In part one of Randy Edsall’s assessment of the football program, he walked through the massive amount of work that needs to be done, the future at quarterback and what his ideal roster will look like moving forward. Today, you’ll get a look at youth that could make an impact in 2018, how the program fared off the field and how the program is looking to get back the tradition that has been lost over the last seven seasons. Without further ado:
YOUTH WILL PLAY A LARGE ROLE MOVING FORWARD
Edsall will see a lot of talent that can contribute come off of their redshirt years beginning in the spring, having had an entire season to adjust to the college game. With just seven scholarship seniors remaining, there are opportunities and several of those players who redshirted have been mentioned before. Edsall called a few out by name during last week’s session.
There’s Missouri native Cam Hairston at receiver and CB Bebe Olaniyan, who Edsall mentioned at the start of 2017 would have factored into the two-deep if he had not suffered an injury late in camp. There’s also a trio on the offensive line in Stanley Hubbard, James Tunstall and Robert Holmes, who could push their way into roles throughout the upcoming season.
“We can be better on the offensive line and we can be better defensively because we can be faster and guys will understand what we are trying to do even more,” he said.
Because of a few injuries from a year ago, Edsall is unsure on the amount of scrimmaging he will be able to do in the spring as Nino Leone recovers from offseason surgery and center Ryan Crozier continues to work his way back and will likely not be fully cleared until camp. With that, it’s clear Edsall is excited about the prospects of the future, but also wanted to temper expectations.
“It’s too early to tell,” Edsall said. “They are all working hard and getting better. There are guys you like on scout team, but then you go from scout team where you are running off a card and then all of a sudden you’re out there running around with live bullets flying, how do they react? I like what I’ve seen, but I’ll reserve [further] comments until I see a little more.”
In addition to those coming off redshirt years, there are two and maybe a third from the recently signed recruiting class that will arrive for the spring semester.
“[CB] Shamel [Lazarus] and [OL] Noel [Ofori-Nyadu] are the only guys for sure that will be here early in the spring,” Edsall confirmed. “We are trying to get one more cleared, but it’s going through the clearinghouse.”
That third would join the Huskies secondary for spring ball and more information will be released to the public as soon as that process concludes. With the large turnover of the roster, eleven players deciding to transfer or graduate early, Edsall is confident he’ll have 100-percent buy-in moving forward, something that may not have existed in year-one.
“Some of those guys last year, they weren’t buying into it,” he confirmed. “We had four guys who wanted to transfer halfway through the season. I was going to grant their release, but was able to convince them to stay.”
Being young and not fully developed into the athlete they will be by their senior year, Edsall had advice for the youth that remains and continues to be added to the roster.
“Be realistic with who you are,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with having limitations, it’s just understanding them. Don’t let those limitations hurt you. We had a few guys that didn’t want to understand that [this past year]. In the first year, you’ll sometimes see guys have one foot in and one foot out. Now we know everyone in the room [this year] wants to do it. They want to work.”
THRIVING IN THE CLASSROOM
The second part of the student-athlete mantra is always on the back of everyone’s mind, never at the forefront, but success academically goes to show what type of program is being run at each university. When it comes to grades, the Huskies had a lot of success.
“Right before I met with you guys, I learned we have not one kid that is up for dismissal from an academic standpoint,” Edsall said. “That’s a first. I thought we were good before when we were here. We don’t have all the grades in, but right now we have 35 guys that have a 3.0 or better [Edsall tweeted on Friday that 38 officially reached that accomplishment]. They will all be on the Director of Athletics Honor Roll.”
WILL THE BLOCK ‘C’ RETURN?
On the wall in the conference room adjacent to the table hung a large blue Block ‘C’ surrounded by white. It was the identification of the program beginning with the opening of Rentschler Field in 2003 and lasted through 2011, the year after the Huskies took on Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Seeing five bowl appearances, three postseason wins and countless victories over current P5 institutions, it represents the heyday of the program. Edsall has been quite outspoken on social media about the return of the logo and he, along with Kyle Muncy, the Associate Athletic Director for Licensing and Brand Management, expanded on the possibility of its’ return last week.
“That was in here before,” Edsall said as he pointed to the ‘C’ that hung on the wall. “It’s always been here. Some of the best days that UConn football has had, that was the trademark. If there’s a way we can incorporate that, someway, somehow in the grand scheme of all the things that we are doing, that’s part of it. Other sports [here] have things they are using. I’ve talked to Kyle [Muncy] about that. That’s something, maybe as a throwback or something, that could happen.”
However, a full remodel of what the Huskies wear on the field is difficult to do in a short period of time and won’t occur for the upcoming season.
“There are other people we are partnered with from a licensing and marketing standpoint that have a say in the things that we do as well,” Edsall verified. “When you look at that, I think it brings back some pretty good memories of success that this program has had. If there is a way that we can incorporate that to help us as we move on to more success as we continue to move forward, then that would be great to have. But that’s not my decision. Would I like to see that incorporated someway, somehow? Yes, I would.”
At this point, Muncy entered the conversation.
“I said to coach all season that [the Block ‘C’] should be [part of what we wear],” Muncy said. “It’s probably been the one swing and a miss on the rebrand. We didn’t do a great job with the helmet to begin with, with the rebrand. Football helmets are hard. What I think is easier to realize now is we had it right. That doesn’t mean that the color of the helmet is determined or the facemask, but obviously as Coach mentioned, we have a challenge, especially with Nike related to the amount of time. Coach has already signed off on everything that we are going to be wearing from Nike for next season. That stuff gets done ten months in advance, so it’s really difficult to be nimble. The helmet is one piece of it that you do have some flexibility. We’ve started to have conversations about the next UConn football uniform, but it won’t arrive until August of 2019.”
