Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Transfers fitting in nicely at UConn

A year ago the duo of E.J. Levenberry and Billy Williams were little more than a curious tandem of talented prospects without a chance to show what they were capable on game days.

Levenberry and Williams were mainstays of UConn's scout team throughout the 2015 season as they were forced to sit out the year after transferring from Florida State and Northern Iowa.

Well, the waiting is finally over.

Williams, who played current UConn offensive coordinator when both were at Northern Iowa during the 2014 season, saw plenty of work with the first team offense and made some impressive catches during the first spring practice.

"Billy is just a football player," UConn coach Bob Diaco said. "I would say that when I first met him he hated working out now he just dislikes it but he loves to play football, he is a football playing dude. He likes to block, he is animated, he runs good routes, he has soft hands, he is aggressive, competitive, he is a good teammate, he is helpful."

The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Williams is one of two players on the current roster listed to play the "F" position which is a fullback/tight end/h-back hybrid. The only other "F' on the roster is redshirt freshman Zordan Holman, who was among the injured players who did not take part in the first practice so that only increased Williams' snap count.

The native of Knoxville, Tennessee is thrilled to be out on the field as much as possible.

"I just really want to make plays so I have to do whatever I can to go out and (contribute)," Williams said.

So what will Williams bring to the UConn offense?

"My versatility, I can go down field, I have been working on my blocking in the offseason so that is where I am trying to get better," Williams said.

Williams caught two passes at Northern Iowa during the 2014 campaign. One of them went for 58 yards and the other one for 36 so he knows something about making plays in a vertical passing game. It doesn't hurt that Verducci was his position coach at UNI and he is not only calling the plays for UConn but also works with the tight ends.

"It is the exact same thing so it wasn't a big change for me," Williams said. "Where I line up is where I usually lined up at UNI so basically it is the same kind of offense.

"It helps me out a lot because some of the terminology changed but the plays didn't change. I know what to do and I know how to do my job. I still make mistakes but it is easier to correct them."

I didn't catch up with any of the the assistant coaches today but I spoke to Verducci about Williams back in August.

Williams actually reached out to Verducci to see if he could place to call to Memphis since that was school he was interested in. Verducci suggested that if he was going to transfer to a team in the American Athletic Conference, why not join him at UConn.

"I know the type of young man Billy is," Verducci said. "I know his skill set and he is going to be a nice addition to the team,.I think he is the type of young man we want in the program."

As much as Verducci likes Williams personally, the feeling going back the other way might be even stronger.

"He is father figure so every day he is telling me that either I did something good or I am doing something bad," Williams said. "He is always on me which is a good thing."

Williams' work a year ago was so impressive that he was named UConn's Scout Team Player of the Year. The scout team offense would try to emulate the first-team offense of the upcoming opponent to give the starting defense a sneak peek at what was coming up. It is a role that Williams took to heart.

"I just tried to make the defense better every day because Coach Diaco told us that we are just as important as the starters," Williams said. "I went out there every day trying to get better."

Last year UConn was forced to use players not naturally suited for the "F" position especially after Tommy Myers was lost for the season. Running backs Max DeLorenzo and Josh Marriner, offensive lineman Trey Rutherford and Steve Hashemi as well as quarterback Garrett Anderson saw time there. Diaco is excited to have a player like Williams, who is perfectly suited to that position, to have on the field.

"It is incredibly helpful," Diaco said. "Imagine trying to do this job without your recorder or I took your pen and your recorder, you'd be trying to figure out how to remember everything I just said so anytime you lose a tool for the trade, you have a job to do and anytime you lose that opportunity, you have a whole other set of problems and less production."

Levenberry could be one of the more high-profile transfers the Huskies have received in recent memory since he was the ninth leading tackler on the 2013 Florida State team which won the national championship. Levenberry had 39 tackles that season and 21 during the 2014 campaign.

He was working with the second team during today's practice and when he was on the sidelines, he would be in the ear of players like Cam Stapleton, Junior Joseph and Matt Walsh since they are more familiar with the defensive system than he is.

While there might be some who think he would immediately be plugged into the starting linebacker position which is open following the graduation of Graham Stewart, Levenberry knows he will have to earn his playing time.

"It is the thing I live by, it was instilled by my parents as a kid," Levenberry said. "You don't get anything (handed to you), you have to work to earn everything and that is what my teammates are here to do, we are all out here to work and bring our part to the team."

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