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Fordham Gameweek; Quotes & Notes

Cole Wagner and the Huskies open 2011 Thursday against Fordham.

Aug. 29, 2011

STORRS, Conn. - The University of Connecticut football team opens the 2011 season this Thursday, September 1 when it takes on Fordham at Rentschler Field at 7:30 p.m.

For a look at this week's media notes, CLICK HERE.

For $10 tickets to Thursday's game, CLICK HERE.

Husky fans that are unable to make it to Rentschler Field for the home opener will be able to watch the game live on or listen to the game on the WTIC UConn Radio Network.

Below are quotes from Monday's football media conference:

Head Coach Paul Pasqualoni
Opening Statement:
"We are in our final few days of preparation here for our Thursday night game. I think we are making progress and getting ready to play this game. It is a new staff and a new system on offense, defense and special teams so we are very, very anxious to get a good week in. I think we have had three good days so far this week and we need to have a really good day tomorrow, which is a dress rehearsal day. Hopefully we will be able to be prepared to play this game."

Do you still have the same excitement for opening night that you have had throughout the years?
"Absolutely, a lot of excitement and I think to go along with that because it is a new start there is not only that excitement but there is that worry about if you have gotten everything covered yet. There is plenty of excitement, no question, but there is also that anxiety of did you get it all covered and are they ready to play."

How have the guys embraced the new system?
"Very well, I think we made big strides on both sides of the ball and I think they have an understanding of the system now. There is a lot of information that we are trying to give them, but we feel pretty good about it."



With so many people returning on defense as opposed to offense is that side of the ball ahead of where offense is?
"I think from an experience stand point they are ahead, but from a learning stand point it takes the same amount of time and they need to learn new stuff as well. I think the biggest difference is that we have guys up front on defense that have played and we have guys in the back end who have played and we have one of the linebackers that have played. That's a few more guys with experience than the other side. We have three solid offensive linemen who have played, we have a couple tight ends and a couple wide receivers. I think we have a few more inexperienced parts on the offense, which is always going to be a concern."

What do you want to see from the quarterback(s) on Thursday?
"I want to see production. At the end of the day who you play is based on production, really not anything other statistics. It's the guy who can be the most productive, the guy who on paper has the measurables, it's the guy who can get the job done and who can move the chains."

Have you made a decision in your own mind who will be the guy?
"No, what I would say is that we are going to have three quarterbacks ready to play in this game. There are going to be three ready to play in this game. We have worked really hard to get three ready for this week and we will be ready to go with everything we have come Thursday."

If you have two guys at the same position that are really close in terms of ability, yet one has experience and the other doesn't, do you lean towards the experience?
"I think if everything is equal, if the scenario is everything is perfectly equal then you probably would. Off the top of my head I would go with the guy that has more experience, or at least to get things going."

Can you give us your overall impression on Fordham?
"What impresses me on the defensive side of the ball is they play this eight-man front defense where they have eight in there and the way they play it with the free safety if they need to, they could have nine people in there. Then they combine that even eight-man front with an odd-man front. The complexity of what they do from a defensive stand point is really well thought out and it presents a ton of problems for you. On the offensive side of the ball, they are in this spread offense system, you can tell that they are trying to play fast at times with a no huddle system. The scheme that they run creates a lot of conflict problems for the guys on defense. They don't always have to block you because in the spread zone that they run they are reading you as much as they are trying to block you. They make you play assignment, disciplined football as opposed to reckless, go out and get up the field defense. What they are doing to me, is very well thought out and they do a good job with it from the film that we could see and we have to be ready to play."

Can you talk about some of your choices on the depth chart with the tailback position?
"We are going to have the tailbacks ready to go Thursday. D.J. Shoemate is going to be ready to go, Lyle McCombs and Jonathan Jean-Louis will be ready and then our young guy Deshon Foxx will be ready. We are dressing them all and we are getting ready to play this game."

What feel do you have of your team coming out of camp?
"I'm going to get a better feel as you get into the season, after you are playing against an opponent, but I will say this, these kids are a solid group of guys and they work hard, they want to be good and they are focused. My feel is that I like the team, I like the way the work, I like the way the listen and they try. Now we need to go out there and see if we can get this thing done on both sides of the ball."

In this day, when any school can beat a bigger school, does that make it easier for you to get your guys to not look past the Fordham game?
"That is all over the history of college football now, I-AA team coming in and beating a I-A team. There is no question when you are in this type of situation, when we are one of the biggest opponents on the Fordham schedule. The way I look at it is, we are a BCS conference opponent so what I-AA team wouldn't want to come in and beat a BCS opponent? We need to be ready. The systems that they are in on offense and defense are problems. I don't care what level of football they are in, we need to know what we are doing otherwise we will be giving up plays on both sides of the ball."

