Jan. 2, 2014
By Steve Lewis
The 2013 NFL regular season has come to close and with the playoffs beginning on Saturday with the Wild Card games, several former UConn players that will have the opportunity to help their teams achieve football immortality.
The Huskies currently have six alums getting ready to participate in the playoffs this weekend in some shape or form. Three former players are on the Indianapolis Colts' roster, two with the Kansas City Chiefs, with one serving as the General Manager, and another with the Chargers. All of these teams will be playing in the first round of the playoffs, which is Saturday and Sunday.
The Indianapolis Colts, who are seeded fourth in the AFC with an 11-5 overall record, have three players on their roster that used to play for the Huskies. Running back Donald Brown, offensive lineman Donald Thomas and cornerback Darius Butler currently play for the Colts and have interesting stories as it relates to UConn and their professional careers.
Donald Brown is one of the most reliable offensive choices for Indianapolis heading into their matchup with the Chiefs on Saturday afternoon. Brown played in every game this season, getting 102 carries along the way and running for 537 yards and six touchdowns. Much like at UConn, his versatility was evident as he also caught 27 passes for 214 yards and two scores. With eight touchdowns this season, Brown set a new personal career high. He has been a reliable backup to the Trent Richardson all season.
Brown, who used to wear No. 34 for UConn, was drafted 27th overall in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Colts. Brown was UConn’s first-ever NFL First Round pick. He has spent all five of his NFL seasons with Indianapolis, playing alongside Peyton Manning in 2009 and 2010.
He appeared in 11 games during his rookie season, running for 281 yards on 78 attempts with three touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes for 169 yards. Brown's first NFL touchdown came against Miami on September 21.
In 2010, he started eight of 13 games, being inactive for the other three due to multiple knee and ankle related injuries. He ran for 497 yards and had 205 receiving yards, scoring twice in that season and recording his first-ever 100-yard rushing game against Jacksonville on December 19.
Statistically, 2011 was his best season to date considering his good health allowed him to play in every game that year. He set career highs in carries (134), yards (645), yards per carry average (4.8), and touchdowns (5). This year, Brown broke his touchdown record (8) and also his yards per carry average (5.3). The highlight of his season was a 16 carry-161 yard performance against the Titans on December 18.
Last season was shorter than usual for Brown, as past knee and ankle injuries came back and only allowed him to play in ten games in 2012. He still ran for 417 yards with a touchdown, even in his limited time.
Brown is recognized as arguably the most potent offensive weapon in UConn history. The list of his collegiate accomplishments are almost unmatchable, with his 4,286 all-purpose yards and 17 career 100-yard rushing games. He started 23 of 37 games he played at UConn, running for 3,800 yards on 698 carries, both of which are school records.
In 2008, Brown was the first First-Team All-America selection for the Huskies since the program had joined the FBS. He was named Big East Player of the Year that same season. His 2,083 rushing yards as a junior led the nation, as well as set school and conference records. His storied career at UConn has led him into a successful NFL career in his first five seasons.
Donald Thomas, an offensive lineman for the Colts, is currently in his first season in Indianapolis. Thomas's 2013 season was cut short after only two games due to a torn quad, but he is expected to be a big contributor to the Colts' offensive line next year, as he blocks for Brown, his former Husky teammate.
This season marked the sixth in Thomas's career, which has seen him move around to several different teams over that span. The 6-4', 308-pound offensive guard from UConn was drafted in the sixth round of the 2008 Draft by Miami. He stayed in Miami for two seasons before a one-year stay with the Lions in 2010. Thomas played for the Patriots in 2011 and 2012 before signing with the Colts this past offseason.
In 2008, Thomas started as a rookie for the Dolphins in the first game of the season, but was placed on injured reserve after a foot injury ended his potentially promising rookie campaign. He came back healthy in 2009, playing all 16 games for Miami. He signed with the Lions in November 2010 and was released in September 2011. The Patriots signed him two weeks later, where he would stay for the next two seasons.
Thomas played in every game for New England in 2012, serving as a reserve linemen in both of the Patriots' postseason games that year. The following season, he signed with the Colts.
