Monday, December 28, 2015

Three UConn commits to be honored by Walter Camp Football Foundation

UConn football commits Tyler Coyle of Windsor, Keyion Dixon of Glastonbury and Jasen Rose of Southington are among 27 high school players from Connecticut who will take part in the Walter Camp Football Foundation's ninth annual High School Breakfast of Champions on Jan. 16 at 9 a.m. at The Omni New Haven Hotel in New Haven.

Coyle, Dixon and Rose will be honored along with 22 other players who were named to the Walter Camp All-Connecticut team while Kingswood-Oxford lineman Koby Quansah and Hamden Hall running back/linebacker Matt Murchison will also be recognized.

Rose, New Canaan quarterback Michael Collins and Darien defensive lineman Mark Evanchick are also finalists for Walter Camp's Connecticut player of the year award.

Here is the All-Connecticut team

OFFENSEQB:  Michael Collins (New Canaan)
RB: Michael Montano (North Haven), Tajik Bagley (Ansonia)
WR: Nico Ragaini (Notre Dame-West Haven), Xavier Bass (Harding)
TE: Jeremy Imperati (North Haven)
OL: Kevin Lawrence (Xavier), Andrew Stueber (Darien), Connor Mignone (Joel Barlow), Lucas Niang (New Canaan)
C:  Jackson Ward (Staples)

LB: Ben Mason (Newtown), Teddy Allmendinger (Avon), Robert Drysdale (Brookfield)
DB: Tyler Bailey (Ansonia), Keyion Dixon (Glastonbury), Robert Trifone (Darien), Tyler Coyle (Windsor)
DL: CJ Falcioni (Seymour), Kahari Scarlett (Bloomfield), Mark Evanchick (Darien), Cameron Ryan (St. Joseph)

PK:  Dane Borges (Brookfield)
P:  Luke Saccone (Ledyard)
KR:  Jasen Rose (Southington)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

An early look at 2016 UConn squad

It wasn't the ending that the UConn players, especially the seniors, would have scripted with a rather meek offensive effort and the defense allowing Marshall to run off five drives of at least 10 players. Still, in a year's time things certainly appear to have changed for the better.

Just think about the way Bob Diaco's first season ended. A loss to previously winless SMU was the final blow in a 2-10 season. There was no bowl game to prepare for, no extra month of practice to aid in the development of young and experienced players alike.

So much of what was right and wrong with the 2015 UConn team was on display in the 16-10 loss to Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Bryant Shirreffs was back to bring a physicality to the quarterback position but also was a little off on a couple of his throws as one pass was intercepted and another one should have been. Arkeel Newsome grabbed five more passes giving his 45 during his sophomore season but 14 touches produced just 65 yards. Defensively, Jamar Summers had a brilliant interception to finish his sophomore season with eight but there were missed tackles and poor coverage resulted in the lone Marshall touchdown. On special teams, Bobby Puyol booted a UConn bowl record 52-yard field goal and had two touchbacks on three kickoffs while Justin Wain averaged 43 yards on five punts including a 53-yard effort but a short punt by Wain combined with poor coverage resulted in Marshall starting its only TD scoring drive at the UConn 20.

A total of 13 seniors including leading tackler Andrew Adams, fellow defensive starters Kenton Adeyemi, Julian Campenni, Graham Stewart and Marquise Vann will be graduating. Underrated long snapper Dom Manco is also moving on and if there was an errant snap from him this season, I don't recall it. On offense, Tyler Samra and Max DeLorenzo were the main contributors although their roles were minimal ones in the bowl game. Here's a position by position look at next year's team

