I wanted to see where some of the UConn products currently in the NFL were rated coming out of high school.

Here are some of the players who received two-star ratings
Kendall Reyes, starting defensive lineman for San Diego Chargers
Anthony Sherman, who received the No. 1 blocking rating among all NFL fullbacks by the Pro Football Focus site in his first season with Kansas City
Sio Moore, third-round pick of Oakland Raiders and member of NFL All-Rookie team
Jordan Todman, RB who ran for 256 yards and two touchdowns with Jacksonville Jaguars
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, a third-round pick of Tennessee Titans
Trevardo Williams, a fourth-round pick of Houston Texans
Ryan Griffin, sixth-round pick of Houston Texans
Nick Williams, WR with Washington Redskins
Will Beatty, starting LT for New York Giants
Tyvon Branch, starting safety for Oakland Raiders
Robert McClain, DB with Atlanta Falcons
Darius Butler, DB with Indianapolis Colts
Zach Hurd, Scott Lutrus, Lawrence Wilson, have all been on NFL rosters
John Delahunt, fullback in CFL
Michael Smith, WR who had strong showing in Houston Texans camp
Adam Masters and Jory Johnson, former UConn captains
Shamar Stephen and Jesse Joseph, two of top draft prospects for UConn this year

During a conference call with the media Diaco gave his thoughts on the importance of recruiting ratings.

"I have nothing really disparaging to say about recruiting services," Diaco said. "There are some guys who have a handle on how to evaluate players and some guys who don’t. There are some guys who are just trying to make a buck and there are some services that if you as a recruit engage the service, your rating goes up and if you are a recruit who doesn’t engage the service and services then your rating doesn’t go up so it has very little to do with your prowess on the field and a whole lot more of you wanting to be a part of the recruiting world. If that is the case and that is what is prevalent, how are they credible anyway? Not a thought on who has what (star rating), who has what stars and who we should recruit based on that."

All letters in for UConn's incoming freshman classs

It is kind of fitting that it was a bit of a chaotic national signing day considering what has transpired with the UConn football program over the last year but all 14 players committed to the Huskies sent in their letters of intent by fax, email or reindeer. Here's a look at the class

James Atkins, DE   6-5 255 Blair Academy: Named to Newark Star-Ledger All-Prep team as a DE after leading Blair Academy to Mid-Atlantic Prep League title
Alec Bloom TE             6-6 240 Ligonier (Pa.) Valley HS: Caught 45 passes for 830 yards and 12 touchdowns in eight games in injury-shortened senior season
Luke Carrezola, DE 6-3 230 Neshaminy (Pa.) HS: Had 56 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and eight sacks as senior; projects to be linebacker at UConn
Ryan Crozier, OG          6-4 297 St. Thomas Aquinas (FL): Second-team Florida 7A All-Stater joins former STA teammate Kyle Schafenacker at UConn
Vontae Diggs, LB          6-4 215 Downers Grove (Ill.) North: Former Toledo and Ball State commit is one of the most highly-rated prospects in UConn’s class of signees
Steve Hashemi, OT       6-6 265 St. Joseph: Shelton native was three year starting right offensive tackle for Class M champions
Ron Johnson, RB          6-0 215 Palmetto Ridge (FL): Ran for 1,522 yards and 16 touchdowns as senior. Louisville was among other schools pursuing him
Sheriden Lawley, DT    6-4  252 Lawrenceville (N.J.): One of two Canadian prospects in the class as he grew up in Abbotsford, British Columbia before heading to prep school at Lawrenceville
Brice McAllister, RB    5-11 195 Suffield Academy: Ran for 1,188 yards and 19 TDs, averaged 14 yards per carry, had 85-yard KO return, 61-yard punt return
Arkeel Newsome, RB  5-7   170 Ansonia: Two-time Register State Player of the Year had six 300-yard games, finished with state record 3,867 yards as senior, 10,685 during career
Daniel Oak, OG         6-3   265 Fort Myers (FL): Second team Florida 7A All-Stater who projects to play center and has 4.9 GPA
Tom Rodrick, LB        6-3   235 Leicester (Mass.): Had pair of two-touchdown games and another one with two fumble recoveries as senior
Trey Rutherford, OT     6-4 290 Kent: Native of King City, Ontario drew some late interest from Minnesota but remained committed to UConn
Anthony Watkins, WR/CB  6-1  190 Lawrenceville: Caught 49 passes from 872 yards and 8 TDs as senior but could move to defense for Huskies

