STORRS, Conn. -- Arkeel Newsome has always been the kind of guy who let his game do the talking and the statistics compiled by the UConn running back during the last three years speak loud and clear --- 4,211 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns.
But as Newsome begins the 2017 season, UConn head coach Randy Edsall wants to hear more from his senior -- literally.
"I've talked to Arkeel about him trying to be more vocal," Edsall said after practice this week. "It's not really his nature, but he has to come out of his shell a little bit. He's at least got to be more vocal in the running back room. If he's not going to be vocal anywhere else, he's at least got to be vocal there."
That would be a different kind of role for Newsome, who has preferred to lead by example in the past, but it is a role he is learning to embrace.
"I feel like a veteran," said the soft-spoken Newsome. "As the new guys come in, I'm like, `Hey, I was there.' Now, I'm trying to help them get better and better every day and I'm enjoying it. I learn from them and they learn from me. I want to do everything I can do to help us get a win and even when I'm not in there, a big role for me is to help other people out."
Make no mistake, however, there doesn't figure to be many times that he's not in there when the Huskies have the ball.
He is still Arkeel Newsome, the leading rusher on the team in each of the last two seasons (792 yards in 2015, 715 yards in 2016), with 377 carries and 1,695 career rushing yards, 81 career receptions for 893 yards, and 1,623 yards in kick returns. Heading into the season, the 5-7, 185-pound running back still ranks as the Huskies' most exciting weapon on offense, especially in the new, up-tempo offense the Huskies are implementing.
"Arkeel is a shifty back who is a great competitor and I think there can be some great opportunities for him in terms of what we do," Edsall said. "He can catch the ball, he can make people miss and he's really in excellent shape. There's a lot of things he can do well and he has the ability to make big plays in this offense."
And with UConn's added depth and talent, Edsall would like to keep Newsome focused on that, keeping him out of the Huskies' kick return game.
"Right now, I don't see him in the return game," the head coach said. "We have other guys who can do that for us. Where Arkeel is for us and in terms of where we are from a running back standpoint, we need to make sure that he can get as many reps at running back as he can. We don't need to waste him, by using him somewhere else. He's quick, he can make people miss, and make something happen in a short area."
Learning a new offense, especially an up-tempo one that operates a lot via hand signals, can be a challenge, Newsome admits, but he possesses talents that simply can't be coached.
"It's still based on instinct," Newsome said. "I'm not a big guy and linebackers are usually bigger, but I can use my speed - sometimes the mismatch is good. As soon as you see it, you have to know it - I've got to make him miss. Instinct and vision -- I don't think you can coach that, but you can learn from other people. This offense can be very beneficial for me and all the guys on offense. You can tire the defense out and confuse a lot of defenses with the motion and other things we've got in there."
The instinct and the vision, along with his quickness, are talents that Newsome have been blessed with throughout his football life. His spectacular career at Ansonia (Ct.) High School included leading his team to a 43-0 record and three straight State Championships in his final three seasons, setting Connecticut state high school career records of 10,672 rushing yards, 187 touchdowns and 1,162 points. A three-time Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year, he led the country in rushing yardage as a sophomore and a senior, when he was chosen a Parade Magazine All-American..
"I think I'm a different player than when I came here, much better player in different aspects of the game, like pass blocking, running, and football IQ," he said. "My four years here have definitely made me a smarter player. Coming here taught me a lot. Getting knocked on my butt a few times, made me stronger, and a better person."
As UConn's first game approaches (Aug. 31 vs. Holy Cross at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field), Newsome finds it hard to believe he's starting his final collegiate season.
"It's crazy that it's come so fast, but it's here," he said. "I think we're getting better each time we go out there and that's what Coach wants us to do. This coaching staff is going to put the best people on the field and use everyone to the best of their ability. For me, as much as they want to throw at me, I think I can do."
For the senior running back, a man who has always felt that actions speak louder than words, that may include some vocal leadership of his younger teammates. But if that's what it takes to help the Huskies win, then it's going to be hard to keep Arkeel Newsome quiet.
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