QUARTERBACK: Bryant Shirreffs joins Matt DeGennaro and Dan Orlovsky as the only UConn quarterbacks to throw for at least 2,000 yards, complete 60 percent of his passes with more touchdown passes than interceptions. He added 503 rushing yards and grew into a leadership role as the season wore on. Considering that he hadn't starting a collegiate game coming into the season, I thought he did a pretty solid job but I expect him to take the next step in decision making and not be so quick to take off and run on designed pass plays. The battle for second-string QB could be interesting. In the three practices I saw in Florida, Garrett Anderson was seeing more time with a second-team offense than Tim Boyle so I am curious to see how that shakes out. Anderson is a closer fit to the dual-threat quarterback that Shirreffs is. I didn't really get to see much from Tyler Davis during his redshirt season so we'll see how he looks when spring practice rolls around.
RUNNING BACK: Arkeel Newsome's team-leading 792 rushing yards might not jump out at anybody but factor in his 4.3 yard per carry, 45 receptions and 429 yards on kickoff returns and it was a pretty strong sophomore showing for the former Ansonia High star. It was a strange season for sophomore Ron Johnson who had 54 carries in the first three games of the season but 24 the rest of the game. Johnson had 62 carries in UConn's wins and 26 in losses. UConn needs to find a way to get both Newsome and Johnson involved next season. I don't know what to make of the usage of Josh Marriner. When last season began I believed he was going to be UConn's featured back yet he had a total of 31 rushing yards and another 71 on eight catches. I would expect more tight ends to fill the fullback/h-back roles next year so I'm not sure where that leaves Marriner.
Tyraiq Beals finished with  24 catches, the most for a
 UConn freshman since Kashif Moore in 2008
WIDE RECEIVER: Being held without a catch was a difficult end to a brilliant junior season for Noel Thomas. Not only did Thomas have 54 catches but he did it for most of the season when the other receivers were barely involved in the passing game which is no easy feat. With 16 catches in his first five games and 21 in the first eight games, Tyraiq Beals appeared headed to a special freshman season. Yet, he managed a total of three receptions in the last five games. I hope the UConn coaches take a look at how Marshall moved Deandre Reaves around to get him to open areas and increases Beals' role in the offense because he can make an impact. After watching three practices in Florida I was convinced that Aaron McLean was going to have a huge game but he didn't even catch a pass. Hergy Mayala did catch one and his 15-yard reception with 1:37 left to play was the first by a UConn receiver in the game and you just can't expect to win games ignoring your wide receivers especially against a Marshall defense that allowed opponents to throw for 300 yards on three occasions. A pair of redshirts (Frank Battle and Bryan Coney) could figure into the mix as well. I'm not really sure where Brian Lemelle or Thomas Lucas will fit with so many younger receivers getting the opportunity to play. There's talent at the receiving position and now it is time for the coaching staff to better utilize it.
TIGHT END: The 16 catches by sophomore Tommy Myers might not seem like much but when you consider how many players the Huskies rolled out there to try to fill in for Myers is an indication of how valuable he was. Alec Bloom had some issues with drops but he did not have any trouble getting open so if he can become a more sure-handed target, UConn could have quite the dynamic 1-2 punch at the position. Chris Lee, Zordan Holman and Dallas Parker as well as transfer (and UConn Look Team Player of the Year) Billy Williams gives UConn plenty of options at tight end/h-back/fullback. Ian Campbell spent the season redshirting so he is another possibility.
OFFENSIVE LINE: This was my fourth season as a primary beat writer for UConn and it is the fourth year in a row that improvement on the offensive line is a point of emphasis heading into the offseason. The good news is that there are some young players who appear ready to make a push for time and/or starting roles. Ryan Crozier might have been UConn's best offensive lineman in the last few games of the 2014 season when he was a true freshman. He missed the entire season due to injury and he was certainly missed. Whether it is at guard or center, Crozier's return will bolster the interior of the offensive line. I was incredibly impressed with the role Crozier took in helping first-time starters Brendan Vechery and Tommy Hopkins (who may have outplayed the three returning starters). With that trio of Trey Rutherford, who started against Marshall, there are four solid candidates for three starting positions in the interior while players like Steve Hashemi and Dan Oak drew plenty of praise from their coaches as well while Kyle Bockeloh was also a regular member of the second team offensive line. The play of tackles Richard Levy and Andreas Knappe needs to get better, much, much better. I've heard great things about Matt Peart, who redshirted this season and if he is as good as advertised I would say that he should start next season unless Levy and Knappe get significantly better. I'll take it a step further and say that Rutherford, who played some tackle as well as guard, should also be allowed to compete for a starting tackle spot. UConn has difference makers at the skill positions and it is time for the line to take things to the next level. Levy and Knappe would be third year starters in '16 and they need to play like that. The time for silly pre-snap penalties or letting defenders come unblocked to light up Shirreffs or Newsome is over. If UConn is to make that next step as a program, this is the unit that needs to get it there.
Luke Carrezola, Mikal Myers and  Cole Ormsby figure to play
pivotal roles on a UConn defense losing five starters to graduation
DEFENSIVE LINE: Certainly UConn will miss the physical presence that Campenni and Adeyemi brought but Mikal Myers should be able to step into Campenni's spot and Cole Ormsby seems ready to be a starter at defensive end.  Foley Fatukasi will be one of the cornerstones of UConn's defense after leading the team in sacks as a sophomore. I'm anxious to see what David Ryslik can do. Like Peart, he was already working with the second team at the first practice the media was allowed to watch during preseason camp but the coaching staff wisely redshirted him. James Atkins and Sheriden Lawley got some playing time this season especially after Ormsby was lost for the season. UConn likes to rotate six or seven defensive linemen so they could see increased time next season along with Sean Marinan. This was a position where the staff allowed for a season of development so we'll see how Kevin Murphy, Felton Blackwell and Philippe Okounam figure into the rotation.
LINEBACKERS: Junior Joseph has already proven to be a productive player in the middle of UConn's defense and he should only get better and Luke Carrezola is another rising star. That's a pretty good duo to build around. The Huskies will miss Vann and Stewart. Stewart led the team in tackles for loss and in the last four or five games really took things to a different level. Matt Walsh saw a ton of work when he came into games for Vann and I don't anticipate any dip in production. You would think that Florida State transfer E.J. Levenberry would be a natural to plug into Stewart's spot but Vontae Diggs, Cam Stapleton and Jon Hicks could also compete for a starting spot. It seemed to me like Omaine Stephens saw more snaps in the bowl game than any game I can remember. Maybe Connor Freeborn, William Richardson and Nazir Williams will push for time after redshirting while Chris Britton and Jalen Stevens have been with the program for a couple of years so we'll see what sort of roles they have in '16.
SECONDARY: I'm not sure there are too many cornerback tandems around who will be much better than Jhavon Williams and Jamar Summers and at safety Obi Melifonwu made tremendous strides in pass coverage after being targeted early and often in the latter stages of the 2014 season with less than stellar results. The loss of Adams, however, is going to leave a huge hole in the defense especially since the top reserve safety is also graduating in Junior Lee. Perhaps they look to reserves Ellis Marder or Anthony Watkins to move into a starting role but maybe Marche' Terry is ready after a redshirt season. It would be something else to see the 6-3 Melifonwu and 6-4 Terry lining up side by side. UConn has plenty of depth at cornerback so could a Javon Hadley, John Green or Brice McAllister move to safety? Aaron Garland and John Robinson were noticeable during practices as they redshirted. This is just me talking as I've never even heard of this as a possibility, but if Lucas is going to be buried on the depth chart at receiver, perhaps a move to safety would benefit him and the team.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The biggest loss will be long snapper Dom Manco. The best thing you can say about him is you never noticed him. There were few if any errant snaps that I can recall so we'll see who handles that job. Bobby Puyol capped a brilliant season with a 52-yard field goal and Justin Wain began the season strong as he averaged more than 40 yards per punt in four of the first five games. There's more to punting than the yard per kick number and opponents had just 71 return yards so he has done a solid job of directional punting. It is one area that hasn't gotten much attention since Diaco's arrival but from 2011-13 opponents had 625 punt return yards in 36 games and over the last two seasons it has dropped to 177 yards in 25 games. Newsome and Marriner, the primary kickoff returners, are back as are punt returners Lemelle and Nick Vitale. UConn ranked last nationally in punt return yards but that falls on Diaco's shoulders as he instructed either Lemelle or Vitale to fair catch everything. I hope he rethinks that philsophy. One of the biggest plays in the bowl game was the Marshall punt return to set up a TD and one of Diaco's eight wins at UConn probably doesn't happen if not for Deshon Foxx's punt return for a touchdown against Stony Brook in 2014.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Tough ending to UConn's season

There was plenty of disappointment as the members of the UConn football headed their separate ways following the 16-10 loss to Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl.

As valuable as the extra month of practice was, the goal was to end the season with the program's first winning season since 2010.

The defense did what it could to make that happen but as has been the case in the last few years, the offense simply could not do enough to win.

All you need to know about what kind of day it was came when kicker Bobby Puyol was named UConn's MVP of the game (and I was one of the people who voted that way). Puyol booted a 52-yard field goal which is tied for the sixth longest in team history and is the longest in UConn's bowl history. He also had two touchbacks on three kickoffs.

However, UConn's main offensive weapons simply did not make an impact.

Leading receiver Noel Thomas didn't have a catch and Arkeel Newsome, who had at 100 all-purpose yards seven times in an eight game stretch finished with just 65 yards (32 on nine carries and 33 on a team-high five catches). In fact, the first catch by a UConn receiver came with 1:37 left in the game.

Perhaps most astonishing of all, the first senior to play an offensive snap was linebacker Graham Stewart, who was used as a fullback.

From the time when there was 1:51 left in the first quarter until 2:37 remained in the third quarter Marshall had 253 yards on 56 plays while UConn managed only 55 yards on 13 plays.

"We need more yards, we know that, we will get it, the future is bright," .UConn coach Bob Diaco said.
"Defense played strong lights out football against a strong, formidable opponent. Even that, a couple of missed tackles on a second down and a third down and that eliminates a field goal. That is the next step for our program is playing the plays in the situation that is better to finish. That is an honest depiction of where we are at and where we are going to go."