Chris Britton, LB        6-2  235  Harrisburg (Pa.): Had 125 tackles as high school senior, originally signed with UConn in 2013
Jamar Summers, DB   6-0  175 Orange (N.J.)/Milford Academy: Had five interceptions during season as postgraduate at Milford Academy

UConn makes the grade

It was not the best of years on the football field at UConn as the Huskies lost their first nine games before finishing with a 3-9 record. In the process Paul Pasqualoni was dismissed as the head coach and new coach Bob Diaco brought in an almost entirely new staff.

However, in the classroom, the UConn players certainly had a year to remember.

During halftime of Tuesday night's women's basketball game against SMU UConn held its annual ceremony to honor the student-athletes who attained at least a 3.0 grade-point average. Among the honorees where 33 members of the football team.

I caught up with Ellen Tripp, UConn's assistant athletic director in charge of the Counseling Program for Intercollegiate Athletics who did some outstanding work with the football team over the spring and fall semesters. She was understandably ecstatic to see so many players honored for earning 3.0 GPAs.

"I think the character that they showed in the classroom and on the field translated to a lot of kids (attaining a 3.0 GPA)," Tripp said.. 

"I think it is a really nice night and they were just really excited to be here, a lot our students are so competitive on the playing field, in the pools and on the court but they are also competitive in the classroom, they compete with each other for the GPAs. I think it says a lot about their character and their pursuit of excellence because a lot of our students might not have the opportunity to play at the next level. Obviously we want that for them but if they can’t they will be able to leave with a great degree from a great institution and move forward."
The 33 honorees included 10 players who started games during the 2013 season and other key players.

"When you look at (quarterbacks) Casey Cochran, Chandler Whitmer who were such great leaders on the field and yet you see that carry over to (center) Alex Mateas and other players who hold key positions in our starting lineup and that speaks a lot to the younger kids," Tripp said. "I was speaking to one of the freshmen before I came over here and he was really upset because he missed it by .02 of a point. He was really upset and said ‘next year I am going to be out there.’ I thought that was great to see him fired up about school and that is obviously that is what we want."

A total of 28 of those honored are expected to be members of the 2014 team and Tripp has been impressed with the focus on academics she has seen from Diaco and his staff.

"I think with Coach Diaco and his coaches, I am excited they are here because they come from really good academic institutions and have been really supportive," Tripp said. "Their message has been academics first which is really great and to have that from the top down, we are really lucky."

Considering that the men's basketball team was ineligible for last year's NCAA tournament due to poor academic performance, Tripp was especially thrilled to see eight members of that program among those honored for academic achievement.

"The men’s basketball team, it was great to see them coming out," Tripp said. "We have had such great academic success with them in the last year and the last semester which is really wonderful."

There were 17 student-athletes who attained a 4.0 GPA in either the spring or fall semester and those students were given an additional moment to be in the spotlight.

"I am in awe of them because I don’t know how they do it with such challenging majors and many of them are so elite in their various sports as well, they are so dedicated and I think it is really special," Tripp said. "I think it is great for students to be honored in a public venue where the stereotypes that are out there about student-athletes can be debunked."

Here is the list of football players who were honored. Players in bold have eligibility remaining.

