Monday, March 23, 2015

Walsh making an impact at linebacker for UConn

It certainly hasn't taken former Hand High star Matt Walsh to make his presence felt at linebacker.

Walsh was an All-State linebacker at Hand but when he came to UConn, he was moved to fullback. A team-first player like Walsh gave everything he had to become the best fullback possible but anybody who watched his search and destroy missions when he covered kicks for the Huskies must have figured he was playing out of position.

The UConn coaches certainly picked up on that because they moved him from fullback to linebacker during the offseason. Today was the fifth spring practice and during the 11 on 11 portion of practice that the media was able to see, Walsh was already firmly in place at inside linebacker with the second team.

Today also happened to be the first day we had access to the players and Walsh was among the players I requested to speak to. However, due to a tight scheduling window since today was the first day of classes after spring break. he had only six minutes with the players and tight end Sean McQuillan, tackle Andreas Knappe, safety Andrew Adams and linebacker Graham Stewart were the only players brought in for interviews.

Although I could not speak to Walsh about the transition, others were more than happy to talk about his move to linebacker.

"He is a linebacker more than he was a fullback," Stewart said. "He looks really fluid. he is all here and he is open to absorbing all the information and learning it fast.

"You can't teach the physical part of it, you can teach all the mental parts and nuances so he should be good."

Diaco, who takes an active role in coaching the linebackers, first referred to Walsh's move to linebacker as an experiment meaning that he could move back to offense if it didn't work out. Well, I don't think you have to worry about that happening.

"I'm really pleased," Diaco said. "You hear the rumblings, you follow his high school career, you come here and he is at fullback. You look at that for a year and it is like 'you know what, let's just take a look at this.' It really does look like his natural position (is linebacker) so without knowing too much about the defense, he did some things each day that gives you hope and makes you believe he is at the right spot."

Speaking of former Hand High stars, Diaco also raved about walk-on defensive back Nick Vitale.

"Nick Vitale, I could go on forever about these guys. Nick's got a medical issue, he plays the whole season, never takes himself out, quietly goes about his business," Diaco said. "It wasn't a little thing, it was a big thing and then the season ended, quietly two weeks later he went and addressed it over break. He hasn't missed a meeting or practice, hasn't talked about it. doesn't want us to talk about it or tell the team about it. You see a guy like that who loves Connecticut, he loves the state of Connecticut, he loves the University of Connecticut. We are putting those guys out front. JJ Bivona (a walk-on safety who played at Bunnell) addressed the group today, same thing how much he loves Connecticut, how honored he is to serve UConn, that is what these guys bring to the team. They bring the extra heartbeat that is necessary."

Another walk-on drawing praise from Diaco was former Xavier High star Sean Marinan.

"He (Marinan) is a great teammate, son of a coach so he is a great teammate, he has the right answers, he knows what to do in the locker room," Diaco said. "There are a lot of things that he adds before we even get on the field. On the field, he is a battler. He is a fighter, a scrapper, demonstrative. He plays one of our greatest roles, he is the middle shield on the punt team which as the middle shield, you run the punt team, you are the quarterback of the punt team. He is a field general doing
that job, he embraces that, he loves it."

Health wise UConn looks to be in good shape. As he did in the opening spring practice, safety Obi Melifonwu was wearing a yellow (injury) jersey since he is coming off shoulder surgery. Melifonwu is still out there doing most of the drills.

"He is doing everything except cutting it loose from a live situation," Diaco said. "Controlled drills where he could attack the ball in the air and defend the ball in the air, all of those drills. It is when we start to articulate 11 on 11 is why he has that jersey on and it is so he can participate full speed and not worry if he is going to have contact. He's 100 percent."


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