With the decision to start Trey Rutherford over Tyler Samra at guard and Max DeLorenzo only seeing time on special teams, everybody who played on offense is coming back except for Stewart whose offensive playing time was a one-time only deal.

Andrew Adams finished with 14 tackles giving him a team-leading 103 this season. He finished 22nd in program history with 263 career tackles.

UConn fans find home away from home

Many of the 40 or so loyal UConn football fans arrived on Christmas night from Connecticut, Florida and even from the Midwest. Thanks to Ryan Phalen, part incredible passionate Huskymaniac and travel organizer, the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater became party central for the UConn fans not staying at the team's headquarters.

Shortly before 8 a.m. and about three hours before kickoff 14 of the 40-50 or so UConn fans who purchased rooms at the discounted rate that Phelan helped to secure boarded a shuttle bound for Ferg's Sports Bar which served as the tailgate headquarters for the St. Petersburg Bowl. It just so happened that a certain newspaper reporter happened to be staying at the same hotel, unaware that it was going to be UConn fan headquarters. It certainly aided my efforts to save my company some money by passing on a rental car when I returned to Tampa on Christmas evening after spending about 24 hours in the Atlanta area so I could spend Christmas with my sister and her family. It was an enjoyable ride seeing a few families and other couples make their way to the game.

As they got off the shuttle, it didn't take long for a parade of those UConn fans to head to the gathering place for the game before the game.

"I enjoy the group of fans and am just enjoying it, just having a great time watching it," said UConn fan Ryan Beiler, an Enfield native who now lives in Cleveland who has attended every UConn bowl game except the 2011 Fiesta Bowl. "I have been a fan since I was a little kid watching them at Memorial Stadium. It is just a great time to come and meet people that I don't even know and cheer on UConn.

"My wife surprised me with a Christmas present. It was a great thing for me. She got the flight, got the hotel and surprised me on Christmas Day and I excited about it.

"I met some people I know from my hometown of Enfield so it is just great to meet people that I don't even know who are UConn fans."

If there is a high-profile UConn football game whether it is regular-season games at Notre Dame or Michigan or a bowl, there's a pretty good chance to Phalen has reached out to a local hotel and arranged transportation for the UConn traveling party.

"It is a great thing that he does," Beiler said. "It is a great thing for fans and for UConn to have."

Friday, December 25, 2015

Info on Fan Tailgate Extravaganza

I assume the fans that made it down to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area for tomorrow's St. Petersburg Bowl are aware of this but just in case, the Fan Tailgate Extravaganza will be held at Ferg's Sports Bar at 1320 Central Avenue in St. Petersburg which is less than 1/4 mile from Tropicana Field.

The event begins at 8 a.m.

There were some fan-friendly events today highlighted by the Battle of the Bands with the bands, cheerleaders and dance teams taking center stage. There was also a tug of war event won by Marshall while the UConn trio of Thomas Xu, Gabriella Medvick and Jordan Bellucci won the cupcake eating contest.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

UConn's Thomas has pleasant memories of first trip to Florida

Just in case UConn junior receiver Noel Thomas forgets certain details about his first football-related trip to Florida, the words "no excuses" etched into his right arm usually brings Thomas on a trip down memory lane.

That was the motto of the Norwalk Jaguars used en route to playing in the national championships back in 2004 and it is one of three tattoos Thomas has which serves as a reminder of just how big a role football plays in the life of UConn's leading receiver.
"We had shirts made (saying 'no excuses,'" Thomas said. "Football is everything to me so I felt the need to get that.
He also has a football in the middle of the most noticeable tattoo on his arm and above that are the words "whatever you do, work out from the bottom of your heart" and what I believe in."
Even now 11 years later, the lessons and mottos from the journey to the Pop Warner nationals still sticks with him.
Thomas even recalls the details of the 8-7 loss to Tustin Black Cobras, a game that sent the Black Cobras to the Tomlin Division title game and the Jaguars into a consolation contest.
A 2-yard run gave Norwalk a 7-0 lead. The Jaguars went for the non-kicking conversion which was worth a point. When Tustin scored in the second half, the two points awarded for kicking the PAT was the winning margin.
Thomas rattled off the names of his teammates on that Jaguars team, a squad coached by his father, with no problem at all.

He brings many of those lessons with him to this day. Thomas has emerged as the Huskies' go-to player with 54 catches and 719 receiving yards as a senior. Still, Thomas knows there is a higher level for him to strive for,
"I knew there was room for improvement but I think I am going to a pretty good job but I just want to make sure I finish strong and keep the ball rolling for next year," Thomas said.
If he needs any additional motivation, the aforementioned tattoos tend to do the trick.
"When I feel like I am making excuses and I am going to do that to myself, I look at it and try to push myself," Thomas said.


UConn team getting into the Christmas spirit

Just in case there was a player on the UConn team forgetting what day tomorrow is, Bruce Springsteen's classic "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" began to blast through the sound system at Calvary Christian High School's football field late in the 13th of 16 periods in UConn's Thursday morning practice.

Thanks to a 6-6 regular season, the 101 UConn players will be together on Christmas morning experiencing another bonding experience with their football family.

"We are a family away from our own family and that is what is easier for everybody who is going to be away from their family," UConn junior receiver Noel Thomas said. "A lot of the guys including myself have a lot of family coming up tomorrow or tonight."

There will be gifts for the UConn players thanks to organizers of the St. Petersburg Bowl and the coaches will do what they can to make it feel as much like Christmas as possible.

"We'll feed them breakfast, find of an open walk-in kind of thing, from the bowl they have gift suite which is a nice thing that they do for all teams, kind of a Christmas ...," UConn coach Bob Diaco said.

Will all the players get presents?

"If they have been good and aren't on the naughty list," Diaco said with a laugh.  "They will have time for worship if they should chose to enjoy that ad we will get ramped up in the afternoon (for the final preparation for Saturday's game)."

It will be an interesting dynamics. As Thomas said, family members of the players and coaches have made the trip to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area or currently are en route.

Does Diaco think his children will have plenty of gifts coming their way.

"The ones that aren'tt on the naughty list, I would imagine Santa will show up and hook them up and the ones that aren't, they are going to get coal, Diaco said. "I don't make the list. I only control what I can control.

"It is Christmas. If you can't be happy, the sun is shining, it is absolutely beautiful. The community and specifically the people who represent the St. Petersburg Bowl have been so gracious and accomodating. We are together as a football family, we are going to beach bash in a few minutes, Santa Claus is coming. If you can't be happy right now, you have to check yourself."

Former UConn QB on 2015 Huskies: They Look The Part

Former UConn QB Shane Stafford, seen scoring a touchdown in a 2008
Arena Football League playoff game, is returning to league as assistant coach
Among the visitors at yesterday's UConn football practice was something who knows a thing or two about playing in postseason games as a Husky.