Kyle Bockeloh, OL
John Luke Bogue, WR
Tyler Bullock, OL
Jeremy Claflin, DB
Casey Cochran, QB
Gus Cruz, OL
Chris DeBerry, WR
Max DeLorenzo, RB
Michael Ecke, QB
Kevin Friend, OT
Dalton Gifford, OT
Steve Greene, OG
Frank Guardi, WR
Alex Haendler, LB
Tom Hopkins, OL
Jonathan Hryniewicz, WR
Byron Jones, CB
Andreas Knappe, DL
Richard Levy, OL
Dominick Manco, LS
Ellis Marder, DB
Sean Marinan,DL
Josh Marriner, RB
Alex Mateas, C
Obi Melifonwu, S
Adam Mueller, LS
Tommy Myers, TE
Bobby Puyol, K
Zach Rugg, OL
Kyle Schafenacker, OL
Tony Tully, WR
Justin Wain, P
Chandler Whitmer, QB

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Strong academic showing for UConn

UConn's top scholar-athletes were recognized during a pregame ceremony at the UConn/SMU women's basketball game with the honorees needing a 3.0 GPA in either the spring or fall semester to be recognized.

There were 33 members of the football team recognized including 10 who started games and 28 expected to be members of 2014 squad.

Here is the list

Kyle Bockeloh, OL
John Luke Bogue, WR
Tyler Bullock, OL
Jeremy Claflin, DB
Casey Cochran, QB
Gus Cruz, OL
Chris DeBerry, WR
Max DeLorenzo, RB
Michael Ecke, QB
Kevin Friend, OT
Dalton Gifford, OT
Steve Greene, OG
Frank Guardi, WR
Alex Haendler, LB
Tom Hopkins, OL
Jonathan Hryniewicz, WR
Byron Jones, CB
Andreas Knappe, DL
Richard Levy, OL
Dominick Manco, LS
Ellis Marder, DB
Sean Marinan,DL
Josh Marriner, RB
Alex Mateas, C
Obi Melifonwu, S
Adam Mueller, LS
Tommy Myers, TE
Bobby Puyol, K
Zach Rugg, OL
Kyle Schafenacker, OL
Tony Tully, WR
Justin Wain, P
Chandler Whitmer, QB

Signing day meet and greet postponed

The scheduled meet and greet between fans and the UConn coaching staff tomorrow has been postponed due to the threat of inclement weather. Here is the release from UConn

Due to the forecast of inclement weather, Wednesday’s UConn Football Signing Day event at Rentschler Field has been cancelled. Fans can still follow the latest news of the day at UConn fans will be able to meet the new football coaching staff at a special meet and greet on Saturday, March 1 at the UConn Club Auction at the XL Center. The auction will be held on Saturday morning prior to the UConn vs. Cincinnati men’s basketball game at noon. No game ticket will be required for the auction and meet and greet.

As of now UConn coach Bob Diaco is set to have a conference call with the media to discuss the class tomorrow afternoon. Of course with so many letter signings taking place in high schools and many schools likely to be canceled due to the winter storm, we'll see if all the letters arrive in the UConn football office.Diaco can't discuss recruits unless he has the letter of intent in hand.

Here is the list of known commitments to date:

James Atkins, OT/DE   6-5 255 Blair Academy
Alec Bloom TE             6-7 242 Ligonier (Pa.) Valley HS
Luke Carrezola, TE/DE 6-3 242 Neshaminy (Pa.) HS
Ryan Crozier, OT          6-4 295 St. Thomas Aquinas (FL)
Vontae Diggs, LB          6-4 200 Downers Grove (Ill.) North
Steve Hashemi, OT       6-6 265 St. Joseph
Ron Johnson, RB          5-11 210 Palmetto Ridge (FL)
Sheriden Lawley, DT    6-5  265 Lawrenceville (N.J.)
Brice McAllister, RB    5-11 195 Suffield Academy
Arkeel Newsome, RB  5-7   177 Ansonia
Daniel Oak, OG         6-3   265 Fort Myers (FL)
Tom Rodrick, LB        6-3   235 Leicester (Mass.)
Trey Rutherford, OT     6-5 290 Kent
Anthony Watkins, WR  6-1  185 Lawrenceville

Chris Britton, LB        6-3  235  Harrisburg (Pa.)
Jamar Summers, DB   6-0  175 Orange (N.J.)/Milford Academy

Monday, February 03, 2014

Bradford won't be signing with UConn on Wednesday

UConn already lost one commitment due to academic issues when St. Paul quarterback Logan Marchi was denied admission into the university. Now comes word that Timber Creek (N.J.) offensive lineman Lamont Bradford will not be signing with the Huskies during Wednesday's national signing day.