A political science major at UConn, Thomas had never played football before coming onto the Storrs campus. He would play pick-up basketball games with some of the football players, who encouraged him to try-out for the team. He walked on as a defensive lineman for the scout team in 2003 which is when his football career started.
Thomas was a four-year letterman and started all 13 games of his senior season. He was a First-Team All-Big East Conference selection that year. He was versatile at UConn, playing special teams and tight end during his junior season before making the switch to guard.
Colts' corner Darius Butler is playing in his fifth NFL season, playing his first two with the Patriots, his third with the Panthers and his last two in Indianapolis. Butler has made a big impact in the Colts' secondary this season, playing in 15 games and making 46 tackles. He has four interceptions this season, one of which he returned for a 41-yard touchdown against Jacksonville on September 29. His turnover-making ability has made him a dangerous defensive weapon for opposing quarterbacks.
Originally drafted by the Patriots in the second round of the 2009 draft, Butler played in 14 games that season for New England, recording 35 tackles and grabbing three interceptions. In his first career NFL start on October 18, he picked off Titans quarterback Kerry Collins. Later that season, he intercepted Matt Schaub of the Houston Texans and returned it 91 yards for the pick-six, which is the fourth-largest interception return in Patriots' history. Butler also saw some play time in New England's Wild Card playoff loss to the Ravens that year.
He played in 15 games in 2010, recording 23 tackles and six deflected passes. Again, he saw playoff time against the Jets that year, where he recorded one tackle. In his sole year with the Panthers, Butler saw play time in 13 games and had 31 tackles.
In 2012, he signed with the Colts, where he had an immediate impact four interceptions and one fumble recovery in 11 games. His four picks set a new career high, as did his two interceptions-returned-for-touchdowns against Jacksonville and Kansas City. Once again, he played in the team's Wild Card loss to the Ravens.
Butler has the most NFL playoff experience out of any of his former UConn teammates and will be adding to his postseason resume on Saturday.
As a Husky, Butler started all of his 45 games, a rare feat for any collegiate player. His total statistics were 180 tackles, three forced fumbles, ten interceptions (two for touchdowns), and 26 deflected passes. He was a First-Team All-Big East Conference selection as a senior in 2008.
In his freshman year in 2005, Butler had a career-high three interceptions in one game against Army on October 1, one of which resulted in an 86-yard return for a score. Later that season, he returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown against South Florida, becoming the first Husky to ever have a defensive and special teams touchdown in the same season.
The Kansas City Chiefs currently have two former Huskies in their organization, with one being on the field and the other in the front office. Fullback Anthony Sherman and General Manager John Dorsey are both former Huskies and have both played instrumental roles in the drastic turnaround of the Chiefs' organization from last season to now.
At 5-10' and 242 pounds, Sherman makes for a bruising and hole-creating fullback for the Chiefs, which is especially important when the team utilizes star tailback Jamaal Charles. With Sherman's lead, Charles was able to achieve his fourth career 1,000+ yard season, leading the Chiefs to an 11-5 record and a Wild Card spot.
Sherman contributed to the team's offense this season, making 18 catches for 155 yards in 15 games, which included his first NFL touchdown by way of a 12-yard reception against the Browns on October 27. He also helped with special teams, recording 11 tackles for the Chiefs and proving his worth on two sides of the ball.
Sherman was drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 draft by Arizona, where he played for two seasons before signing with the Chiefs in 2013. During his time with the Cardinals, Sherman caught 13 passes for 111 yards, while also making 16 tackles over two seasons on special teams.
With his size and ability, Sherman looks to be a good fit in Kansas City with such a dynamic runner behind him. Growing up, Sherman's favorite fullbacks were Tampa Bay's Mike Alstott and legendary Dolphins' fullback Larry Czonka, which seem to have given him inspiration during his playing days.
During his time in Storrs, he played in 51 total games, starting 28 of them over his complete collegiate career. He caught 48 passes for 477 yards and a touchdown during his days as a Husky.
Though John Dorsey is now a successful General Manager for the Chiefs, one cannot forget his days as a star linebacker, both at UConn and in the NFL.