Shane Stafford was the starting quarterback on the 1998 UConn team which defeated Hampton in the first round of the NCAA I-AA playoffs before falling to Georgia Southern in the quarterfinals. When he graduated Stafford ranked second in UConn's career lists for total offense, passes attempted and completed and passing yards (all later surpassed by Dan Orlovsky). He still owns the UConn career record with a passing rating of 143.4 and among the UConn quarterbacks with at least 20 touchdown passes, he is the only one with twice as many TD passes as interceptions.

I was curious what his impressions were of this UConn team as he watched them go through drills at Calvary Christian High School.

"My first impression is they look the part, big, they look strong and athletic," Stafford said. "The tempo of practice is awesome. Coach Diaco is a guy I don't know personally at all  but you read about him, you see his pedigree, his background in coaching and it is pretty exciting stuff. It gives me a lot joy and pride to be down here in Florida to say I am an alumni of UConn football.

Stafford's class posted a 30-16 record which was the most wins over a four-year span in UConn history. The 2010 class, which went 33-19, is the only group of Huskies to finish with more wins over a four-year span. By comparison, last year's senior class won a total of 15 games. 

"It is frustrating and I guess you feel for them," Stafford said. "You want to see them be successful but at the same time, success doesn't happen by accident, you have to earn it and work for it. I think this team by what I read about them and what I see from the outside in, Coach Diaco is leading them and it starts at the top. The athletic director and president of the university too, the head coach, coaching staff, training stuff and everybody. To see them turn it around does show you that they are moving in the right direction. To be in a bowl game again, just to have this experience and winning, there is nothing like it. It is fun and it is great to see these kids continue to hopefully leave their legacy on their school."

Naturally I was curious what Stafford's thoughts were on current UConn starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs.

"What I have seen of him, he is a strong-armed kid, athletic but as any quarterback at the collegiate level it is about consistency," Stafford said. "It is all about your preparation and consistency of your preparation. I think he has a lot of ability."

For those wondering what Stafford is up to,  after playing for six teams during a 10-year professional career spent mostly in the Arena Football League, Stafford is transitioning to the coaching world. He was recently named the quarterbacks coach of the Tampa Bay Storm, a team he played for from 2001-02 and 2004-06 throwing for 15,672 yards with 289 touchdown passes and 54 interceptions.

"I'm pretty excited about that," Stafford said. "It 's been a fun adventure. You dream of it but you don't know where life is going to take you. I didn't even know I was going to play Arena Football, I didn't know what it was but the arena game is a great game, it is so much fun. It really is an injustice watching it on TV because watching it in person, I tell people it is kind of like hockey. If you see a game in person, it is so much faster, so much fun and exciting because you are right on top of it. The speed of the game but I am excited about being a coach here."

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

UConn seniors bring sense of "calm" to defense

When doing a little depth-chart tabulation it is easy to notice that there are fewer seniors among the first 44 players listed on offense and defense than any other class.

However, what the senior class lacks in quantity certainly seems to be made up for in quality especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Seniors Andrew Adams, Julian Campenni and Graham Stewart have started all 12 games, Kenton Adeyemi has started 11 games and Marquise Vann has been in the starting lineup eight times. Taking it one step further, Campenni and Adams have started 37 and 32 games respectively while Stewart (26 starts), Vann (24) and Adeyemi (23) have more than 20 career starts. It has allowed UConn defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter to bring out the best of sophomores Luke Carrezola, Foley Fatukasi, Junior Joseph and Jamar Summers to emerge into stars despite coming into the season with 12 career starts between them.

"You have veteran guys who have been in the game, played a lot of snaps," Poindexter said after today's practice. "They can bring a calm to the rest of the guys when we were breaking in your guys. That has been a big benefit to have those veterans in there."

Players like Adams, Adeyemi, Campenni, Stewart and Vann as well as reserve safety Junior Lee who may see as much playing time as any non-defensive starter are reliable blue-collar types which fits well with their defensive coordinator.

"I am not flashy guy," Poindexter said. "I am a blue-collar guy and country boy so that is our makeup and we are just going to play it out."

There are some things that caught my eye at the last two practices. First, junior receiver Noel Thomas seems to be OK after getting taped up after leaving practice for a bit today. He did return towards the end of practice and ran some routes. I expect him to play with no restrictions on Saturday.

I also think you will see sophomore Trey Rutherford getting some snaps with the starting offensive line. He certainly has had his opportunities with the first unit during practice.

"He has continued to arrow up for us and looking forward, we are thinking he is well prepared to play very well on Saturday," UConn offensive coordinator Frank Verducci said.

While he won't be playing on Saturday, former Naugatuck High star Bryan Coney continues to impress. He has been working with the "look" team. Since UConn coach Bob Diaco arrived he began having his look team players wear the uniform numbers of the opposing team's best players so the UConn starters are better prepared for what is coming. Coney was playing the role of Marshall receiver Deandre Reaves. It seemed like each time I looked up Coney was making a play. At one point after a brilliant diving catch near the sideline, freshman receiver Frank Battle walked over and said "you are putting on a show today."

It should also be noted that injured defensive end Cole Ormsby and offensive lineman Ryan Crozier were going through agility drills and if you didn't know any better, they looked like they were both healthy enough to play.

Speaking of injured players, I won't break down who was seeing time at tight end/h-back/fullback in the continued attempt to replace the injured Tommy Myers but just seeing how many people have been used in practices and games since Myers suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the win over Houston is an indication of how valuable Myers was to the offense.

I asked Verducci if it took Myers' injury for him to fully comprehend how important of a player Myers was to the offense.

"We knew," Verducci said with a laugh. "Every week we thanked goodness those two guys (Myers and Alec Bloom) came through up until Houston. You saw how we started the Houston game, he went out and you saw how it affected us. Then Bryant (Shirreffs) going out compounding that so they are valuable pieces. Our jobs are to have the next guy ready and when those situations happen, everybody has to adapt and rise up."

Last but certainly not least, former UConn quarterback Shane Stafford was at practice today. I spoke to him for about five minutes and used some of what he had to say in my story running in tomorrow's paper. Look for more from that interview in a blog post probably coming tomorrow.

Calvary Christian a gracious host

A quick look at the sidelines and it would appear as if the UConn support staff is growing with some new faces in attendance at the daily practices in preparation for Saturday's St Petersburg Bowl.

However, it is actually members of the Calvary Christian High School athletic department who have not only let the Huskies to use the turf field for practices but also the weight room and other facilities.

Calvary Christian athletic director Darrell Don was not only in attendance at this morning's practice but was wearing a UConn shirt as well. Don did not hide his enthusiasm at having UConn work out at the high school.

"During the holidays it is pretty easy because school is closed and it doesn't interfere with church," Don said. "We wouldn't be able to do it Sunday but it has been great. I was an athletic director in Orlando (at Orlando First Academy) and we had Russell Champs Bowl (now called the Russell Athletic Bowl) and Capital One Bowl (now the Citrus Bowl) up there and we had teams practicing there. We are used to doing it. With having turf, it is a very easy transition for us.