Timber Creek coach Rob Hinson confirmed to me via email today that Bradford will not be signing on Wednesday, the first day that recruits can officially sign national letters of intent and like Marchi will be pursuing other options. Bradford signed with Delaware State on Wednesday.

If there is a silver lining it is that UConn coach Bob Diaco certainly has addressed the offensive line position since he was hired as five of the eight known commitments under his watch are linemen (including Lawrenceville School defensive lineman Sheriden Lawley). St. Joseph OT Steve Hashemi was the first player to commit to UConn with Diaco at the helm and over the weekend Blair (N.J.) Academy OT James Atkins, St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) High OG Ryan Crozier and Fort Myers (Fla.) OG Daniel Oak committed to UConn. I was able to confirm through Kent School coach Todd Marble that offensive tackle Trey Rutherford is planning to sign with UConn on Wednesday meaning that the Huskies will sign a minimum of five offensive linemen although I have seen Atkins listed as a defensive end by some recruiting services so we'll have to see which side of the ball he ends up on.

It's been an interesting recruiting year for UConn. By my count there were 13 players committed to UConn when Paul Pasqualoni was fired including mid-year enrollees Chris Britton and Jamar Summers but five of them won't be a part of the class.

The Milford Academy duo of Jordan Fuchs and Chasz Wright had interesting roads to their current schools. Both signed with UConn a year ago but took a postgraduate year at Milford Academy (Fuchs for an addition year of development as a tight end after playing just two years of high school football and Wright due to academics). Fuchs originally decommitted, committed to Rutgers before signing with Indiana where he is currently enrolled. Wright decommitted, became a Temple pledge before signing with Penn State as a mid-year enrollee. Quarterback Justin Noye out of Rochester, N.Y. decommitted and signed with Old Dominion.

The good news is it seems like UConn is in good shape with the other players who committed to UConn which Pasqualoni was in charge of the recruiting. Ansonia High's record-breaking running back Arkeel Newsome will sign with the Huskies Wednesday morning, Ligonier (Pa.) Valley tight end Alec Bloom will sign with UConn around 7 a.m. and then take part in a press conference with the local media that afternoon and Rutherford will also be signing. In an email from Suffield Academy coach Drew Gamere, running back Brice McAllister will sign his letter at a ceremony at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning while tight end/defensive end Luke Carrezola  and linebacker Tom Rodrick will also sign with UConn tomorrow.

Haul of offensive line commits continues at UConn

A day after word came out that Blair Academy offensive tackle James Atkins and St. Thomas Aquinas guard Ryan Crozier committed to UConn following official visits I can report that Fort Myers (Fla.) offensive guard Daniel Oak has also become a Connecticut commit.

Veteran Fort Myers coach Sammy Sirianni confirmed the commitment to me a few minutes ago.

Siranni, who has been at Ft. Myers for nearly three decades and had sent players to Florida State and Miami and had four Division I signees in 2013 said that Oak is on a short list of the best players he has ever coached and had he been 6-5 instead of 6-3 he would have been drawing more interest from the premier programs.

Oak was a three-year starter at Ft. Myers. He saw some work as a weak-side tackle as a sophomore before he was moved inside to guard. Sirianni said in the Fort Myers offense, guards are expected to pull on a regular basis and his athleticism made him a natural pulling guard. Sirianni also said that UConn is projecting him to play center and he was the emergency center at Fort Myers, although he was never asked to play the position in a game.

Oak also has a 4.9 GPA and drew interest from Ivy League schools. He also has ties to Connecticut as his father used to live in Fairfield and he still has relatives on his father's side of the family who live in Connecticut.

Sirianni reached out to UConn coach Bob Diaco to tell him about Oak who was drawing interest from Florida International and Florida Atlantic. Wake Forest was a school that showed some interest but a coaching change left his status in limbo. Before making his trip to UConn was leaning towards committing to Toledo. Diaco went down to Florida last Monday, invited Oak on a visit that weekend and offered him a scholarship.

