Grass is cut. Lines have been painted. Balls are prepped. For those in and around football, training camp is Christmas morning; a new beginning that sees the pages turn to a clean slate, a fresh start. What happened in yester-years is a distant memory and for this version of UConn football, their past seems more like a story of ancient history.
With the arrival of new head coach Jim Mora and his young, energetic and experienced staff, the ‘Revolution’ as they call it, has seemingly changed the course of this program for the foreseeable future.
There have been changes before; fresh starts, new beginnings, but this one seems different. Yes, if you’ve stumbled around these parts, this is no doubt the place you’ll find an optimistic, perhaps most positive UConn Football perspective out there. It’s one that has personally been around all coaching staffs at the D-1 level with this program, seen firsthand how each operates; watched as it developed as one of the fastest growing programs in the nation, to also one that has stumbled to the depths of the last several seasons.
So while the on-field product won’t be seen for another month, there are several areas to point to on why a step forward should be expected. First, it starts with Mora himself. A former NFL Pro Bowl head coach, who through his career shared a locker room with legends like Jerry Rice and Steve Young, learned from a football icon in his own father and a coach that has seen success at the highest level in college before. Mora brings more experience and pedigree to the role than any that has held this position prior.
His offensive staff is bolstered by a former head coach in Nick Charlton at offensive coordinator, who’s arrival immediately brings organization to the offense, but also expectations; a true coordinator who will indeed be calling the plays. Charlton’s style is that of a modern football offense, with schemes and concepts you’ll see under a system run by Sean McVay.
On defense returns the energetic Lou Spanos, who along with Mora, grew up on the defensive side of the ball and will look to recreate the success they had together during their two-years at UCLA.
Then there’s the overhaul of the roster, led by eleven transfers from Power-5 programs alone, including from the likes of Alabama, Michigan, Penn State, Texas, Kentucky, Missouri, Boise State and Oregon. Each bring experience and talent to a program that presents opportunity. Including the incoming recruiting class, there are 43-newcomers in total to this year’s roster.
At quarterback, UConn returns one scholarship player, in-state star Tyler Phommachanh, while Taquan Roberson (Penn State) and Cale Millen (Northern Arizona / Oregon) make this a deep group, which should allow talented true freshman Zion Turner to redshirt. Roberson came to UConn from Happy Valley and exited spring ball as the clear number one, as Phommachanh started to return from injury with limited participation in April.
Millen enters camp as a dark horse to many in this race, but while he didn’t participate in the spring, did take in practice on several occasions. He was the highest rated of any in the group coming out of high school; ranked as high as the 6th best Pro Style QB in the Class of 2019 by 247, putting him ahead of names like Cade McNamara (Michigan), Dillon Gabriel (Oklahoma / UCF) and Kedon Slovis (Pitt / USC). Millen and Mora also have history, as Cale was originally offered by Mora back in 2017, when he was still head coach with the Bruins.
The offensive line needed a lot of help and saw many arrivals via the transfer portal, perhaps none more notable than the 6′ 6″, 295-lb Dayne Shor, who arrives from Alabama and should compete immediately at left tackle. At center, Jake Guidone, a former FCS All-American at Dartmouth, cements the Huskies line in the middle and could very well be an NFL Draft prospect come year-end, along with right guard Christian Haynes. How this group molds together over the next month, will determine how much success the offense is able to achieve right out of the gate on gameday.
Speed and size was the name of the game in the offseason at the deepest position on this year’s roster, wide receiver. Nigel Fitzgerald immediately built chemistry with Roberson this spring and at 6′ 5″ with strong hands, will be a legit threat in the redzone. Cam Ross returned from injury and Keelan Marion continued to develop after a stellar freshman season. Dajon Harrison (Texas) and Ethon Williams (Boston College) bring speed and were added to an already deep group that also includes Matt Drayton, Kevens Clercius and Aaron Turner.
Defensively, the Huskies added a lot of talent across the board. Up front, Sokoya McDuffie (6′ 5″, 310-lbs) adds power and size to the interior, while Kayode Oladele brings speed and athleticism off the edge. The former Auburn signee, was rated the nation’s 13th best prospect by 247 at his position in the Class of 2018.
Marquez Bembry (Kentucky) and Brandon Bouyer-Randle (Texas Tech / Michigan State) are two new linebackers you should hear a lot about throughout camp. Bembry was here in the spring and immediately developed into a leader among the defense. Bouyer-Randle will bring versatility to the unit, as the former defensive end at Michigan State will be able to bring pressure off the edge and also drop back into coverage. Each will bring help to Jackson Mitchell, who finished the season with 120-tackles a season ago.
Chris Shearin (Missouri) could be a major addition to the Huskies secondary, opposite Kaleb Anthony, who shined during the spring as the Huskies top corner. Myles Bell, who came on strong during 2021, should return from injury, while the back-end of the defense will continue to be solidified by safety Durante Jones. Transfer Thaddeus Dixon is another name to watch during camp, as he built a reputation of being a playmaker and ballhawk at the JUCO level in California.
Despite all of this added talent, what will lead to success on the field the most, will be how quickly they can all come together, in a game environment. Scrimmages and 11-on-11; how the group takes advantage of those situations throughout camp, will go a long way in determining the product that takes the field in Logan, UT just 29-days from now.