"It is great. Coach Diaco, I love his energy. Our football coaches have been out watching the energy level and the passion to play. It is always good when you can expose our people to a program at this level and a quality coaching staff. The kids, the staff have been wonderful. Great kids, very polite and just their demeanor has been a great fit for us."

Calvary Christian, coached by former NFL tight end Todd Yoder, had a 3-7 record this past season but is one year removed from an 8-3 season and spot in the Florida 3A playoffs.

The school has grown from about 270 students four years ago to 460 this year. Don said the plan is to cap the attendance somewhere between 500-525.

With the school less than two miles from Bright House Field, the host of the American Athletic Conference baseball tournament, Calvary Christian is no stranger to having its facilities be a temporary home away from home for Division I college programs.

Whether it is during the daily practices at Calvary Christian, charity events or even today's trip to Busch Gardens, this has been a week full of lasting memories for the UConn players and coaches.

"They have been so welcoming and you can't help but be so pleased with the bowl experience, it has been great," UConn coach Bob Diaco said.

The irony of it all hit Marshall sophomore tight end Ryan Yurachek when the St. Petersburg Bowl matchup was officially announced.

UConn became bowl eligible thanks to a stunning upset of previously undefeated Houston. Oh, by the way, Houston's director of athletics happens to be Hunter Yurachek, the proud father of the player who led Marshall with eight touchdown receptions in the regular season.

"It is kind of funny," Ryan Yurachek said before Marshall's practice this morning. "He is not the greatest guy in terms of football knowledge goes but he just started talking on the phone when we first found out we were going to play them and I was like 'he doesn't know what he is talking about.' I actually watched on film a little bit of what he was talking about was true so it was actually kind of funny. It is obviously kind of funny how it worked out. He gave me a little insight, as much as he could."

So if Marshall were to beat UConn which is something Houston did not accomplish, would he engage with some trash talk with dear old dad?

"A little bit between me and him but probably not," Yurachek said.

All kidding aside, Yurachek believes the Houston tape has been beneficial in preparing to play UConn.

"We watched the Houston game a bunch, not only being one of the teams that they knocked off but we are very similar to Houston offensively and special teams so it was a good film for us to watch, Yurachek said.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Coyle discusses UConn commitment

Things were a bit hectic for me in the last day and a half with a 7 p.m. women's basketball game to cover and a 5:40 a.m. flight to Tampa to begin my coverage of UConn's bowl week preparations so I wasn't able to get around to doing anything about Tyler Coyle's commitment.

Thankfully, my colleague Sean Patrick Bowley caught up to Coyle earlier today at the All-State football photo shoot.

Coyle, who had touchdown catches of 54, 60, 73 and 60 in a five-game stretch, averaged more than 25 yards per catch as a junior and a senior.

"Just the fact of staying close to home, it is as simple as that," Coyle said. "I like the coaches, I love the direction the program is growing."

Coyle said he was offered a scholarship on Friday and "I jumped on it."

Coyle becomes the fourth in-state player to commit to UConn out of Class of 2016 joining Glastonbury's Keyion Dixon, Suffield Academy's Tahj Herring and Jasen Rose of Southington. The last time the Huskies had as many commits from Connecticut came in 2013 when there were six - leading receiver Noel Thomas, two-year starting tight end Tommy Myers, defensive end Cole Ormsby, linebacker Matt Walsh and quarterback Tim Boyle all started games this season. The sixth in-state commit was Cory Jasudowich who transferred to New Haven but did not play for the Chargers in the recently-completed season.

UConn QB Bryant Shirreffs to have cheering section in St. Pete

The last time I caught up with UConn starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs he was having some fun with his parents through the media.

It just happens that two of the six bowls being played on Dec. 26 includes not only Bryant Shirreffs playing for UConn in the St. Petersburg Bowl but his brother Evan suiting up for Miami in the Sun Bowl (although he is redshirting this season).

"I'll guess they have decide who they love (more)," Bryant Shirreffs deadpanned when he met with the media before heading down to Florida.

Naturally when I caught up for Shirreffs after today's practice at Calvary Christian High School, I had to get an update of the itinerary of Shirreffs' mother and father.

"They are in Texas right now seeing my brother and then they are going to come on Christmas Day, see me the day before the game," Shirreffs said.

If both brothers were expected to play, it could be a tougher choice for the Shirreffs clan but it makes sense to have them come to watch Bryant play rather than see Evan stand on the sidelines.

"It is a good time but it is definitely stressful especially for my mom," Shirreffs said. "She is a pro at coordinating everything and I am sure everything is going to work out smoothly."

Obviously the main order of business coming down to Florida is to try to end the season on a winning note.

Senior linebacker Graham Stewart, the only UConn player expected to play who has previously played in a bowl game, might have put it the best.

"You go to the bowl game to beat the other team, you are not just going down there to have a frolic in the sunshine," Stewart said.

However, while the UConn and Marshall teams are in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, they are doing much more than just prepare for the bowl game. There was a visit to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg and a Fill the Bowl where players from both teams competed to see which squad could pack the most meals for children.

I had the misfortune of getting caught in horrendous traffic on I-275 due to an accident and although I did make it to the hospital before the visit with the children came to an end, my journey up several floors in the hospital did allow me to run into the Marshall players and coaches and not the UConn traveling party.

I did speak to senior defensive end Kenton Adeyemi about this week being more than just football. Whether it is going all in on these charity events or enjoying the amazing weather, this is one week that Adeyemi and his teammates won't soon forget.

"So far it has been unbelievable out here," Adeyemi said. "I am a Connecticut guy and right now I am used to snow and 29 degree temperature, going out and shoveling my front lawn. Even the Fill the Bowl, the competition between the teams, you always want to give back."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A few similarities between 2010 and 2015 UConn teams

There has been plenty of mentions about the 2010 UConn football team since that season marked the last time that the Huskies played their way into a bowl game.

I wasn't covering the team back then but did a little checking and found more parallels between the two teams than I thought I would.

It started off with the senior class as only 11 seniors were on the 2010 squad and this year's team has 13 seniors.

A few other things I thought might be worth noting

  • A junior led team in receptions and receiving yards (Noel Thomas this season, Michael Smith in 2010)
  • Sophomore led team in interceptions (Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Jerome Junior tied for the team lead with four in 2010 while Jamar Summers has seven picks this season)
  • Players ranking first and second in sacks were sophomores (Jesse Joseph and Trevardo Williams back in 2010, Foley Fatukasi and Luke Carrezola in 2015)
  • Senior led team in tackles (Lawrence Wilson in '10, Andrew Adams this season) but six of top eight tacklers were players returning the following season 

The one similarity that I believe won't be carrying over is having four straight seasons without a bowl appearance after this season which was how things played out after that magical 2010 season.