INSIDE THE REBRAND WITH NIKE
Muncy expanded a bit on the conversations that took place back in 2012 as then-Athletic Director Warde Manuel attempted to leave his mark on the football uniform and specifically, the helmet. Manuel, of course, played at Michigan and was Maize-and-Blue through and through, wanting to bring a piece of the Wolverines to the Huskies program. The result clearly was not a hit.
“The Block ‘C’ is too popular and I’ve told Coach this,” Muncy said. “We met with Nike in the Spring of 2012, so we were still ten months away from introducing the new brand and the new Husky logo. When they initially presented to us, Nike actually recommended that we keep the Block ‘C.’ Warde didn’t want to. That helmet, it really was interesting. We went through the whole rebrand and Coach Pasqualoni really had no opinion one way or the other. Warde helped design that helmet literally on a computer, it was not a high level design firm. He tried to make it like the Michigan helmet.”
“Nike had presented and shared with us some pretty cool looks,” he continued. “None of them had the Block ‘C’ at that point because we had already scuttled it, but I actually was showing the equipment guy some of the different options they had presented and the one with the eyes were by far and away the worst option. But Warde saw those and he was all-in. We wore those for three years, one full-year with Pasqualoni, started the next year with Pasqualoni and we actually did keep them for the first year of Coach Diaco. Part of that is obviously when you make coaching changes in the middle of the year, it’s hard to change anything. Coach had no say on any of the stuff the coaching staff had to wear this past season, it had all been ordered by Coach Diaco.”
NIKE’S MONOPOLY ON SPORTS MERCHANDISE
Make no mistake about it, Nike has been a great partner for the Huskies and continues to be. One difficult situation that UConn faces that maybe schools like Alabama or Auburn don’t, is the competition of merchandise with professional sports franchises.
“We’ve seen, from a merchandise sales standpoint, our rebrand has been incredibly successful,” Muncy said. “Where we’ve really struggled to boost sales with Nike, it’s not just UConn, it’s a lot of other schools, one of the challenges has been since the NFL went with Nike. If you walk into the Bookstore [in Storrs], it’s fine, it’s UConn wall-to-wall. But if you walk into Dick’s Sporting Goods, you are going to see for the Patriots, the Giants and UConn, Nike, exactly the same. The colors are the same. So it’s having an impact. So not only is every college wearing exactly the same sideline gear, but we are wearing the same sideline gear as the Giants and the Patriots.”
“What happens, all these companies, they become cookie-cutter companies, so everyone has the same style, it’s just different colors,” Edsall added. “What we wear, Alabama wears. You see the Chicago Bears, they have the Bear logo here, pointing to his chest. We have our Husky dog. Everything else is the same, just different colors. The other night, John Fox was wearing the same pullover we have and the same quarter-zip we have. It’s the same design, just had the Broncos logo instead of ours.”
LOOKING TO REGAIN TRADITION
A main focus in Part I of this two-part series was the major drop-off Edsall had identified when it came to on-field play and specifically, the traits of those on the roster. That’s not the only area where there’s been a drop-off. Attendance has plummeted, fewer alumni were present on a consistent basis and even relationships with donors wavered. Edsall made progress in a few of those areas this past year, but hopes to turn the tide in more areas moving forward.
“There are a lot of things happening that are good, but it’s just from where it was when I left here, to where it is now, you talk about a drop off?” Edsall said. “Like I said with the strength and speed numbers, when you factor in the relationships with fans, donors and former players, it’s like starting all over again. But we’ll be fine. We’ll get there.”
Edsall believes the program will get back to where it was for two reasons. The type of guys he’s bringing in and also how he’s going to run things here.
“The attitude of the kids and these young guys, they are competitors, they want to work,” he said. “If you aren’t holding them accountable and being demanding, you can’t get it done.”
Asked whether this was a bigger task than he originally envisioned when he first agreed to come back to Storrs, Edsall paused for a moment.
“I don’t know what I really expected coming in, but after getting here, there’s a lot more work here than I anticipated,” he confirmed. “I didn’t realize how much everything has fallen off. At this level, with what you need and the support of so many people, how everything had fallen off. Recruiting, donor relationships, alumni relationships, fans and all those things. The thing that is most important is the talent level. I recruited Byron Jones. Take a look at what happened since then. Not too long ago, there were 26-players on active NFL rosters. All that was is getting guys like we signed [on December 20th] and developing them.”
He also sees a need to help draw fans back into the stadium.
“What we need to do is cut the ticket prices, get the fans back in the stands first,” he said. “We are going to win. What the fans need to know is this. These young men that we just signed, they all believe in what we are doing. They aren’t taking a wait and see attitude. That’s what the fans need to do. They just need to come back and be engaged, be a part of this experience that is going to be taking place. The players believe it. These guys we are recruiting believe it.”
“But what we need to do is cut the ticket prices, get everyone in there and get this place back to where Rentschler Field is a tough place to play because of the enthusiasm and the passion of the fans,” he continued. “These young kids that we have and these young kids we are recruiting, they have that passion and that energy. They didn’t wait around to see. They know we are going to win and they know they are going to be part of it. We need to get the fans thinking that same way.”
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