For Eddie Hahn, his third year at UConn is already starting to look like the charm. After redshirting in 2016 and seeing all of his time at safety for the scout team, the New Jersey native began last year, under new leadership, at safety. It was short lived, however, as once training camp began, there was a switch to linebacker. It took awhile to get accustomed to the position, but he’s been able to take steps forward each time he steps onto the field and this spring was another opportunity for him to improve, something he has taken advantage of.
“My game has definitely progressed a lot [since arriving at UConn],” Hahn said following Tuesday’s practice. “I was with Coach Cox last spring and I’ve been with the linebackers and Coach Wholley since the end of Fall camp last year. I’m just working on fundamentals and techniques. Once you break down your game and understand there’s more to it than just playing football, it benefits you down the road.”
“You might not understand it at first, but the more you work on reading the running back, seeing the pullers, it makes you play a lot faster,” he continued. “That’s something I can see a lot with the linebackers this year so far. Just through spring camp, we’re playing a lot faster, we’re playing with more confidence and we’re having a lot of fun doing it. It’s not so much, ‘I’m scared to mess up this play, I’m scared to do this, I’m scared to do that;’ it’s just read the running back and get to the ball. It’s really that simple.”
Following a year which saw the entire unit struggle defensively, Hahn believes the results will improve this season, mostly because everyone knows their role, their individual responsibility and the assignment on each and every play.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Most of us have been in the playbook for the last year basically. We were actually talking on the sideline the other day. Darrian [Beavers] came up to me and he was like ‘once you know what you’re doing, it’s a lot easier to play faster.’ It’s really showing. We are progressing. There are still areas to improve, that’s the name of the game, but we are playing with more confidence.”
The transition to linebacker for Hahn last year was a challenge. A quarterback coming out of Red Bank Catholic High School, Hahn was used to leading his team offensively. He QB’d RBC to a state title in 2014 as a junior, earning First-Team All-Shore (NJ) selection, throwing for 1,485 yards and 20 touchdowns, while running for 531 yards and 12 scores. In the championship game at Met Life, he was almost perfect, going 9-for-10 for 234 yards and a touchdown, while running for 47 yards and another score. The effort saw Red Bank Catholic take home the title in a 45-20 win.
Hahn committed to the Huskies in 2015 over offers from NC State, Temple and several others and was projected to be a safety in Storrs, despite being recruited by multiple schools at both safety and quarterback. The move to linebacker was a learning experience, playing closer to the ball and being asked to be much more physical than he was used to.
“It was a big adjustment,” Hahn admitted. “I played a little bit of safety in high school, but not much and then when I got here with the previous staff, I played the whole year at safety on scout team. When these guys got here, I played safety the whole spring. But Coach Cox came up to me and asked ‘what do you think of playing linebacker?’ My first reaction was like nah. But definitely now, you’re closer to the line of scrimmage and you’re closer to making plays. At the end of the day you just want to make plays and do whatever you can to make the team better.”
A natural athlete, despite taking some time to develop in his new role, he’s made drastic strides. Add leadership to those characteristics.
“[The coaches] are asking me to be a leader and asking me to do my job,” Hahn said. “That’s what they are asking everyone to do, all eleven guys on the field, that’s all they really can ask is for everyone to do their job and just make plays.”
A lot of leadership was lost from a season ago at the position, including five players that saw the majority of action over the last two seasons. That’s why the coaches are relying on Hahn, a mature individual and natural leader to take the reigns of the group.
“I’m trying to,” he said. “But Eli Thomas, I know he hasn’t been out here, but he’s doing everything he can through individual and just being on the sideline throughout practice, helping us out. It’s not just one guy. I would say it’s a collective group. To me, I feel like having a collective group of leaders is better than just one because one guy might have a down day and if everyone looks at him as the leader, practice could go sluggish. If everybody is leading, the guy next to you is going to pick you up. That’s the mentality a lot of us have, a good majority of the linebackers have that. Especially losing Junior [Joseph], Vontae [Diggs], EJ [Levenberry], even Cam Stapleton, they were great leaders. We got to play with them for the last two years and while losing them hurts, I would say we have a lot of leaders and we’re just trying to get better each day.”
This spring, Hahn had clear goals he set for himself, which mostly surrounded the playing of his new position. Was he able to accomplish them all?
“No,” he said matter-of-factly, implying he made progress, but is nowhere near a finished product. “I obviously wanted to get better playing linebacker and give everything I had, keep working on the fundamentals. I’m starting to reach that goal, but there’s always room for improvement. Coach Wholley tries to help me every day with compact movements because I’m so long that I take longer steps. That’s what I’ve always been taught as it’ll get you to the line of scrimmage faster. But the faster feet I have, the more plays I’ll make because I won’t be so elongated in my movements.”
He credits Coach Wholley for his development, as well as bringing some added energy, something that can be seen around Wholley whether it’s on or off the field.
“Coach Wholley definitely brings the passion and energy everyday,” Hahn said. “Like I said before, you might have an off day, you might be overwhelmed with school work or exams, but having Coach Wholley as a coach who is really passionate and cares a lot about UConn football, it’s great to have him as a coach because he brings it from the time you walk in the door. He’ll be yelling and screaming if he sees you, so it’s good to have him around.”
One of the new pieces of spring that the coaching staff has implemented over the last few weeks of practice is the yellow jersey, which Edsall awards to one offensive, one defensive and one special teams’ player after each practice. Hahn has received the jersey three times, twice on defense (back-to-back practices) and once for his efforts on special teams.
“I would say the team reacted [to the jersey] pretty well,” he said. “It’s fun because the morning after practice you’re waiting around to see who gets that yellow jersey. I don’t know if Coach will do it for the spring game, but it’s a nice little change up during spring ball.”
Compared to a year ago, this spring has been night and day in terms of progress, buy-in, development and success. Saturday is an opportunity the Huskies know they have in order to prove to the fans who have stuck by them through thick and thin, that they are a different team. Hahn acknowledged that as we concluded.
“On Saturday, we’re just trying to go out, play our game and have fun,” he said. “It’s the last time we’ll have pads on until Fall camp, so you can’t really hold anything back, you just need to let everything go. We really want to show people that UConn football is on the way back. We are on the rise.”
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