While there is plenty of reason for optimism considering how many talented players will be returning next season, look for a story in Tuesday's edition of the New Haven Register on how much the seniors are enjoying playing a major role in end the Huskies' bowl drought. Barring any travel mishaps, I hope to be at UConn's practice on Tuesday in St. Petersburg.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Former UConn DB McClain signed by Panthers

Former UConn defensive back Robert McClain, who has worked out for a few different teams since his release by the New England Patriots, will be joining the league's last undefeated team.

The Carolina Panthers, the team which originally drafted McClain back in 2010, announced that they signed McClain to help fill the void left by the season-ending leg injury suffered by Bene Benwikere.

McClain was the No. 249 pick by the Panthers in 2010. He played in all 16 games as a rookie but his best work came in his three seasons in Atlanta where McClain started 15 games and had 186 tackles to go with three interceptions.

The Panthers are 13-0 and Carolina has already clinched the NFC South Division title. Carolina has a two-game lead on Arizona for the best record in the NFC and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

UConn's Summers earns national recognition

While no UConn players made it onto either the Associated Press or Football Writers Association of America All-American teams, cornerback Jamar Summers' impressive sophomore season did earn himself a spot on the Pro Football Focus All-American squad.

The PFF site assigns grades by grading film on every play and as I mentioned earlier, they said Summers had the best grade for any cornerback in the nation since week 5. On Monday the PFF All-American team was posted and Summers made it on the second team.

Michigan's Jourdan Lewis and Desmond King of Iowa, the winner of the Jim Thorpe Award, were the first team cornerbacks while Summers joined Northwestern's Nick VanHoose on the second team. Summers was not only the only player from the American Athletic Conference to be named to either the first or second team on offense, defense or special teams but he was the only player from the Group of Five programs to be named to either the first or second team on defense.

Summers had seven interceptions, which ties him with Robert Vaughn for the most of any UConn player since the Huskies made the move to FBS. He had at least one interception in six of seven games during one stretch. UConn had a 4-2 record when Summers had an interception and a 2-4 mark when he didn't. Summers also led the team with 10 pass breakups and had 37 tackles.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Another OL commit for UConn

It wasn't too long ago that UConn was struggling to hold onto some commitments in the weeks and months between the dismissal of Paul Pasqualoni and hiring of Bob Diaco. Now the tables have turned as the coaching change at Syracuse ultimately resulted in recruit No. 13 for UConn in the Class of 2016.

Offensive lineman Cam DeGeorge, a former Syracuse commit, announced via his Twitter account that he has committed to UConn.

Very proud to announce that I am now committed to UConn. Thank you to everyone who was apart of the process.

According to the database, DeGeorge committed to Syracuse on April 6 and had offers from North Carolina State and Temple.

The 6-foot-5, 262 pound DeGeorge led Lynnfield (Mass.) High to an 8-3 record as a senior and to an 11-1 mark and trip to the Massachusetts Division 4 semifinals as a junior.

He is the third offensive lineman in the Class of 2016 to commit to UConn joining Pingree's Nino Leone and Immaculata (N.J.) High's Mike Lonsdorf.

UConn has 13 commitments and there are 12 seniors on scholarship on the current roster. However, fullback Jazzmar Clax (a redshirt junior) took part in Senior Day festivities before the home finale against Houston indicating that he won't be with the team after this season. Junior receiver Dhameer Bradley already announced via his Twitter account that he is transferring to Sacred Heart. Bradley is one of four players (three on scholarship) no longer on the UConn roster. I was able to confirm that safety Jordan Floyd, offensive lineman Zach Rugg and walk-on linebacker Jack Dexter are no longer a part of the program. Among that group, Floyd is the player who saw the most time this season as he played in eight games and finished with five tackles including two in the win over Army. Rugg was on the participation for the season opener against Villanova.

If my math is correct (and anybody who reads this blog knows that is a rather large 'if'') I count 69 scholarship players between the freshman, sophomore and junior classes (not including Clax) which would leave UConn with 16 scholarships for this current recruiting class.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A pair of running backs commit to UConn

One of the better ideas Bob Diaco has put into place is the annual mid-December awards show as it not only allows the Huskies to look back on the season (or in this year's case wrap up the regular season before turning their attention to the upcoming bowl game). It also is a tremendous recruiting tool.

Dallas Parker, who saw time as a true freshman, committed shortly after visiting campus and taking in the awards show. Now the Huskies have added a pair of running back commitments.

Nate Hopkins, who ran for 1,406 yards and 15 touchdowns while leading Marcus High in Flower Mound, Texas to a 10-2 record, announced on his Twitter account that he has committed to UConn.

Blessed to say I'll be spending the next 4 years at the University of Connecticut. #HuskyUp

The 6-foot-1, 210 pound Hopkins ran for more than 100 yards nine times in 11 games highlighted by a 204-yard, 3-touchdown game in Marcus' playoff win over Fossil Ridge.

Also, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Ja'kevious Vickers from Glades Central High School has also committed to UConn.

Vickers averaged more than eight yards per carry as a senior as he rushed for 1,423 yards and 18 touchdowns. It should be noted that in a Palm Beach Post blog, he said could still take other official visits.

After this amazing visit i have decided to commit to the University of Connecticut #GoHuskies

Running back certainly was a need position as the only scholarship running backs slated to be on next year's UConn team are Ron Johnson, Josh Marriner and Arkeel Newsome.

Two other players also committed to UConn.

Tight end/lineback AJ Garson from Oxbridge Academy had two touchdown receptions among his four catches and also had 57 tackles with three fumble recoveries.

Offensive lineman Mike Lonsdorf out of Immaculata High in Somerville, N.J. is also a part of the incoming recruiting class.

Thankful to say that I have committed to play football at the University of Connecticut #GoHuskies

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Former UConn receiver headed to Sacred Heart

Dhameer Bradley will remain in Connecticut to continue his football career.

Bradley, who caught 28 passes during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, and was part of a talented group of receivers brought into the program back in 2013 along with Noel Thomas, Thomas Lucas and Brian Lemelle announced via his Twitter account that he will be transferring to Sacred Heart.

Just committed to Sacred Heart University .. Not many get the chance to receiver 2 scholarships #TrulyBlessed

The Pioneers lose their top three receivers to graduation including Tyler Dube, who had 71 catches. It should be noted that running back Ose Imeokpania (whose 21 catches are the second most among the returning Sacred Heart players) hails from New Castle, Delaware as does Bradley.

UConn's best of the best honored at banquet

There's still a game to be played but the UConn football team gathered to recognize the best of the best during the run to a 6-6 regular-season mark and the first bowl game appearance since the 2011 Fiesta Bowl on Friday night.

Unfortunately, it was at the same time at the women's basketball game between UConn and Florida State at Mohegan Sun Arena so I wasn't able to attend the second-annual team awards shows.

