Fiesta Bowl team supports current group of Huskies
EAST HARTFORD — Kendall Reyes felt at home Saturday.
The former UConn defensive lineman returned to Rentschler Field with more than a dozen of his former teammates as the school celebrated the 2010 Fiesta Bowl team.
“It’s really awesome to be back with everybody just catching up, and it’s cool just to kind of see where everyone’s at,” Reyes said. “Everyone’s got their families. I’ve got my crew of five that I rolled up with. It’s pretty cool seeing everyone’s little ones.”
His NFL career behind him — and with three children of his own — Reyes, 31, got nostalgic watching highlights of that season. Standing outside a third-floor suite, he smiled as the memories came rushing back to him, memories that are now a distant reminder of how fleeting time is.
The Huskies have had nine straight losing seasons and only one bowl appearance since (2015 St. Petersburg Bowl), never finishing better than 6-7. And that streak is almost certain to continue, with this year’s team off to an 0-3 start following a 49-0 loss to Purdue.
“It’s tough,” Reyes said. “I’m not
going to lie and say it’s easy. But still, we’re here. We’re always going to support our alma mater. Our friends, our buddies, our memories still lie here. Just like everything, win or lose, we’re going to root on UConn.”
Unquestionably, UConn is trudging through one of its darkest times as a program, and what comes next is uncertain following head coach Randy Edsall’s sudden retirement last Monday. Unable to replicate the success he once had in Storrs, Edsall was just 6-32 during his second stint with the Huskies, with three of the victories coming against FCS schools.
Still, Reyes and others remain supportive of their former coach.
“He has all of our respect. We love him dearly,” Reyes said. “We’re proud of the effort, proud of what he did not only for generations of players, but what he did especially for us and our group. We’re forever thankful for coach Edsall.”
Added former offensive lineman Jimmy Bennett: “Edsall was in a tough situation. A lot of coaches have been in tough situations. You don’t have a conference now. You need a little more support and just a little more time, I think. The talent level has increased, and you’ve got a really young team right now.”
It was Edsall, 63, who guided the program as it transitioned from Division I-AA to Division I-A as a member of the Big East, going 74-70 between 1999 and 2010. He brought the Huskies to five bowl games during that time, including the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day 2011, where they were beaten 48-20 by Oklahoma to finish 8-5.
Edsall left after that to coach at Maryland, shocking those who figured he’d continue to build on what he started in Storrs.
“I got over it pretty quickly,” said Reyes, who went on to spend five seasons in the NFL after going in the second round (49th overall) of the 2012 draft to San Diego. “At the end of the day, you understand everything is a business. … After the initial shock of it, it is what it is. I think it’s one of those things that kind of gets played out to be bigger than it was. It’s college football, it happens all the time.”
At the time, Reyes thought the program was ready to take off — even without Edsall.
“We definitely thought we had a lot of momentum,” he said. “We had a good team. We had great players, and we sent a lot of guys to the (NFL) during those times. We definitely had a lot of momentum. Sometimes things don’t shake out how you want it to. The rest kind of worked out the way that it did. Not everything’s going to be picture perfect.”
The constant losing has led many to wonder whether the school would be better off dropping down to FCS status or abandoning football altogether. Reyes called both options “crazy.”
“The first time it happened it might have seemed impossible, and it happened,” Reyes said of the program’s initial rise. “I wouldn’t rule out it happening again. All it takes is a few things going in the right direction. You build that momentum; you get the program churning again. Places change. Things could change pretty quickly. I’m definitely always optimistic about what could happen.
“They’re going to get it figured out. We’ll look back on these days like, ‘Hey, that was part of the history.’ ”
What kind of coach can spark that change?
“I think it’s going to be an offensive kind of guy,” Bennett said. “That seems to be the way football is going nowadays. All the hot young coaches are going to be guys that can scheme it up on offense, guys that can get points on the board.”