Just over three months ago, CB Shamel Lazarus was sitting in a high school classroom at Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, NY. Fast forward twelve weeks and he’s been thrust into the grueling schedule of college. On his own for the first time at a new place, balancing a workload both on and off the field, the transition was initially unexpected.
“At first, it was pretty hard, just managing my time with classes, football and learning the plays,” Lazarus said after practice on Thursday. “Now that I’m a couple weeks in, I’m getting better with it. I now know the plays and things are coming easier for me.”
Lazarus is one of only three mid-year, early enrollees to join the UConn football program this spring. OL Noel Ofori-Nyadu has unfortunately been sidelined and Husky Backer Malik Banks are the only others. It’s been a transition and an experience for the Jamaica Plains, NY native coming to Storrs, but it’s helped with having other members of the freshmen class here with him. Banks has been a major help.
“We’re actually roommates,” Lazarus said. “We go and do everything together. We’re not part of that freshmen class [that was already here], so we kind of do things together, us two. We’ve gotten really close.”
Their transition to the team has gone well. Sure, there will be small jabs here and there about their youth and newness to the program, but all-in-all, they’ve been welcomed with open arms.
“They’ve welcomed us well,” he said. “We came in in the middle of the year which is kind of hard, but I feel pretty close to these guys already.”
Lazarus is already turning heads in practice. At 6’2″ 170-lbs, he’s a similar body type to former UConn great Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who possessed great range and length, which helped accentuate his game. He’s also made some movement in the lineup and has started to see more reps.
“Coming in, I was a three, but now they have me with the two’s,” Lazarus explained. “Last practice I was with the one’s so I feel like I’m feeling my way out and the coaches are realizing that I’m getting a grasp of the playbook. I’m just excited to get it rolling with the defense.”
With Jordan Swann sidelined on Tuesday, Lazarus was again moved up into the lineup with the one’s. At times, he was matched-up against WR Hergy Mayala, who is becoming more-and-more one of the most complete receivers to come through this program. Lazarus gave up a few catches in the match-up, but there were also instances where he was step-for-step with Mayala, showing flashes of his talent, while also gaining the experience of going against the Huskies best receiver.
For such a young player, who should still be in that high school classroom back in Brooklyn, he recognizes there are things he can improve upon.
“I feel like I’m a little raw,” he said. “My athleticism puts me above some other guys, but I just want to keep working. They tell me that I have high potential, so I’m trying to work everyday.”
His length will only help as he continues to develop fundamentally.
“Definitely,” he agreed. “It allows me to be a little less mechanically sound because I have the range to cover-up. If and when I do get mechanically sound, that will give me an edge”
Being comfortable in what he’s doing schematically is also something he needs time to understand and more time to comprehend.
“The system is new to me because in high school it was pretty simple, we played a lot of man coverage,” he said. “Now, we’re playing like a cover-4, so it’s like a zone inside of a man. The concept is kind of hard to get, but once you grasp it, it should be pretty efficient.”
Helping him with that understanding and his own development is defensive back coach Curome Cox, who was the main recruiter for Lazarus.
“Coach Cox is real cool,” he said. “He recruited me so we have a good connection. Out here [on the practice field], he’s hard on me. He’s always on me making sure I’m getting all the little things down and making sure I’m 100-percent.”
Cox is an entertaining coach to watch on the sidelines. He’s emotional, loud, passionate and he will never be afraid to let players know the mistakes they have made. But when personnel is switched out, he’s there on the sidelines, arm around player, walking through the corrections, helping them understand how to get better, each and every play, each and every day.
For Lazarus, despite the initial shock when practice first began, he now recognizes there’s a reason for it.
“It was a little bit [hard] because as a recruit, there’s a smile on the face, telling you everything is going to be alright and then you come out here and [the coaches] are on you,” he said. “It was a little culture shock I guess, but once you’re here you get used to it and they’re just trying to get you better.”
Throughout the entire secondary, improvement has been noticeable throughout the spring. Concepts are being recognized, communication has increased on the back-end and results are starting to come. The addition of Lazarus has contributed to the depth that is now present at each corner position as he’s quickly beginning to get close to a goal he set for himself at the start of spring.
“My initial goal was to get into the rotation,” he said. “[Next Saturday], I want to make some plays during the spring game and just show what I can do.”
With one of his goals for the spring having been met, all attention turns towards next Saturday, where the true test will come inside the lines, with all-eyes watching at The Rent.
MATT SCHONVISKY / SITE CREATOR