Senior safety Andrew Adams, who leads the Huskies with 52 solo and 89 total tackles, was named the team's Defensive Player of the Year while junior receiver Noel Thomas (a team-leading 54 catches and 719 receiving yards) and sophomore running back Arkeel Newsome (who led the Huskies with 760 rushing yards and 1,621 all-purpose yards) shared the Offensive Player of the Year Award.

Junior kicker Bobby Puyol, who was 15 of 17 on field goals and 10 of his 22 kickoffs went for touchbacks, was awarded the Special Teams Player of the Year Award while punter Justin Wain, recognized for attaining a 4.0 grade point average, was named the Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

Here are the other award winners:
Jasper T. Howard Award (Outstanding Skill Player): Jamar Summers
Brian Kozlowski Award (Outstanding Big Skill Player): Luke Carrezola
Kendall Mason Award (Outstanding Power Player): Foley Fatukasi
Most Improved Player: Junior Joseph
Joseph M. Gianelli (Newcomer of the Year): Bryant Shirreffs
Alumni Bleed Blue Award: Graham Stewart
Look Team Player of the Year: Billy Williams

What is interesting is that of the 12 players honored, 10 of them are slated to be back next season.

Friday, December 11, 2015

UConn officially announces series with UMass, Boston College

This isn't exactly breaking news but UConn officially announced what has previously been reported in terms of playing Boston College and UMass in the next several years.

UConn will play at Boston College on Nov. 19, 2016 and Nov. 19, 2022 while the Huskies will host the Eagles on Nov. 18, 2017 and Nov. 18, 2023.

UConn will host UMass on Oct. 27, 2018 and Sept. 3, 2020 and face the Minutemen at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 26, 2019 and Oct. 2, 2021.

Here is the breakdown of non-conference games currently under contract
2018: August 30, Rhode Island; September 8, at Boise State; September 29 at Syracuse; October 27, UMass.
2019: August 29, Wagner; September 7, Illinois; September 21, at Indiana; October 26, at UMass (Gillette Stadium, Foxborough Mass.).
2020: September 3, UMass; September 12, at Illinois; September 26, Indiana.
2021: October 2, at UMass (Gillette Stadium, Foxborough Mass.).
2022: November 19, at Boston College.
2023: November 18, Boston College.

UConn players had fond memories of Jerry Martin

There's so much to celebrate these days within the UConn football family as the Huskies prepare for their first bowl game since the 2011 Fiesta Bowl with a roster full of playmakers on both sides of the ball with one, two or even three years of eligibility remaining.

However, there is also a certain amount of sorrow being felt by some of the veteran members of the squad.

Jerry Martin, the former strength and conditioning coach at UConn, lost his fight with cancer on Nov. 25 just four days after the Huskies became bowl eligible with a stunning win over previously undefeated Houston. Martin had spent more than two decades working with UConn student-athletes including those on the football team but when Bob Diaco was hired, Martin was among those not retained. Still, for the veteran UConn players and especially the 11 who have been with the program for five years, the news of Martin's death hit hard.

"It is terrible, really unfortunate," UConn senior running back Max DeLorenzo said. "I was with Coach Martin for three years. He always enjoyed me, always liked being around me and I liked being around him too. I even knew him my senior year in high school when I came up to visit. He was a good guy who knew a lot about football and the weight room aspects to it. My condolences to him and his family.

He enjoyed being around all of us and he loved coming here and helping young men become men and not just on the football field and winning but learning life aspects, life challenges."

Senior defensive lineman Julian Campenni credited Martin's work with him in playing a role in Campenni playing so much as a redshirt freshman.

"I was fortunate to get three years to be coached by him," Campenni said. "When I was a young guy he kind of looked after me, helped me. He is one of the reasons why I got to play so early because he pushed me and helped to motivate us. He was a great guy, a great coach and he is going to be missed.

"I knew he was sick last year but then I heard he was in remission and doing a lot better, then I found out that he passed and it was unfortunate," Campenni said.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Shirreffs thrilled to be back on the field for UConn

The last practice I attended, the only head gear being worn by UConn starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs was a winter hat.

Today, however, Shirreffs was thrilled to have his UConn helmet on and more than happy to be running things with the first-team offense.

"My body actually feels even better because I got some time away and let my body recover," Shirreffs said. "I was definitely missing playing in a day to day basis but now we are back at it, having fun.

"I definitely wanted to be out there. If they would have let me, I would have played. It is tough but I am grateful to be able to play again."

Shirreffs hesitated a bit when he was asked how close he was to being able to play against Temple in the regular-season finale.

"It is a tough question," Shirreffs said. "I would have played, if it was the day after Houston I would have played but it wouldn't have been smart. I didn't pass enough levels and whatever protocol there was for me to be able to play in a live setting. It was unfortunte for me and I wish I could have finished out the season but I am grateful that I can play (in the St. Petersburg Bowl).

"It was a pretty big hit, it is probably the hardest hit I've taken. It is football, I have taken a lot of hits and it wasn't anything special about that."

Shirreffs is pretty excited at the prospects of playing in a bowl game.

"My entire life, I have watched bowl games, try to pick who was going to win each game," Shirreffs said. "Football has been a part of my life for so long so to be a part of a program turning around and making it to a bowl has been huge for me. It has been tough for me waiting to play and now I get to play and I am having fun with my brothers."

Speaking of brothers, his brother Evan is a true freshman quarterback at Miami. Evan Shirreffs is redshirting but still the Hurricanes play Washington State in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 26 at 2 p.m. That happens to be three hours after the Huskies begin their bowl game.

"The burden is on my parents, especially my mom because she is a home body and she likes to hang out with me and my brother," Shirreffs said. "I don't know the plan yet, I'll guess they have decide who they love (more)."

Receiver Noel Thomas, who was in class, and linebacker Matt Walsh, who is receiving treatment from the lower-body injury he suffered against Temple were the only players on the two-deep who I expected to see out there and were not at practice. Receivers Brian Lemelle and Thomas Lucas were both taking part in drills.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

UConn honored for academic success

UConn was among the programs honored by the American Football Coaches Association Academic Achievement Award program. 

UConn earned the recognition for graduating at least 75 percent of the freshman enrolling at UConn in 2008.

Duke and Vanderbilt shared the top spot in the awards listing and will receive the 2015 Academic Achievement Award.

ESPN revealed the announce teams for the bowl games. Tom Hart, former NFL tight end Anthony Becht and Tiffany Greene will have the call for ESPN for the St. Petersburg Bowl while Rene Ingoglia and Brett McMurphy will be a part of the radio team.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Bowl season is a brave new world for UConn players

UConn coach Bob Diaco and his staff have kind of gotten a chuckle out of the reaction of the players, especially the veteran ones, as the team held practices in preparation of today's announcement of the bowl matchups.

Senior Graham Stewart and fellow linebacker E.J. Levenberry (who is redshirting) are the only players on the roster to play in a bowl game doing so at Florida and Florida State respectively. For the rest of the Huskies, at this time of the year they usually have turned in their shoulder pads and helmets after another losing season.

