Saturday, April 22, 2017

Former walk-on Rishell getting his kicks at UConn

Among the most surprising aspects of last night's spring game was just how much range Will Rishell showed on his field goal attempts.

Rishell made a 44-yard field goal while a 47-yard attempt had the distance but was slightly off target.

Following the graduation of Bobby Puyol, one of the best kickers in program history, I figured Michael Tarbutt would be the Huskies' kicker. That still may happen but with Tarbutt out of the spring game and much of spring drills due to a quad injury, Rishell was given the chance to show what he can do. Now there will be serious competition at kicker in summer/fall camp.

Rishell, like most kickers, was more focused on the field goal and extra point that he missed than the field goal and the six extra points he converted. He approached Edsall about focusing exclusively on being a kicker instead of splitting his time at quarterback and kicker and that hard work is certainly paying off.

"Obviously I want them back but that is kicking, you can't get them back," Rishell said. "It is good to get out here at the Rent and get some (kicks in). Now that we had some production, now we can into the summer and we have three months where we can work on it. It is Brett's first time holding, it is my first time working with the whole operation so it is getting better and better."

Not only is punter Brett Graham the holder for the first time at UConn but Jeffrey Sidebotham is the long snapper giving UConn three new faces at all three levels of the place-kicking routine.

"Will has done in there and he's got a good pop on the ball," UConn coach Randy Edsall said. "There are some things we need to work with him mechanically but he is also one of those guys he knows . He's a guy that understands it and is a competitor. He's had good enough leg strength, he's hit them from over 50 but we have to get him more consistent. Some of that is the operation, the snap, the hold all those things we are not as smooth as we need to be so it is not all on Will. I like the kid, I like the way he competes."

So what does Rishell feel like his range is?
"In the spring I've hit a couple of 50 yarders, a 51," Rishell said. "I think my range right now is probably about 55 and that was indoors so with the wind, that changes a little bit. Hopefully by the time the season comes along, I can hit it a little farther than that but you have to get the short ones
before you get the long ones."

Rishell has yet to appear in a game at UConn as he prepares for his fifth season but he still has had an journey to end all journeys.

After being a quarterback, defensive back and safety at RHAM, he decided to enroll at UConn and became a walk-on. Even though he was far down the depth chart, Rishell was among the first people at practice and the last ones to leave. He did the work in the weight room and in the classroom. His work did not go unnoticed as former UConn coach Bob Diaco awarded scholarships to Rishell and fellow in-state players Sean Marinan, Jason Thompson and Nick Vitale.

"That is one of my most favorite experiences here and something I will never forget," Rishell said. "Coming in as a walk-on, being able to get that with Nick and JT (Jason Thompson), JT is one of the best friends, we came in together and those two guys were both from Connecticut. It is awesome to be recognized for coming in every day, working hard. Regardless of how much I get to play here or if I don't, it was just an awesome memory for me and just to be able to share that with those guys, it was great.

"There is no guarantee so when you show up here, it is your first few days or first few weeks and you are a walk-on, you are just trying to figure things out. As the first few years go on, you get to know the guys and kind of find your place, that recognition is awesome because coming out here every day, you don't have any guarantees, you love football, you love the work and love coming out here and trying to make the team better is what we were doing and to be recognized for that was great."

It made for quite the special phone call to his parents who wouldn't have to pay for his final three semesters at UConn.

"It was awesome," Rishell said. "They have supported me my whole life obviously and the whole time here there are a lot of things you give up when you have such a busy schedule like we do and I don't get to see them as much but they have supported me through the whole thing so I can give them that call so they were obviously proud and happy for me."

Thompson had carries in 2016 games against Houston, Cincinnati and East Carolina and got the start against Cincinnati. Marinan had 20 tackles playing in 24 games during the 2015 and 2016 seasons while Vitale earned a regular role on special teams as he returned three punts during the 2015 campaign and in 2016 he made five tackles. Rishell knows that he is part of a group of former Connecticut high school players who can serve as motivation for future in-state products who opt to go the walk-on route at UConn.

"You have the guys who come in after and some times it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, you can kind of become an example for them that if you do the right thing, if you work hard, if you come in every day to try to make the team better, it is going to work out for you," Rishell said. "You are from Connecticut and you are a walk-on, you kind of gravitate towards the other guys who share in that experience so to be able to receive the scholarship with them was pretty special."

Rishell shares something else in common with Marinan as he has been honored for earn a 4.0 grade-point average on multiple occasions.

"I wish I was a 4.0 every time but it is up there pretty good," said Rishell, an electrical engineering major. "I've taken pride in doing the best I can in the classroom while I have been here, it is good to be able to see that achievement."


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