STORRS, Conn. - The University of Connecticut football team opens spring practice bright and early Monday morning. UConn will have 15 spring practices which concludes with 2013 Blue-White Spring Football Game at Rentschler Field on Saturday, April 20 at noon. Admission and parking are free to the game and the parking lots open at 9 a.m.
The schedule for spring football is somewhat different for head coach Paul Pasqualoni, who is heading into his third year, and his Huskies. UConn will have three practices (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday) this week and then have a week off for spring break. UConn will then follow its usual Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday schedule for the rest of spring ball.
UConn will face the best home schedule ever in the history of Rentschler Field this year, highlighted by home games against Michigan, Maryland, Rutgers, USF and Louisville.
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On offense, the Huskies return a key number of last year's leaders. Redshirt junior quarterback Chandler Whitmer (Newnan, Ga.) started all 12 games last season - his first year of action in college football. Whitmer showed improvement each week and finished the year with 2,664 passing yards and nine passing TDs. He threw for 200 yards or more in five of his final six games last season.
Also back at the QB spot is redshirt junior Scott McCummings (Natick, Mass.), who saw time last year primarily in the "wildcat" position. Redshirt freshman Casey Cochran (Monroe, Conn.) looks forward to spring practice after being sidelined with a hand injury for most of last year and walkon sophomore Chris DeBerry (Torrington, Conn.) has also joined the team.
Redshirt junior Lyle McCombs (Staten Island, N.Y.) led the team in rushing last year with 860 yards with six TDs, but would like to regain the form of 2011 when he rushed for over 1,000 yards and was a Freshman All-American. Redshirt sophomore Max DeLorenzo (Berlin, Conn.) showed moments of excellence last year and looks for more consistency.
Sophomore Joseph Williams (Allentown, Pa.) played in nine games as a true freshman last year and will look to play an even bigger role this year. Redshirt senior Martin Hyppolite (Wakefield, Mass.) was injured in a serious car accident in February and his status is still to be determined, but will be out for spring ball. Junior Eric Brainard (Hebron, Conn.) is also in the mix here.
Redshirt junior Reuben Frank (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) was consistent as the starting fullback last year, but has plenty of company to push him in: redshirt freshman Jazzmar Clax (Freehold, N.J.), redshirt sophomore Christopher Matteis (North Haven, Conn.) and redshirt freshman Wyatt Vinci (Ridgewood, N.J.).
The Huskies return their top two receivers from last season in redshirt junior Geremy Davis (Lawrenceville, Ga.) and redshirt junior Skakim Phillips (Paterson, N.J.). Davis made 44 receptions for 613 yards while Phillips had 32 receptions for 399 yards. Phillips came on strong at the end of the season and had 14 receptions in the final three games of the year.
Other experienced wide receivers include junior Kamal Abrams (Dover, Del.) and junior Deshon Foxx (Lynchburg, Va.). Pushing all of them and eager for playing time are redshirt freshmen John Greene (Miami, Fla.) and Rick Gutierrez (Hialeah, Fla.) plus sophomore John-Luke Bogue (New Rochelle, N.Y.), senior Frank Guardi (New Fairfield, Conn.) and senior Sujay Trivedi (Glastonbury, Conn.).
The Huskies bring two freshmen into spring practice at the WR spot in Dhameer Bradley (New Castle, Del.) and Noel Thomas (Norwalk, Conn.).
UConn has good experience returning this spring on the offensive line - a unit that is key for improved production in 2013. Sixth-year senior Jimmy Bennett (Alexandria, Va.) was granted a sixth year of eligibility after an injury-filled career and is back after starting all 12 games at left tackle in '12. Redshirt junior Steve Greene (Edensburg, Pa.) is back after starting all of 2012 at left guard and redshirt senior Kevin Friend (Warrentown, Va.) has started 23 games over the last two years and all 13 at right tackle last year.
Redshirt junior Guz Cruz (Manchester, N.H.) started five games at right guard in 2012, including the last four while redshirt senior Tyler Bullock (Mechanicsburg, Pa.) started the final eight games at center. There will be plenty of others looking to push this group in redshirt freshmen Kyle Bockeloh (Houston, Texas), Richard Levy (Trenton, N.J.) and Zach Rugg (Windber, Pa.) and sophomore Tyler Samra (Wycoff, N.J.). Also looking for playing time are redshirt sophomores Dalton Gifford (Fairhaven, Mass.), Xavier Hemingway (Powder Springs, Ga.) and Paul Nwokeji (Randolph, Mass.) and redshirt junior Bryan Paull (Parkland, Fla.). Redshirt junior Alex Mateas (Ottawa, Ont.) started the first four games of 2012 and will also be in the mix.
Unlike the offense, there will have to be plenty of new faces on defense. Among the Husky losses there are four career starters who all enjoyed an outstanding NFL Combine performances in February - defensive tackle Trevardo Williams, linebacker Sio Moore and cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson.
On the defensive line, UConn also looses the graduated Ryan Wirth, who started each game last year. Redshirt senior Shamar Stephen (Brookville, N.J.) has the most experience on the line and has 70 career tackles. Redshirt senior Jesse Joseph (Laval, Qu.) only played in three games last season before being lost by injury but has 118 career tackles in 37 games. Redshirt sophomore Julian Campenni (West Pittson, Pa.) started two games last season and was a consistent part of the rotation.
In addition to Moore, UConn also lost steady starter Jory Johnson from last year's team at linebacker. Redshirt junior Yawin Smallwood (Worcester, Mass.) emerged as a defensive force last season and is the top returnee at LB.
One of the top stories will be the progress of redshirt sophomore Graham Stewart (Durham, Conn.), who sat out last year as a transfer from Florida.
The most defensive experience returns in the secondary with redshirt junior Byron Jones (New Britain, Conn.) and safety Ty-Meer Brown (McKeesport, Pa.), who both started all 12 games last year. Jones has been moved to cornerback this spring. Senior Taylor Mack (Powder Springs, Ga.) brings a great deal of experience back to the secondary and redshirt sophomore Andrew Adams (Fayetteville, Ga.) earned a letter last year at safety.
UConn is solid on special teams with redshirt senior kicker Chad Christen (Etters, Pa.) returning for his second year as the starter while classmate Cole Wagner (York, Pa.) is among the top career punters in Husky history. Sophomore Bobby Puyol (North Palm Beach, Fla.) saw action in the last game of 2012 when Christen was hurt while redshirt freshman Justin Wain (Wilmington, N.C.) is also at punter. Redshirt sophomore Dominick Manco (Lagrangeville, N.Y.), redshirt junior Adam Mueller (Park Ridge, Ill.) and sophomore William Oldach (Hopkinton, Mass.) are all back at long snapper.