"The mentality of the guys walking onto the practice field now, they are walking around with this befuddled look like 'this doesn't feel right, why do I have my pads on right now?'" Diaco said on a conference call shortly after it was officially announced that UConn would play Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 26. "It is awesome, it is the best. It is all uncharted territory. There are two players on this team that have ever been to a bowl so it is new for everybody other than the coaches."

If there was a regret is that the way the bowl games are announced, except for those four teams vying for the national title, there isn't that moment where UConn's name flashes on a television screen during a bowl announcement special.

"It was very hard. We had hoped to have some kind of real moment but the fact of the matter is that these things are so big and there are so many moving parts," Diaco said. "The invitation was extended to Warde (Manuel, UConn's Director of Athletics). Warde and I were in constant contact and then the team has been ready and waiting for the information. When it was allowed to be released to the team, I sent them simultaneously a note from me directly to them so they had a chance to hear it first just before it was released so it worked out great."
It is sounding like it could be all hands on deck for the game with the exception of defensive end Cole Ormsby and tight end Tommy Myers, who is was previously announced would miss the rest of the season.

Diaco said quarterback Bryant Shirreffs has been cleared and is practicing after he missed the regular-season finale and most of the Houston game after taking a helmet to helmet blow.

"He's good," Diaco said. "He has practiced, he is cleared, he looks great - bright eyed and bushy tailed and no limitations no physically cleared to participate and needed more healing time and is now fully cleared.

"There are no surprises, nothing new to report. Maybe Brian Lemelle is healthy enough, he looks better and better every day. He might be finally able to participate and Matt Walsh, it is looking more and more like he will be able to go and participate."

It's official: UConn to play in St. Petersburg Bowl

In a rather ironic twist, the UConn football team not only became bowl eligible with a victory over previously undefeated Houston but the Cougars had a say in which bowl game the Huskies would be playing in.

With Houston winning the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship game with a 24-13 victory over Temple, the Huskies accepted the conference's slot in the St. Petersburg Bowl which will be played at 11 a.m. on Dec. 26 against Marshall. A Temple win likely would have seen UConn playing in the Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 22.

Marshall (9-3) averages nearly 190 rushing yards in its nine wins but only 110 per game in losses to Ohio, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky.

Quarterback Chase Litton ranks fifth nationally among freshmen with a 133.56 quarterback rating as he has completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,387 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The running game features five players with between 63-86 rushing attempts.

Davonte Allen, who had a total of 42 catches in his first three seasons, has team-leading marks of 56 catches and 696 yards highlighted by making 12 catches for 232 yards in a win over Charlotte.

Defensively, Gary Thompson has a team-leading eight sacks while senior linebacker Evan McKelvey leads the team with 113 tackles.

This will be UConn's first bowl appearance since losing to Oklahoma in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl. The redshirt seniors signed with UConn about a month after the Fiesta Bowl.

The Huskies had nine games this season allowing less than 350 yards of offense which is the most for a UConn defense since the 2008 season with six of the top 14 tacklers being seniors including top tackler Andrew Adams.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Source: UConn headed to St. Petersburg Bowl

While no official word is expected until Sunday, a source confirmed that the Huskies football team will be playing in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 26.
UConn’s fate was determined by Saturday’s American Athletic Conference championship game. Houston’s win meant UConn was given the conference’s slot in St. Petersburg. If Temple had won the title, the Huskies would likely have played in the Dec. 22 bowl game in Boca Raton.
Ironically, it was UConn’s win over Houston that made the Huskies bowl eligible for the first time since the 2010 season.
Multiple reports have Marshall as being UConn’s opponent in the St. Petersburg Bowl, slated to have an 11 a.m. kickoff.

For those interested, here is a link to the official site of the St. Petersburg Bowl

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Former UConn DB Jones making the grade

There were some people who considered Byron Jones a "workout warrior" as his spectacular performance at the NFL scouting combine led to him being taken by the Dallas Cowboys with the 27th overall pick in the NFL draft.

However, Jones had a pretty solid body of work at UConn playing both cornerback and safety and his versatility has been on display for the Cowboys. Jones has been drawing plenty of praise from coaches and media in Dallas for his play and they are not alone. The Pro Football Focus site, which grades every NFL player on each snap, recently posted the grades on all 32 first-round picks. Jones came in with a grade of 78.4 and among the No. 1 picks, only New York Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams and St. Louis Rams running back Todd Gurley, taken sixth and 10th respectively, were the only players rated ahead of Jones.

It should be noted that there's not much difference with the rankings of the five defensive backs taken in the first round

11. Trae Waynes, Vikings 75.4
16. Kevin Johnson, Texans 76.4
18. Marcus Peters, Chiefs 69.3
27. Byron Jones, Cowboys 78.4
30. Damarious Randall, Packers 76.7

Also thought some people might in interested in the story about Jones buying nearly 20 tickets for friends and family members for this week's game at Washington.


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Summers leads 5 Huskies to earn All-AAC honors

Sophomore cornerback Jamar Summers, whose seven interceptions are the most for a UConn player since the Huskies made the move to the FBS level, was named to the All-American Athletic Conference first team.

Senior safety Andrew Adams and senior defensive lineman Julian Campenni were second-team selections while sophomore DT Foley Fatukasi and sophomore LB Junior Joseph were honorable mention selections.

Adams leads UConn with 89 tackles with a high of 17 in a loss to Navy. He recently recorded his 250th career tackle and also has three interceptions. Campenni has 25 tackles this season, giving him 99 career stops. Campenni, despite facing double teams on a regular season, has four tackles for loss as a senior. Fatukasi has 44 tackles including seven tackles for losses with 6 1/2 sacks and four forced fumbles while Joseph has recorded at least five tackles in every game with season. He has 86 tackles and an interception.

Also, Summers and junior receiver Noel Thomas earned All-New England honors from the New England Football Writers' Association.

Stratford native and Temple senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich was named the AAC's Defensive Player of the Year.

No rematch for UConn commits

All that stood between another showdown featuring UConn football commits Keyion Dixon and Jasen Rose was for Glastonbury and Southington to win its first two games in the CIAC Class LL playoffs.

Southington won its opener 48-6 over Conard as Rose, who came into the game with 180 yards rushing, ran eight times for 194 yards including scoring runs of 58, 56, 3 and 55. He also threw his 39th touchdown pass of the season. It was his 87th career touchdown pass which ranks fourth in Connecticut high school football history even though Rose is in just his second season as the starting quarterback. He also needs one more TD pass to join former Woodland star Tanner Kingsley with two seasons with at least 40 touchdown passes.

Dixon returned a punt 85 yards and threw an 83-yard touchdown pass as Glastonbury held a 20-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter but Newtown scored a pair of touchdowns to post the 21-20 victory.

Next up for Southington is a semifinal on Monday against Darien at Boyle Stadium in Stamford at 6:30 p.m.