Aug 25, 2013
STORRS, Conn. - The University of Connecticut football team opens the 2013 season on Thursday when it takes on Towson at 7:30 p.m. at Rentschler Field. The game will be televised on ESPN3 and heard on the UConn IMG Sports Network.
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Sunday was the UConn Media Day for the game and here are some quotes and notes from the event.
Head Coach Paul Pasqualoni
Opening Statement: "First off, we're happy to announce that the team voted for captains. Steven Greene will be a captain on offense, Shamar Stephen will be a captain on defense. Yawin Smallwood, although he's only a junior, the team voted for Yawin so he'll be our third captain. We'll have tri-captains this year. We think these guys are outstanding individuals who are really program guys and exemplify the student-athlete. They're really serious about school, and serious about football. The commitment they've made to football and to the program, they each have a chance to be excellent leaders on this team. Having said that, we just finished a Tuesday practice, this is Tuesday for us. The week is getting short, it's going to be here before we know it. I think we've had two reasonably solid days of practice. We're getting back to being healthy, which is important to us. I'm optimistic that we'll have our team together by Thursday. Hopefully we'll go into this, outside of Junior Joseph and Andrew Adams, who will not play in this game, we have a chance to be pretty healthy. Hopefully we can have a good Monday and finish up the week practicing well and get rested up. It's difficult because school is starting tomorrow and there's a lot going on with a short week, which concerns me a great deal. We don't normally practice on Monday, so class schedules are set up that way, so we have some additional issues to deal with tomorrow. I'm confident the kids will handle everything the right way and we'll have a good day tomorrow."
On the leadership of captain Yawin Smallwood: "What I like most is that Yawin doesn't say much but his actions speak louder than words. Yawin leads by example and by production, by practicing well and being smart in the meeting room and doing it exactly the way you want him to. He's led exactly the way you want him to."
On true freshman Matt Walsh being named the starter at fullback: "It's so hard to find that traditional fullback and we like having that fullback in the game. Matt's picked up everything very well, he's not unfamiliar carrying the ball and running with the ball. He did that a great deal in high school, they played him as the big tailback and fullback. His craft in high school was really at the linebacker position, but the more we watched him and saw how fluid he was, we were able to coach him at our camps in the summer, and we really liked him as a fullback so we offered him as a fullback. He's going to have a chance as he grows up and matures to be that traditional fullback for us."
On fellow true freshman Brian Lemelle as the primary punt returner: "He's clearly the guy with the softest hands, and the guy who has excellent judgment in fielding punts. He catches them very consistently. He's also a very good wide receiver. We're not only bringing him as a punt returner, we're bringing him as a wide receiver. So he'll have a chance to get in the game as a wide receiver, and he'll be out there the first punt they have catching the punt."
On the most impressive thing about Thursday's opponent, Towson: "Well, I think their running game, with their tailback Terrance West, is outstanding. With their offensive line, they have two really good tackles (Randall Harris and Eric Pike), I think the center (Doug Shaw) is a very good player, a very smart player, so I think their offensive line is very good. Their tight end (James Oboh) really concerns me. He's very athletic, he can get down the field vertically in the seams very well. So, those are the things, the run game and the play-action pass game. To stop a really good back like this, you have to commit some people up front to stop the run. We're going to have to be careful.
"I know they made an announcement that they're starting (QB) Peter Athens, but the unknown of the quarterback position is something that's a little unsettling. We're preparing to see two quarterbacks, we're preparing to see Connor Frazier because my understanding is he is the better runner of the two, and they do a great job of the quarterback run phase of their offense. They have some very productive wide receivers that are older now. Leon Kinnard obviously was here, he's a good player, good returner. (Spencer Wilkins) is a good player. Their fullback, (Emmanuel Holder) is a very stout, good traditional fullback.
"On the defensive side of the ball Jordan Love I think is a great corner. I don't know what his status is for this game, but he can play for anybody. If you start at the University of Georgia as a freshman, that means you're a pretty good player. I really like their middle linebacker (Monte Gaddis), I think he's an excellent player. Their front is very active, and the amount of pressure they bring is another thing that really concerns me. To summarize that, I'd say the run game, the play-action and what they do on defense, pressure and trying to force you into mistake."
On a different intensity in practice with the first game coming up: "I think our guys practice pretty intensely through preseason but you see that excitement about the light at the end of the tunnel and being able to play someone else. They're looking forward to lining up after all these days of practice and getting in the stadium and playing a game. I certainly see that body language out there for sure."
On Sean McQuillan returning to practice from injury: "Sean McQuillan has done pretty well. He was moving around out there, running around. I'm optimistic that by Thursday we have a chance to have him dressed and ready to play the game. He was out there in uniform today doing some things."
On timetable for Andrew Adams' return: "I almost don't want to say, because I don't know for sure. But it was shoulder surgery, so I'm going to say this, minimum probably eight weeks."
On his replacement, Obi Melifonwu: "Obi has stepped up, he's taking some ownership of the position since Andrew went down. He has a way of doing that. I think that a lot of young guys when they're playing second team, maybe they don't feel as if it's that important because they're not the starter. As soon as Andrew went down, Obi stepped up and has shown that he can practice consistently. He's done that each day since the injury. And to Andrew's credit, he's in the meeting room with him, he got back and got in the meeting room and is coaching him along with Shane Foley. Andrew's being very supportive and is helping the operation back there. Andrew is very smart, so that's been a positive back there."
