By Phil Chardis
UConn Athletic Communications
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Six months ago, Kevin Mensah wasn't quite sure where he was going. Three-quarters of the way through his first college football season, however, he can be certain of where he's staying --- in UConn's starting backfield.
— UConn Football (@UConnFootball) November 4, 2017
Mensah, a true freshman, was only five yards shy of his second 100-yard rushing game of the season Saturday afternoon against powerful USF and scored this third touchdown of the year as UConn fell to the Bulls, 37-20, in the final game of the season at Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
Not only did his performance mark the continuation of Mensah's steady growth as a football player, it may have just been the kind of effort that he -- and his coach -- will remember as a breakthrough game in his career.
"What I saw with Kevin today was that I thought he just kind of relaxed a little bit more," coach Randy Edsall said. "He's a guy that wants to do so well that he puts a lot of pressure on himself. I thought that tonight, watching him, he just let the game come to him a little bit more. I think the game might have slowed down a little bit more for him because he did that.
"Moving forward, he's a guy you can win with. And, the thing is, he's only gonna get better."
Which is exactly what Edsall and his staff were counting on when they brought Mensah to UConn after his senior year at Shepherd Hill Regional High School in Dudley, Mass. The 5-9, 200-pound running back certainly had plenty of credentials coming out of high school - 1,255 yards rushing and 13 TDs in only nine games as a senior. But he seriously considered a postgraduate year at St. Thomas More prep school.
"I'm pretty happy that I'm here and playing for UConn," Mensah said. "I tend to forget about the past. Coach Edsall did tell me that if I kept working hard, I could get some time, so I've tried to use that as motivation. And when I did get out there, I did what I had to do."
And then some.
In UConn's second game of the season, against Virginia, his 49 yards rushing yards included a 30-yard TD run. He followed that up with a 107-yard rushing performance the following week against ECU. He had 64 yards and a TD last week against Missouri and came back with perhaps his best all-around effort of the season Saturday. Besides the 95 yards and a 23-yard touchdown run against USF, he added four receptions for 22 more yards.
"I starting to read my blocks more and trying to be patient," Mensah said. "The coaches are telling me what to do and I'm trying to follow through."
Mensah, an explosive runner who was also a nationally-ranked sprinter in high school, has been listening to Edsall tell him to stop being so hard on himself.
"I do overthink things," he said with a half-smile. "When I mess up now, I try to think that it's over, put it away - especially last game and this game. Today, he told me to stay calm, do what I always did in high school and bring it up to this next level and I'll play, so that's what I did."
And it's obviously working --- Mensah has gained 369 yards this season and scored three TDs and caught 10 passes for an additional 83 yards.
The Huskies (3-6) struggled as a team trying to contain the powerful offense of USF (8-1), which rolled up 602 yards and never trailed against UConn.
"I thought we did some good things," Edsall said, "but it gets back to some of those things that have hurt us - big plays against our defense, not being able to get off on third downs, not finishing drives off. But we competed for 60 minutes. USF really good football team - very athletic, very fast. We just didn't match up in some of the things athletically against them."
Mensah, however, more than matched up. Just as Edsall said, as the game slows down for him, his effectiveness goes up.
"It's definitely slowing down for me," Mensah said, this time with a full smile. "I've been waiting for that since the first game and it's finally here."
And Mensah now knows where he's headed.
"When I do graduate," he said. "I'm definitely going to look back and say I made the right decision."