Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Madison's Walsh honored to be a captain at UConn

The last Connecticut native to be named a captain of the UConn football team is current Dallas Cowboys safety Byron Jones. Scott Lutrus, who made seven tackles with the Indianapolis Colts during the 2011 NFL season, is among the recent state products to earn that honor. Oh, and the last player from the New Haven area to earn that distinction is Shelton's Dan Orlovsky who has been in the NFL since 2005.

Yes, former Hand High star Matt Walsh joined some pretty select company when the senior linebacker joined senior offensive tackle Andreas Knappe, junior quarterback Bryant Shirreffs and senior defensive lineman Mikal Myers as the captains of the 2016 UConn football team.

"I feel like I have been a leader already, now I have the 'C" on my chest," Walsh said. "I just want to be able to guide guys and be a coach on the field, make sure everybody is making the right decisions on the off the field."

Diaco couldn't be happier that Walsh was named as one of the four captains as he has witnessed Walsh's growth both on and off the field in the last three years.

"It's one of the great stories," Diaco said. "Without some of major life-altering event that happens to young people from the ages of 15-22, to see him grow and mature and become a worker, become a servant, become a classmate, become a teammate and become a productive football player and the growth that he has made. People have guided him. I am sure when you ask him, he will mention the people in his life but he had to do it. I am so proud of him for that and he is not going to look back. It is in his DNA, he is who is meant to be and he's a defender of our mission specifically as it relates to football. He is going to be a great defender on a mission he is on."

Fellow linebacker Cam Stapleton said "ask the guards, ask them how they feel when he is coming down on them."

It is that ferocious approach to the game that allowed Walsh to be named the Register's State Player of the Year after recording 182 tackles as a senior, 15 coming in the 2012 Class L title game.

"How he was on offense, I don't even know but you move him to defense and it was like night and day," UConn defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter said. "This kid was made to play defensive football. Lucky for us, (due to) the vision of the head coach of seeing this kid and moving him to defense. He is just an awesome kid to be around. He will work hard, he really practices hard, a great teammate and great leader. Obviously being voted team captain, your teammates think a lot about you and your leadership ability. It is awesome to see it. He has come a long way, we are looking forward to him having a great year."

Former NFL linebacker Vincent Brown was his position coach a season ago before shifting over to coach the defensive linemen this year. He witnessed Walsh transform himself physically so he could move from sideline to sideline to make tackles as well as drop into coverage if need be.

"Matt epitomizes the Bleed Blue mentality that we have that we are trying to grow in the program," Brown said. "He is one of the kids who has transformed not only his life but his dedication as a football player and it represents what our program is about, developing the players. He went from a young man who kind of partially involved to being a vocal and active leader on the team. He embraced the role. He has transformed his body so he is leaner, he is quicker, he is stronger and he is a student of the game. He is very instinctive and intuitive so he sees things and he helps make all the guys around him better players also."

Growing up watching UConn play only made Walsh appreciate the honor of being voted as a team
captain even more.

"It is giving me goose bumps right now," Walsh said. "Going to the games, I was dreaming about getting on the field and now to be a leader and a captain on the team walking about to the center of the field to do the coin toss  when all eyes are on you, it is an experience that I am thankful I am going to get the opportunity to do it.

"It has been a wild ride, everybody has their ups and downs in their career and kind of seeing at one point of my college career and where I am now, it kind of gives me more motivation that if I did that, what else can I do? That is one reason why I will never set my limits and will always strive to be the best that I can."

Freshman Jasen Rose, who has been absent from UConn preseason practice due to what Diaco said was a result of the former Southington High star not feeling well, released a statement announcing that he is leaving UConn.

"At this time in my life, attending school at UConn is not what is best for me. I will instead enroll at a different school this fall, one closer to home and to my family. As much as I love the game of football, I will step away from it and not participate this season or in the foreseeable future."

Rose was a highly-decorated quarterback at Southington High who was expected to play the "F" position, a hybrid tight end/h-back position.

"I wish him the best," Diaco said. "I wish his family the best, I will be rooting for him and hoping for him. I enjoyed the recruiting process, getting to know his family and getting to know him. When he came to campus, I thoroughly enjoyed being with him and around him. he is a special young man. He is working on him, different seasons in your life pop up and you go down different paths. Jay has to live Jay's life and I am supportive of that whether I like it, love it is irrelevant. I care about him and I want him to do well."

Rose was one of the biggest names in this current true freshman class. I spoke to him at the Walter Camp Foundation All-State team announcement a few months back and here's what he had to say.

"It is definitely starting to sink in," Rose said. "It is a weird feeling, football season is over and now it is on to the next chapter at UConn. 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. 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.

"I think getting to a bowl game this year is a big step. I think Coach Diaco is doing a great job and I think he is turning it in the right direction. They are great players, I am looking forward  to playing with them for the next four years. I can't wait to have them as my teammates.

"It definitely felt right to stay home in Connecticut. We are all trying to change our program around so we have to keep the best players in the state at UConn. That was when I knew I wanted to go to UConn. I did, it is pretty cool to see them playing on a bowl game on national television. It definitely makes you more excited for next year and definitely makes me want to work harder.
It has all slowed down, it is all coming to an end and I glad it is all over with."

There was a rumor out there last week that Rose had left UConn, had enrolled at Central Connecticut State and would be eligible to play for the Blue Devils this season. I checked into that and he was not enrolled at CCSU at the time but that school would certainly qualify as being closer to his Southington home than UConn so we'll see if that is where he ends up.

Diaco announced that redshirt freshman linebacker Connor Freeborn, who has been working with the second team, suffered a season-ending lower-body injury. Also, he is hopeful that senior linebacker Jon Hicks will be cleared to participate in the season opener against Maine on Sept. 1.

There's plenty of more to get through in the next few days but I can pass on that Diaco said that among the true freshmen, long snapper Nick Zecchino (who punter Justin Wain and kicker Bobby Puyol affectionately said is like Diaco's son) and receiver/return specialist Quayvon Skanes will see action this season.

"He is like Diaco's son, he rubs off the same way as Coach," Puyol said with a laugh. "It's a really fun time being around him."

Running backs coach David Corley was noncommittal about freshmen Ja'Kevious Vickers (who has been outstanding at every practice I've been at) and/or Nate Hopkins seeing time as true freshmen although offensive coordinator Frank Verducci believes that true freshman fullback Teddy Allmendinger could play in the season opener.

At some point I will get around to transcribing Diaco's response when I asked him if the Huskies would be more aggressive when it came to returning punts this season after basically telling his players to fair catch nearly every punt during the 2015 season. It's one of the longest quote files I had from today and basically I wouldn't expect to see UConn suddenly returning punts as a fast and furious pace moving forward.


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