"He's going to be a really good player for them," Sirianni said. "It was a perfect storm. I have known Coach Diaco for more than 20 years, going back to his days at Eastern Michigan and I know he is in good hands."

Oak played basketball for a couple of years at Fort Myers and is also a standout in the shot put and discus for the track team. He will sign his letter of intent around 7 a.m. on Wednesday at the school before faxing it over to UConn before taking part in a press conference with the local media after school.

He joined Crozier as members of the Florida 7A second team All-State team.

Since Diaco was hired UConn has eight known commitments and five of them are offensive or defensive linemen as Atkins, Crozier and Oak and joined  by St. Joseph OT Steve Hashemi and Lawrenceville School defensive tackle Sheriden Lawley.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

UConn adds two offensive linemen to recruiting class

As I previously mentioned in this blog, the new UConn staff has obviously identified the offensive line as a recruiting position of need.

The Huskies added two more linemen to the growing list as St. Thomas Aquinas' Ryan Crozier and James Atkins of Blair Academy both committed today.

It is the second straight year an offensive lineman from the powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas program has committed to UConn.

While Kyle Schafenacker, who redshirted during the 2013 season, was an early commit who considered other options late before signing with the Huskies, Ryan Crozier committed after a late push by the UConn coaching staff.

The 6-foot-4, 297-pound Crozier announced his decision on his Twitter account.

So blessed to announce that I am officially committed to play football at UConn! #GoHuskies

Atkins also went the Twitter route for announcing his commitment

I'm officially a uconn husky !!!!!!🐶🐶🐶🐶🐶

Atkins, who is originally from Revere, Mass., is listed as a 6-foot-5, 253-pound offensive tackle and defensive end as he led Blair to a 6-2 victory.

They become the third and fourth linemen to commit to UConn since Bob Diaco took over as the head coach. St. Joseph offensive tackle Steve Hashemi, a Shelton native, was the first commitment of the Diaco regime and Lawrenceville (N.J.) School defensive tackle Sheriden Lawley also committed after the first weekend that Diaco and his staff hosted recruits.

UConn will host its annual "pro timing day" with the seniors on the 2013 team working out for the assembled NFL scouts on March 11.

Linebacker Yawin Smallwood, who announced that he will turn pro despite having another season of eligibility, and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen are expected to be drafted while defensive end Jesse Joseph and offensive linemen Jimmy Bennett and Steve Greene are top pro hopefuls.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Major honor for one UConn commit, decisions to be made for another

As was previously mentioned on this blog, record-breaking UConn commit Arkeel Newsome was named to the Parade Magazine All-American team.

Newsome, who ran for 3,867 and scored 68 touchdowns as a senior to lead Ansonia High to its third straight state title, was joined on the first team by LSU commit Leonard Fournette and North Carolina commit Elijah Hood.

Also, I ran across an interesting give and take on Twitter between UConn commit Logan Marchi, a quarterback out of St. Paul High School, and John Holt of WFSB. Holt was merely inquiring about when and where Marchi would be signing his letter on intent on Wednesday

"I won't be signing on wednesday to Uconn" and "right now just exploring my options."

He told the Bristol Press that it was "more of an admissions thing" which would prevent him from being able to sign his national letter of intent with UConn.

Although national signing day is on Feb. 5, players have until Apr. 1 to sign so he does have time to iron out these admission issues if he wants to still sign with UConn. He obviously has the option of heading to prep school which would give him another year to develop as a quarterback while taking care of the eligibility issues.

With Casey Cochran and Tim Boyle back after each starting four games as freshmen and Kivon Taylor redshirting as a true freshman, bringing in a quarterback in the incoming freshman class is not as much of a priority as some other positions.

It is going to be interesting come Wednesday to see how many of the players who committed while Paul Pasqualoni was the head coach are welcomed by the new staff. Head coach Bob Diaco said he would honor all previous commitments but that doesn't mean that he is as high on them as the previous regime.

Stay tuned.

Former UConn assistant feels right at home in Cincinnati

In the "it's a small world department" I finished with my breakfast in a downtown Cincinnati hotel this morning when I walked into the lobby and one of the first people I saw was former UConn defensive coordinator Hank Hughes.

