Saturday, January 16, 2016

UConn commits excited for the future

Just in case UConn commits Tyler Coyle, Keyion Dixon and Jasen Rose as well as preferred walk-on Teddy Allmendinger needed any extra motivation as they prepare for the next stage of their football careers, a quick look around the ballroom inside the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale certainly could do the trick.

Former Hamden High star Rich Diana and former Notre Dame of West Haven great Tarek Saleh, who were among those in attendance at the Walter Camp Foundation's Breakfast of Champions, made their way into the NFL while former St. Joseph High star Tyler Matakevich has a chance to hear his name called in the 2016 NFL draft.

While none of them played at UConn, it had to be comforting to see players from Connecticut could play at the highest level imaginable.

The aforementioned quartet were on hand to be honored as part of the Walter Camp All-Connecticut team which is selected from a panel of nine Connecticut high school coaches.

"It is such a great honor to be around such great players who represent the sport really well," said Allmendinger, an all-state linebacker from Avon High who projects to be a fullback/h-back at UConn.

Four of the 14 commits (not counting the preferred walk-ons) hail from Connecticut counting Suffield Academy star Tahj Herring. Many of the recruits have been on campus at the same time or connected during the recent all-state football photo shoot.

"We have a group message with all the commits to UConn so it is good, it will be good to see them and talk to them a little more," said Rose, who threw for 2,636 yards with 39 touchdowns and six interceptions as a senior at Southington High. "There is just one big group message and we just talk throughout the day. We are all taking our official visits next weekend so we talk about that. We talk about next year and getting ready for it and how excited we are."

Coyle is the most recent known commitment as he became a part of the UConn recruiting class on Dec. 21 which came exactly a month after the Windsor High receiver/defensive back was in attendance when the Huskies stunned previously undefeated Houston.

"I went to the Houston game and that says it all," said Coyle, who projects as a safety for UConn. "I see the program as up and coming and I definitely want to be a part of that. It was a great experience. It was exciting experience, the crowd was just live and I love being part of it."

Dixon was the second player to commit to UConn and living not far from Rentschler Field, he is certainly thrilled to play where so many people who helped him along the way can came and see him play.

"Family and friends are right there, they can never not have a chance to come to UConn," said Dixon, who played quarterback as a senior at Glastonbury High but is expected to be a receiver at UConn. "All the kids you knew growing up playing football against, when you get that opportunity to come home, it is a great experience and to be a hometown boy trying to make it ,,,

"They have a lot of receivers who can make plays and I am just looking forward to getting along with those guys, learning from some of the older guys. I want to make plays myself and want to help the team out."

Allmendinger drew some scholarship offers but when UConn came calling with the chance to be a preferred walk-on, it was an offer too good to pass up.

"I was playing really well during my senior season," Allmendinger said. "After each game I was sending my film out and they asked if I want to play fullback for them. I looked around but my brother goes there, it is a great opportunity from an educational standpoint and the football is on the rise. I like the coach, it was a great fit for me.

"They say that being a preferred walk-on is the same thing as being on scholarship, you just pay for first year because they are bringing you in to earn a scholarship. Of course I wanted to validate that so I asked a player who actually was a preferred walk-on who earned a scholarship and he validated all of that so that was a relief knowing that was truthful. That kind of got my excitement level much higher knowing that my dream of playing high-level Division I football is finally coming true and I am going to make the most of it."

The UConn coaches began to show more interest in the middle of November and a month later he let UConn coach Bob Diaco know that he was planning to be a Husky.

"He said that would be great and that was the decision there," Allmendinger said. "I am determined to go and earn a scholarship. I know my work ethic, I know my drive so if I go and work, I should be OK.

"What intrigued me as well is they don't actually have a true fullback on their team and they even told me that they couldn't run specific plays because they don't have a fullback and they said 'you look like you could be a great fit for that position.' That intrigues me and gives me a sense that I am going to get looked at. I am not saying that I am going to start because nothing is earned until it is earned but maybe I have a chance to get looked at a little earlier than maybe somebody else. I am not sure how true that is but if I do get an opportunity, I will be sure to not waste it."

Speaking of walk-ons born and raised in Connecticut making an impression at UConn, I spoke to Xavier High coach Sean Marinan at the event about how things have worked out for his son Sean, a key special teams contributor who saw plenty of snaps as a reserve defensive lineman this season.

"He had a lot of fun," Marinan said. "The attitude of the kids was a lot more upbeat. I think the bowl experience was tremendous and they really enjoyed it. I wish the outcome of the game was a little better."

Marinan is also extremely proud of what his son has done academically including attaining a 4.0 grade-point average in at least one semester there.

"It is tremendous for a kid to have a 4.0 and play athletics at a Division I school," Marinan said. "It is just a tribute to the kid himself. He developed a tremendous work ethic, he is very driven and wants to succeed. You preach to your players as a coach that no matter what you do, try to be the best. When you get a kid who does that and it pays off for him, it feels good."

Diaco has taken to identifying top in-state players who might not get a scholarship offer and give them the chance to join the squad as a walk-on. This past year Naugatuck's Bryan Coney was actually gets practice reps ahead of receivers on scholarship and there are other similar success stories.

"You hear about kids all the time who started as walk-ons so it is a good opportunity for kids," Marinan said. "I think it has been said for years that UConn needs to keep more Connecticut kids and I've even said that you need to take a chance on some of these kids who might be marginal because they turn out to be pretty good football players but they are somewhere else."


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