Dorsey was a four-year starting linebacker for UConn in the mid-80s, being named an All-American and Yankee Conference Defensive Player of the Year while serving as the backbone of the Huskies defense. He graduated in 1984 and was selected by the Packers in the fourth round of the 1984 Draft.
He played five seasons with Green Bay, playing linebacker and special teams for the Packers during his five-year career. His 35 special team tackles in 1984 is still a team record for the Packers to this day. Over those five years, he had 130 tackles and two fumble recoveries.
A knee injury in 1989 ended his playing days, which is when he went on to work in the front office for the Packers instead. He took a job as a college scout for Green Bay in May, 1991. After spending time as a scout for the Packers throughout the '90s, he was promoted to Director of College Scouting for the team in February, 1997.
After two years as the Director of Scouting, he decided to follow ex-Packers coach Mike Holmgren to Seattle in January of 1999, where Dorsey became the Director of Player Personnel for the Seahawks. After only one year in Seattle, he returned to Green Bay to his previous title, which is where he stayed until 2011.
Between 2000 and 2011, Dorsey is credited with making the Packers one of the best drafting teams in the league after choosing players like Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and Greg Jennings. His hard work culminated in a Super Bowl victory for Green Bay in 2011, which is when he was named Director of Football Operations.
In January of 2013, Dorsey was named the General Manager of the Chiefs, which is his current position. He was reunited with Head Coach Andy Reid, as both served on the Green Bay coaching staff from 1992-1997.
In one year's time, Dorsey has transformed the Chiefs from a 2-14 team in 2012 to a strong 11-5 Wild Card team this season. Kansas City looks to knock off the Colts in Indianapolis on Saturday to keep this magical season going and to keep their Super Bowl hopes alive.
Lastly, but certainly not least, the San Diego Chargers have arguably the most successful former Husky player on their team in the dominant and explosive 6-4,, 300-pound defensive end Kendall Reyes. Reyes is in his second year with the Chargers, being chosen in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
He has played in every game of his two-year career for San Diego, which includes 16 starts this season. The Nashua, New Hampshire native has helped to power the Chargers into the AFC's last Wild Card spot. The team's thrilling overtime victory over the Chiefs on a Sunday that also included losses by the Dolphins and Ravens, two teams that had to lose to give San Diego a chance to reach the postseason, has given the Chargers new life and a visit to Cincinnati on Sunday.
This season, Reyes had 34 tackles for the Chargers, 25 of which were solo. He recorded five sacks this season, helping the San Diego defense to pressure opposing quarterbacks and get the ball back into the hands of Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers. The dominating presence of Reyes on the defensive line is a big reason the Chargers finished in the upper half of rushing defenses throughout the league.
In his rookie season in 2012, Reyes had 28 tackles and a career-best 5.5 sacks. His first two NFL sacks came against Peyton Manning on November 18 in a game against the Broncos. Reyes led the San Diego defensive line with 19 quarterback pressures and 15 quarterback hits. He was awarded All-Rookie honors by ESPN.com and easily was the best first-year player for the Chargers.
At UConn, Reyes was a team captain and First-Team All-Big East selection as a junior and senior. With 32.5 tackles for a loss during his time playing at Rentschler Field, he has the tenth most tackles for a loss in school history. In his 52 games as a Husky, 40 of which he started, he made 142 tackles, had 11.5 sacks, forced three fumbles, and even had two interceptions as a lineman. On November 27, 2010, Reyes recorded an interception and returned it for 79 yards against Cincinnati, which is the seventh largest return in school history.
Reyes is known for his massive strength and unparalleled athletic ability, which has made him a force on a team that feels it has a lot to prove, especially after fighting hard to earn a playoff spot this season. The Chargers will play the Bengals on Sunday afternoon, with the winner facing either Denver or New England.
All of these former Huskies have in one way or another helped their respective franchise earn a place among the NFL's elite in the 2013 Playoffs. All six of these former UConn football stars will strive to reach the Super Bowl and accomplish the ultimate goal in professional football. The road to East Rutherford starts this weekend.