Hughes spent the last 13 seasons at UConn and had a pair of stints as UConn's defensive coordinator. However, he was not retained by new UConn coach Bob Diaco and it didn't take long for Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville to hire Hughes as Cincinnati's defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator. Hughes spent the 1993 season coaching the defensive line for the Bearcats so there is a sense of familiarity for him in his new gig.

"I am excited about the opportunity to be here," Hughes said. "It is kind of like coming back home for my family. My wife is from this area, she is from the Northern Kentucky area and I met her here 20 years, this is where we got married so there is a little bit of personal touch there above and beyond the professional side."

Hughes helped UConn play in five bowl games during his time with the Huskies and obviously he has mixed emotions about leaving Connecticut while landing on his feet in Cincinnati.

"I was there a long time, Hughes said. "It was hard to leave it but it is easy to come to Cincinnati that is a very easy move to come here. That is not a hard decision to make but it is always tough to leave a place you have been 13 years, you have a lot of friends, a lot of ties, people that you are close to and you have invested a lot so it is always hard to leave a place you’ve been. When you feel like you are going to a great place, it is easy to go to that place."

So what will he remember the most from his 13 years coaching at UConn?

"To me this is a people-based business and it is the people," Hughes said. "I met a lot of great people, I have a lot of great friends there. They will remain great people and will remain great friends so that will last a lifetime. You will run into somebody 20 years later and it is like yesterday and I have that relationship with them and I have enjoyed that."  

Hughes hit the ground running in terms of recruiting. In fact when I left him in the lobby, he was about to check in with one of the players he is recruiting. Next up will come the process of preparing for spring practice and getting to work for Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville.

"It's a great opportunity," Hughes said. "I know some of the guys here, I know some of the guys who were here before when I was here (in 1993) some are back and some are still here. The chance to work with Coach Tuberville, it is a great opportunity and he has a great defensive background and a great head-coaching background."

Finally, with Cincinnati playing at UConn during the 2014 season, Hughes will be coaching at Rentschler Field again but he downplayed the extra emotions that he will be dealing with on that day or night.

"In this business after a while a game becomes a game and it becomes more about what you are doing, what your team is doing than it does about what the other team is doing or where you’ve been," Hughes said. "It will mean zero to these guys here, the fact that I coached there won’t mean anything to those players so other than having been there 13 years that is not going to be a big factor."


Illinois LB commits to UConn

According to his Twitter account,Downers Grove (Ill.)  linebacker Vontae Diggs has committed to UConn.

☆☆TheSavage5☆☆ @VDiggs5
This was by far the toughest decision I have ever made. With that said, I am now a member of the UConn family

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Diggs is the fifth known commit since the hiring of Bob Diaco as the head coach at UConn. He visited campus last weekend  He also becomes the third linebacker among the 15 UConn commitments joining Chris Britton out of Harrisburg, Pa., who originally signed with the Huskies in 2013 before having his enrollment delayed and is now enrolled at UConn, and Leicester (Mass.) High's Tom Rodrick.

Diggs has had an interesting recruiting process as he originally committed to Toledo before flipping to Ball State in early January.

Also, according to the Army site on, offensive tackle Trey Ratliff confirmed his commitment to Army. Ratliff took a visit to UConn last weekend and was offered a scholarship by UConn.

The UConn recruiting class will become official at a press conference on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.

A recruiting source confirmed that the UConn staff reached out to Hamden Hall quarterback T.J. Linta, who threw for 56 touchdowns as a senior, but he is remaining firm in his commitment to Brown.

Also, St. Thomas Aquinas offensive lineman Ryan Crozier was expected to take an official visit to UConn this weekend.

Last but most certainly not least, yesterday was a special day for UConn commit Arkeel Newsome as he was in New York for a ceremony in honor of the record-breaking Ansonia High running back being named to the Parade All-American team. Check out the link for some photos of Newsome at the event provided to us by Ansonia coach Tom Brockett. The team will be officially released in Sunday's Parade Magazine.