New Haven area stars Newsome, Walsh shine in UConn's win over Army
When Walsh was piling up nearly 300 tackles in his final two seasons at Hand High in Madison, he was hoping to follow in the footsteps of players like Danny Lansanah, Alfred Fincher, Sio Moore and Yawin Smallwood as a linebacker in the middle of the UConn defense. Newsome, who set pretty much every state record for rushing yards and touchdown scoring, wanted to be the player asked to add some punch to an offensive-challenged UConn program.
On Saturday afternoon, those dreams came true in the Huskies’ 22-17 win over Army.
Walsh, who played regularly as a fullback in his first two seasons, was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time since he was switched over to his natural linebacker position. Walsh had four tackles, including one tackle for loss and drew an illegal block in the back penalty as UConn opened the season with two straight wins for the first time since the 2008 season.
“I wasn’t anxious or nervous because I got a lot of playing time last week against Villanova so that kind of helped me settle in, get more comfortable playing linebacker at this level,” Walsh said. “We were very prepared, we knew everything. Coach (Bob) Diaco, Coach (Anthony) Poindexter, Coach (Vincent) Brown did a great job of preparing us.
“Every week you prepare like a starter, when you get your chance you don’t treat it any different. It is the same thing as people always say that practice makes perfect, obviously we were far from perfect, the more practice we got, the more looks we got from them then we were able to figure them out a little bit more.”
Diaco made it clear that Walsh starting ahead of two-time team captain and 2014 leading tackler Marquise Vann was simply a case of putting together a personnel grouping best suited to deal with Army’s triple-option offense and not a sign that Vann lost his job to Walsh.
“It is never like a competition of who is starting,” Walsh said. “It was just what was going to work best against that team and it was to pair Junior (Joseph) and Marquise on the inside and me on the outside.”
Speaking of inside/outside pairings, the feeling was that the bruising Ron Johnson would handle most of the running duties between the tackles while the electrifying Newsome would be used out in the open space.
However, after Army had pulled within five points with 4:51 to play, it was Newsome who was sent onto the field to help UConn try to run out the clock. Three physical runs accounted for 22 yards and a first down. He was a little slow getting up on the final carry so he was replaced by Johnson. While Johnson was stuffed on a 3rd and 1 play, the fact is that Newsome found himself trusted with the ball with the game on the line which is something that didn’t happen often as a freshman especially after he had some fumbling issues during his true freshman season.
“It means a lot, we came a long way because last year I don’t think they would have (given him carries in crunch time),” Newsome said after rushing for a team-high 73 yards. “It is a great feeling that they trusted me to hold onto it.
“It definitely boosted my confidence a lot.”
Newsome has three career receiving touchdowns at UConn including one in a season-opening victory over Villanova but his 10-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was his first as a Husky as he followed blocks by guard Tommy Hopkins and tight end Tommy Myers and wriggled away from Army’s Alex Aukerman, who grabbed Newsome’s jersey around the 5.
“It was great,” said Newsome, who ran for a state record 172 touchdowns in four seasons at Ansonia High. “I just kept striving and kept the mindset that I was going to get in the end zone.”