It’s no secret that the UConn football program has had a tremendous amount of success producing defensive backs that have gone on to play in the National Football League. Last night, Obi Melifonwu found himself standing in the New England Patriots locker room, fresh off a win at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, embracing the Lamar Hunt Trophy. The Grafton, MA native now finds himself on the way to the Super Bowl in Atlanta as a member of the team he cheered for growing up; just 7-years old during Tom Brady’s first Super Bowl, also against the Rams.
He’s the latest in a long-line of players who called the Storrs secondary home before ultimately making the journey to the NFL. His former teammate, Byron Jones, is widely considered to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league with the Dallas Cowboys. There are many others since the Huskies once meteoric rise to FBS success; from Darius Butler, Robert McClain, Andrew Adams, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz, all who have had their moments at the next level.
Despite the fall-off on the field defensively the last two seasons, there is a whole lot of young talent at the position on the Huskies roster, all of whom are hoping to follow in the foot steps of those who came before. With the commitment of St. Thomas Acquinas CB Myles Bell, who signed his LOI in December, the competition just got a heckuva lot tougher.
Bell comes from one of the top football schools in Florida, regularly a hotbed for FBS & Power-5 coaches on the recruiting trail. The program is led by former FAU assistant Roger Harriott, someone head coach Randy Edsall and running backs coach Terry Richardson both know well.
“I went down to see him [Bell], the school, George Smith, the AD who has been a friend of mine for many, many years and Roger, who is a really good guy,” Edsall said during the first of two signing days in December. “Those guys know our program, know who I am and know who Terry is. Terry is from Fort Lauderdale and competed against those guys. He also played high school football with Myles’ dad, Grantis.”
“Myles is a really good cover guy, is smart, instinctive and has all the things that you’re looking for,” Edsall added. “He’s just a great young man who is very talented.”
His dad was a receiver during his playing days, where he starred at West Virginia, before reaching the NFL with both the Redskins and Jets. During his professional career, Grantis also was a part of several WFAL and AFL teams, before ultimately retiring in 1997. He parlayed his experience into a career in officiating, now a back-judge in the SEC and also took part in the NFL’s Officiating Development Program in 2018, one of only 39-officials to be selected. Needless to say, football runs in the family for Myles Bell.
So it should come as no surprise that the player who was ranked the 28th best talent in the state of Florida attracted several high-level programs on the recruiting trail. Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Penn State, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Syracuse, Purdue, Maryland and Illinois all offered Bell and according to recruiting sites, VaTech was the favorite to land his services come early signing day. But it was the Huskies who ultimately came out on top.
Although the coaching staff at UConn doesn’t really look at the star rankings of prospective student athletes, Bell is one of the highest rated recruits to commit to the Huskies program in a decade. Why UConn? Here’s Myles Bell.
“It was a big deciding factor for me and my family that I go somewhere where I’m wanted and needed,” he said in mid-January. “That’s what I saw in the University of Connecticut. Coach Edsall and the rest of the coaching staff made me feel at home and made me feel a part of their family. UConn has great education and a great opportunity for me on the field.”
Edsall has repeatedly talked about needing players who love football when it comes to recruiting. For Myles, that love is inherent, as the game doesn’t just run in the family, it’s been engrained in him from a very young age.
“It’s everything to me,” he verified. “Football has been a part of my life ever since I was born. My lifelong dream has always been to be one of the greats in the NFL.”
Through that pursuit, the work will be hard and it will begin immediately. For Bells’ new program to have success, the mentality, drive and determination will need to start on day one. His goal at UConn is clear.
“To bring championships, bowl game wins and respect back to UConn football,” he said, noting that his time in high school will help with those ambitions. “Being at St Thomas Aquinas for all four years has definitely helped to prepare me for the college level. I got to compete with some of the best athletes in the country and the competition was intense every single day. I was able to develop great coverage skills and also the ability to come up and make tackles. I stay humble on the field but I don’t run away from anybody.”
Edsall, not one who usually talks recruits up early on, was not shy about sharing his thoughts about Bell both as a player and as a person.
“In our opinion, we think Myles Bell is an outstanding young man, an outstanding football player and an outstanding student,” he said. “All we did is the best job we could do to recruit him, to let him know that we felt this was the best opportunity for him. He and his family made the decision to come here and we’re glad that he is.”
The Huskies track record at the development of defensive backs also didn’t hurt in the process.
“I learned a lot about the history and some of the great athletes that went to UConn on my visit,” Bell confirmed. “I like the history of defensive backs there and want to keep that tradition going.”
DBU? Here’s a look back at some, not all, of the most successful defensive backs in UConn Football history:
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