Wednesday, August 26, 2015

UConn's Campenni had a day to remember

Media day is in the books and not too much news of the earth-shattering variety came out of the day.

The captains were linebacker Marquise Vann (the only 2014 captain returning this season), offensive tackle Andreas Knappe, safety Andrew Adams and defensive lineman Julian Campenni.

I'm not really surprised by any of the picks. I thought there was a chance of a second offensive player being named a captain and perhaps junior receiver Noel Thomas could have been that player.

Campenni, who might have been UConn's most consistently efficient player a season ago, reminds me so much of former captain Shamar Stephen.

People around the program were aware of what Stephen brought to the table heading into his senior season but not many outside of the program seemed to be as aware of his talents as they should have. The same could be said for Campenni who was fourth on the 2014 squad in tackles for loss but likely first in number of blockers he occupied and number of opposing center he tormented.

Stephen went from relative unknown to NFL prospect and then was one of the better rookie defensive linemen in the NFL a season ago after being drafted in the seventh round by the Minnesota Vikings. While I'm not sure if Campenni/s lack of height will scare off NFL scouts, I believe he is primed for a special senior season.

The naming of the captains was done on Wednesday which also happened to be Campenni's 22nd birthday making it a rather memorable day all around.

"I am very happy to hear that they named me one of the four captains," Campenni said. "I am honored to have that. I love every guy in there so."

When I mentioned to Campenni that he is a bit quiet especially compared to fellow captain Vann, he got a good chuckle admitting that in comparison to somebody like Vann, he would be considered to be on a quiet side.

"I guess I am quiet, yes I am more of the behind the scenes guy," Campenni said.

He was not quiet, however, in stating his expectations for the defensive unit returning 10 of its top 12 tacklers as he believes it has the potential to be among the best units in the country.

"I think there is a lot of excitement about our team and we have to go out there and get some wins," Campenni said. "I think the Rent is going to be rocking this year

"That is what you want to aim for, you want to aim to be the best. A lot of the older guys like Andrew (Adams), Junior (Lee), Marquise (Lee), we were two defense that were top five in the country so we know what it takes. Every guy on the team that is what we are working for."

There's plenty of experience on the defense led by seniors Campenni, Vann and Adams as well as classmates Kenton Adeyemi and Graham Stewart as well as junior Obi Melifonwu. However, for this to be an elite defense, it will be imperative that a talented group of sophomores hit the ground running. Linebacker/defensive end Luke Carrezola has been rather impressive at the practices/scrimmages the media was able to watch while defensive lineman Foley Fatukasi drew incredible praise from defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter today.

"Foley has as much skill as any guy I have been around as a defensive lineman," Poindexter said. "When he's got it going, he is going to be hard to block. He is a young player so he has a learn to do it on a down by down basis but he has as much skill as anybody we are going to play so we are excited about that."

Just as a frame of reference, 14 players from the University of Virginia were taken in the NFL draft when Poindexter was a star safety from 1994-98 and another 32 selected during his time on the Virginia coaching staff from 2003-13. That list includes defensive linemen Chris Canty and Chris Long.

Poindexter also talked up Carrezola, who could add some pass rush off the right side that has been lacking since the graduation of Trevardo Williams.

"Luke, he is in the right spot, he knows how to play the defense, he is big, a lot stronger," Poindexter said. "I am very excited about him. He got to play a little last year, he got nicked up towards the end of the season but he got that game experience. We are excited about what he is able to do this year."

Campenni also had plenty of praise for the two talented sophomores.

"You look at him (Carrezola) from last year to this year, he really transformed himself so it is going to be exciting," Campenni said.

"He (Fatukasi) is a monster, he is strong, he is quick and he is what you would want. If I could pick who I could be like, I would like to be like Foley. He kind of has the whole package. He has, including this year, three more years and it is going to be scary in these next three years what he is going to start doing. He is a great player. Since I got here, he has always been kind of a physical freak but he is just starting to get better and better in practice. He played well last year, he got better in the spring, he got better this camp so he is just getting better every day."

Other sophomores expected to make a major impact on the defense are linebacker Junior Joseph, defensive ends Cole Ormsby and Cam Stapleton and cornerback Jamar Summers.

I asked defensive line coach Kevin Wolthausen specifically about Ormsby, who led the team in sacks as a redshirt freshman.

"Cole has done everything we have asked him to do," Wolthausen said. "He does all the same techniques for stopping the run, he is very explosive, has hand speed and just happens to be one of our better pass rushers but that is not all that he can do."

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