On young offensive lineman on the depth chart: "Kyle Shafenacker is going to be on the travel squad. Right now we've got him in there at the guard position and we're pretty excited about that. I don't know whether he will play in the game or the not. He's practiced and learned the material extremely well, so he'll be there if we need him."
On the defensive line: "I feel very good about Shamar Stephen, feel very good about Julian Campenni. Jesse Joseph has come back from that injury and is practicing well. Tim Willman has been consistent. I think Angelo Pruitt has had his most consistent preseason. Angelo does a lot of things for us and he's working hard. I like Mikal Myers, he's worked hard. That core of guys is a good solid group of kids.
"Andreas Knappe is in there, he'll be at the game. He's working hard, he's a little bit of a work in progress but he's such a big load in there that he's another guy we can work in there. We're keeping Folorunso Fatukasi working, a year ago we kept Myers working, and right now we're keeping Fatukasi working. I don't know if he'd go in the game, it's the same thing with Myers last year. In the end we were able to redshirt him which was a great thing, so we're going to keep Fatukasi in development and see what happens. As we go forward, as he grows up and matures he has a chance to be a great player."
On using Knappe on special teams to try and block kicks: "We've got him on some of the block units, so we'll try to use him where we can."
Comparing Melifonwu and Adams: "Andrew has been at it longer. So he recognizes things almost before they happen. Andrew is one of those analytical guys who sees the problem coming, sees the adjustment coming. He's already vocal, directing people before it really hits. Obi is getting there. That's really the biggest difference."
On E.J. Norris: "He's working his way back, another guy I'm really excited about. As we work through this year, I'm optimistic that he'll have a chance as we go through this, he'll have a chance to contribute this year. He's another guy in there that I think is giving his best effort to try and get this done the way we want it done. "
On explosiveness of the wide receivers: "We've had some really good plays in practice. I think those guys are very capable. I think Chandler Whitmer is very capable of getting them the ball. Both receivers (Geremy Davis and Shakim Phillips) can run by people, they're every powerful, fast and explosive kind of guys. Zero to sixty guys, they get going. Shakim is very explosive and Geremy is very physical and very strong. I think we've had some good plays there."
On new offensive coaches: "I think the guys have done a great job, I think you have to give a lot of credit to the offensive coaches. They've worked hard and unselfishly putting the offense together. As a head coach, you hope that guys can work with mutual respect for each other and use each other a resource and learn from each other. I this game, you learn every day. I think they've done that and they're great professionals."
On the biggest difference in offense from the end of last year to the beginning of this year: "Well, I think we're going to see on Thursday. I hope to see great execution, great assignments, and guys playing well together, communication, being productive on offense and scoring points. I don't really care if we score running or throwing, as long as we get points on the board. We'll have to wait and see. I think every year is a new year, every team has its own identity. I don't think you really establish your identity until you start playing in the season, until you've played some really tough opponents, played some guys who can play. Towson has guys who can play with anybody, so this will be the toughest opener we've had since I've been here."
On the difference between FBS and FCS: "If you look at the league Towson is in (the Colonial Athletic Association), someone in this league beats an FBS team every year. You go back through the history of it and look at it, James Madison's beaten Virginia Tech. Let's use that as an example. That's a hard job. I've been down there in Blacksburg trying to do that with a good FBS team. I don't think there's much of a difference. This team is healthy and they've got their guys, they can play with anybody."
On comfort level in turnover game: "I'm not comfortable where we ended last year. We have to do a great job going into this game on two things, not giving up a big play, and taking care of the ball. That's something that we've talked a great deal about and we have to see, I hope the personality and identity of this team is one that takes care of the football."
On linebackers Ryan Donohue and Graham Stewart replacing Sio Moore and Jory Johnson: "They've done a great job. Those two guys have made excellent progress. In the reality of it Donohue is a little further ahead that Stewart because he was in the system at Maryland and came here in the system so he has more snaps under his belt in the system. At the same time, we've put in some new things and Ryan has done an excellent job there. Graham Stewart is still a very young player. Played some special teams at Florida as a freshman and redshirted for us last year so he's got three years to go, but he's doing a very good job of learning everything he has to learn. I think that replacing two very good players, I'm excited to watch those two guys play because I think they're going to give great effort."
On his three captains: "The thing is, it's not what you say, it's what you do. The three of them are good players and they lead by example, by how hard they work in the offseason and in practice. I think the players on the team respect those guys for their toughness and what they do.
Linebacker Yawin Smallwood
On being voted a captain: "It means a lot to me, I've always thought about having the chance to be a captain and now that it's here I just have to keep doing what I've been doing. Keep trying to lead this team, try to push players to be the best they can be."
On other captains he hopes to model himself after: "Lawrence Wilson is a guy I look at on the football field, guys like Scott Lutrus, Sio Moore, Jory Johnson. Guys that came in here and worked hard. I would say I'm a lot like Jory Johnson, more of a quiet guy. I'm just trying to get the best out of every single one of these players, try to push them to be the best players they can be, that's my job as the captain."
On fellow defensive captain Shamar Stephen: "Shamar is kind of a quiet guy but once he's on the football field he's very tough. He tries to get the best out of players like myself, we're just out there trying to compete. He's always been a guy who motivates players to get the best out of them."