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New Life Surrounds Veteran QB

QB Bryant Shirreffs has new excitement about UConn football.

March 31, 2017

Phil Chardis

UConn Athletic Communications

March 31, 2017

It's all about new life for Bryant Shirreffs.

First of all, it's about the new Shirreffs in town - little Brayden Anthony Shirreffs, born just one month ago.

Then, it's about his upcoming graduation in May and his new life as a graduate student in the fall.

And, it's about his new life in UConn football, thanks to a new coaching staff, a new offense, and a new excitement about playing the game he loves.

By all accounts, especially his own, Bryant Shirreffs is a new man - make that, a new and improved man.

"These couple of months have been some of the best months of my life," UConn's two-year starting quarterback said after spring practice this week. "It's a pleasure to come here every single day. I wake up earlier than I ever have and I'm excited to get to the building. It's awesome to be here."

Football might not be the only reason Shirreffs wakes up earlier. He and fiancée Alexa Bonnes are doing their best to adjust to parenthood.

"That's the biggest life-changer," Shirreffs said, breaking out in a huge grin. "It's indescribable and it's awesome. Brayden is the man. I'm enjoying everything about it. He's just a blessing."

It will mean some careful planning for the new parents, especially in the fall. Shirreffs, who is taking six classes this semester to be able to graduate in May with his degree in finance, will choose one of two master's programs to which he has applied in UConn's School of Business.

"It will all be about time management," he said. "Thankfully, I've had a lot of experience managing a lot of different things in my life. Next year, it will be tough, but whatever is thrown at me ..."

It's no secret that college football almost wasn't part of next year's equation for Shirreffs. After passing for more than 4,000 yards and 16 touchdowns in the last two seasons and rushing for a combined 829 yards and 5 TDs, he played the last part of last season with a painful rib injury, saw his playing time diminish, and was discouraged by the Huskies' losing record.

That feeling has disappeared, however, with the arrival of head coach Randy Edsall and his new coaching staff, bringing with them a new offense and a whole new attitude.

"Not just for myself, but for all my teammates, we're enjoying everything - working hard and becoming a better football team," said Shirreffs, who is again 100 percent healthy. "I definitely think the new offense fits my style. It's fast-paced and fun to be a part of."

The rising redshirt senior has enjoyed getting to know UConn's new, old head coach.

"We've had tremendous conversations," Shirreffs said. "I really respect Coach. He's been here - the football program was essentially built under Coach Edsall. He's a great guy, on and off the field, a great role model. He's taught us so much, not just Xs and Os, but about life."

But Shirreffs, and anyone else who knows Edsall, is well-aware that two years as the starting QB does not guarantee anything.

"We have guys with experience," Edsall said, "but if we have somebody that can come in and win the job, I think that makes us a better team, because you beat out somebody with experience. We will find whoever is best and it doesn't matter to me if you're a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior. Whoever is the best guy is gojng to play. If quarterbacks, or any position, didn't think there was going to be competition coming in here to see who's going to be the starter, then they weren't thinking the way they should have been thinking.

"What has happened in the past, happened in the past for them. We've only tried to tell them: Here's our expectations, this is what we want out of the quarterback position. If you want to be the starter, go do these four things we`re looking for." 

More than any other position on the football field, quarterback cannot get by on just physical talent. The mental aspect of the position is more important to the team's success.

"If you're going to play that position, you better have confidence in yourself," Edsall said. "Those other 10 guys out there, they better see a confident guy back there. You've got to maintain a certain standard --- you have to be up, you have to be a leader.

"There's so much that goes into playing the position. You've got to know everything that's going on. It's not an easy position to play. A lot of positions depend on what you have below the neck, but that position, it's more in terms of what you have above the neck."

Sophomore quarterback Donovan Williams, who started three games last season, can feel the new life throughout the team.

"It's great to have a fresh start," Williams said. "With this new, explosive offense, even in practice, everyone is energetic all the time. There's definitely a big transition from last year's offense. It's faster, more up-tempo, bigger plays. Everyone is optimistic.

"Playing quarterback, the vast majority is mental. Once that comes, the physical part is nothing. You have to think the play through and then react."

Nobody is more aware of that than Shirreffs.

"You have to take command and know what everyone is doing," he said. "Whenever you are learning a new offense, it's tough and your head's going to be spinning. Playing quarterback, if you don't have the mental capacity for it, it doesn't matter what type of physical attributes you have. Of course, you have to have physical ability to execute the plays, but you can have minimal physical skills and still be a solid player by maximizing the mental side of things. Getting away with it just on physical talent, that stops at about high school."

There are plenty of challenges concerning parenthood, grad school and football that await Shirreffs in the coming months, but he couldn't be more excited about meeting them. These days for Bryant Shirreffs, it's a whole new world.