UConn and Coast Guard foot­ball teams open their sea­sons tonight

UConn foot­ball pro­gram will put all its changes to the test

The Day - - FRONT PAGE - By GAVIN KEEFE Day Sports Writer

In many ways, UConn is a vastly dif­fer­ent foot­ball team than last sea­son.

There's a new coach­ing staff, led by head coach Randy Ed­sall. New up­tempo of­fense. New de­fen­sive align­ment. New play­ers in some key po­si­tions, in­clud­ing quar­ter­back.

And there's also a new at­ti­tude and a re­newed com­mit­ment.

Now it's time to find out to see if those changes will trans­late to suc­cess this sea­son.

The an­swer will be­gin to re­veal it­self start­ing with to­day's sea­son opener against Holy Cross. Kick­off is 7:30 p.m. at Pratt & Whit­ney Sta­dium at Rentschler Field in East Hart­ford. Ed­sall is ea­ger to learn more about his team. “It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how these guys play, how they re­act be­cause you just don't know,” Ed­sall said. “But I'm ex­cited about watch­ing them go out and per­form. … For me and for the staff, we don't know how any of them re­act be­cause we haven't been around them in real game sit­u­a­tions.

“… We'll learn about who are those guys that can go out and han­dle the pres­sure and think their way through all the dif­fer­ent things that go on dur­ing the game and who are those guys that can make ad­just­ments? Who are those guys that don't panic? Who are those guys that rise up to

meet the chal­lenges and to meet some of the sit­u­a­tions that we're go­ing to be con­fronted with?

“And who are those guys that are go­ing to play with the pride, the pas­sion and the en­ergy and the phys­i­cal­ness that you want them to play with?”

Op­ti­mism is cer­tainly high in­side the UConn locker room. The Huskies are de­ter­mined to be­come a win­ning pro­gram again and win back fans. They've suf­fered through six straight los­ing sea­sons, in­clud­ing 3-9 in 2016.

“It starts on Thurs­day,” se­nior Luke Car­rezola said. “With Coach Ed­sall com­ing back, I think the whole state in gen­eral is just real ex­cited to see us play, so we re­ally want to come out and make a name for our­selves.

“… Right now, there's just ex­cite­ment ev­ery­where. You walk around the locker room and it's just a dif­fer­ent vibe.”

It may be a chal­leng­ing climb back to re­spectabil­ity. Only one team, Tu­lane, re­ceived fewer votes in the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence pre­sea­son foot­ball me­dia poll than UConn, which was se­lected to fin­ish last in the East Divi­sion.

Any turn­around has to start on of­fense.

The Huskies were dread­ful last sea­son, rank­ing last in the coun­try in scor­ing at 14.8 points per game. They man­aged just 16 points in the last four games. They didn't score a touch­down in the first quar­ter all sea­son.

Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Rhett Lash­lee has in­tro­duced an up­tempo at­tack and ver­sa­tile quar­ter­back David Pin­dell, a ju­nior col­lege trans­fer, is now at the helm. Pin­dell, who threw for 2,424 yards and 31 touch­downs last sea­son at Lack­awanna Col­lege in Scran­ton, Pa., is grow­ing more com­fort­able each week but he's yet to take a game snap.

“I'm ex­cited about the op­por­tu­nity,” Pin­dell said. “I feel as though if ev­ery­body just goes out there and does their job there shouldn't be any ma­jor sur­prises or any­thing.”

Pin­dell has a promis­ing but some­what un­proven group of re­ceivers at his dis­posal. Tight ends, ba­si­cally ig­nored last sea­son, are ex­pected to play a big­ger role.

Ed­sall is a firm be­liever in es­tab­lish­ing a re­li­able ground game in or­der to suc­ceed. Se­nior Ar­keel New­some, the lead­ing re­turn­ing rusher last sea­son at 59.6 yards per game, will be counted on to pump some life into a run­ning at­tack that av­er­aged 117.3 yards last sea­son.

Whether the Huskies can con­sis­tently find the zone may de­pend on the of­fen­sive line, which strug­gled last sea­son. Ex­pe­ri­ence is there, as four first team play­ers started at least three games last sea­son. Red­shirt fresh­man guard Cam

DeGe­orge is the only new­comer.

“It's a unit that hasn't had a lot of suc­cess,” Ed­sall said of the of­fense. “But that's in the past, we don't worry about that. … I can see this unit hav­ing suc­cess as we start and we con­tinue to work and con­tinue to build. There's guys that have pride. Guys un­der­stand the roles and un­der­stand what we're go­ing to do. Now it's up to them to go out and play and ex­e­cute.”

The Huskies will un­veil an ag­gres­sive 3-3-5 de­fense un­der the guid­ance of de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Billy Crocker, a Water­ford na­tive.

“He brings a ton of en­ergy,” Car­rezola said of Crocker. “It's awesome to be around. As a whole, it's more of an at­tack­ing de­fense so it's go­ing to be more ex­plo­sive than be­fore.”

De­fense could be the back­bone of the team with veter­ans like Car­rezola, lineback­ers Ju­nior Joseph and Cam Sta­ple­ton, de­fen­sive line­men Folorunso Fatukasi and Cole Ormsby and de­fen­sive back Ja­mar Sum­mers lead­ing the charge. Top re­turn­ing tack­ler Von­tae Diggs, a line­backer, could re­turn from a knee in­jury by mid-Septem­ber. Depth is a con­cern, though. The big­gest mys­tery is spe­cial teams. Place­kicker Michael Tar­butt, a red­shirt sopho­more, sat out last sea­son and missed his only ca­reer field goal at­tempt as a fresh­man. Ed­sall has yet to name a start­ing punter, try­ing to pick be­tween fresh­man Luke Magliozzi and red­shirt fresh­man Brett Graham, two play­ers mak­ing their de­buts this sea­son. Re­turn spe­cial­ists Jor­dan Swann, a fresh­man, and red­shirt fresh­man Quayvon Skanes also are untested.

Ed­sall is happy with the progress his team made in all areas dur­ing pre­sea­son.

“They've picked up all the things that we in­stalled re­ally well,” Ed­sall said. “It's a to­gether group that re­ally wants to win and wants to do the things nec­es­sary in or­der to win.”

SEAN D. EL­LIOT/THE DAY

UConn head foot­ball coach Randy Ed­sall watches prac­tice this spring at the Shenkman Train­ing Cen­ter in Storrs.

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