Can you talk a little bit about what your expectations were for D.J. Shoemate when you first came in and what you have seen since?
"When I came in, all I knew was that he was at USC and that's a pretty impressive program and that he transferred to UConn. I didn't really know him, my first impression when I saw him was that he passed the look test. We had some discussions in the spring, and I thought that he had a very, very focused spring on the details of what's required to play the position. The number one thing being, taking care of the ball. It was made clear that we can't play people where there is going to be a risk that the ball is going to be on the ground and we are going to turn the ball over. D.J. went through spring practice very focused and he also had a very good summer. When guys are doing well in summer school and pushing themselves in the weight room, that's a good indication that there is some focus over the summer. We had that, which puts you in position to have a great camp. Now, he has had a good camp, not a perfect camp, but it was pretty consistent. Jonathan Jean-Louis is just as focused, he is a fifth year senior who wants to do something with his career, so he is over there hanging onto the ball too. If we can get these guys to show that kind of leadership, D.J. and Jonathan, I think we have a chance to be pretty productive at the position. Then we have these younger guys, so maybe we can change the pace of the run game. It is usually a bit of a problem defensively, you are getting ready for one style of guy, then you put a different style of guy in. That is a good problem to have on offense."

Are there technique things with D.J. that could make him a better player?
"Absolutely. It is a focus on high and tight and keep your elbow in, cover the pressure points of the ball. I think the other thing that players have to realize is that when you catch the ball the focus is always on breaking the tackle and trying to get yards. The reality is that sometimes you try to do too much. It's important that you are productive with your hands on the ball, but it's not more important than taking care of the ball. Not everybody understands that."

How excited are you personally to be a head coach again preparing for a game?
"Regardless of what my job has been, I have always been excited for a game. I have always prepared the same way, whether I was an assistant coach, coordinator or a head coach, I try to know everything that was going on. If I was coaching the linebackers I wanted to know what everyone on defense was doing and what the offense was doing. When you are the coordinator you like to know what you are playing against so you have to have a good idea what is happening on the other side of the ball because that might dictate what you do on your side. It is a complimentary game. As a head coach you are just trying to keep your cool and trying to manage the game and not allow dumb things to happen. As the head coach your job is to just make sure that the right guys are in the game and that you are managing the game."

Can you see other freshmen who aren't on the two-deep playing special team roles?
"I would rather not do that, if they have a role in the two-deep then we can put them in on special teams, but I'm not in favor of not being in the game offensively or defensively and playing special teams. It might happen, but I try to not let that happen."

How have the freshmen adjusted to the college game?
"Really well. Some a little better than others obviously, but I think overall pretty good. We have some potential in this class that we brought in. Some of these guys are running with the two-deep and there are some others that could be, so there are some guys that by the time they are done here they are going to be players."

What are your impressions of Fordham head coach Tom Masella?
"He is a great guy, I have known him for years and I have known the people that he has worked with. He is a terrific guy and players like to play for him, coaches like to work with him and he does a great job of preparing his team. Coach Wholley coached there with him and he speaks extremely high of the coaches on that staff, which means a great deal to me."

What else do you like about your defense?
"I like the athleticism, I like how fast they are, I think we have some fast guys. I think we have some guys that can cover which you are always excited about. We have corners and safeties that can play man and that is going to be something that is important to us. This is really our first test with an outside opponent."

Have you seen the stadium with the new sod?
"Yeah, we had a nice day there last week. It is very, very impressive. Any football player, at any level would love to play on that surface. There are 32 teams in the NFL and they would all love to play on that field. The grass and the stadium is very impressive."

How much will you rely on your wide receivers this year?
"We are going to rely on them, we have to. We need to get the ball down the field. We would like to put some pressure on our opponent's defense, so we need them to run deep and make something happen. I like our receivers, we have a couple guys there that have some more experience. I like the group, we are running six guys there and I kind of like that."

#3 Sio Moore, RS Junior, LB
Are you anxious to hit somebody else, other than your own guy?
"We have been going at it for quite a while now, and it's about time to see a different colored jersey. We can finally put together what we have been doing during camp and really execute and get things done."

From a linebacker stand point, what is the biggest difference that you see in Coach Brown's system?
"I would say there is more ability for us to make plays. There is a more aggressive mindset with the linebackers, if its run fits or in the pass game. He just has us in a very versatile position to make plays in every part of the field."

Last year you were the young guy of the group, now you are the old guy, how has that been?
"It's kind of funny being considered one of the old guys, I try to teach as much as I can and at the same time show what I can do. It is a great group of guys and everybody is learning from everybody. I try to take something from Jory Johnson everyday as well, because he always finds his way around the ball."

What about the true freshmen?
"I try to work with them as much as I can, they are going to be good. Coach Wholley and coach Pasqualoni are doing a great job and I'm just trying to help them as much as I can and make sure we can do what we can from a linebacker stand point."

#71, Mike Ryan, RS Senior, OT
On the start of the season:
"I am excited for the season to start. It is finally here. It is a very exciting time for the entire team."

On starting camp under a new coach:
"The transition was easy. Coach Pasqualoni is a great coach and even better person. He made the transition easy. All the new coaches we have are all great coaches with a lot of experience."

On offensive line:
"It's just a competition with the guards. We'll see who is the best of the two. They are both working hard."

On importance of chemistry on offensive line:
"It is pretty important. You have to be able to understand each other's movements and chemistry is large part of it."

#86, Cole Wagner, RS Sophomore, P
On pooch punt:
"It is just another weapon to have in the tool bag. It is very useful for inside the 20 punts and we want to pin them inside the ten yard. The end over end kick gives it a bigger chance to bounce backwards. I worked on it a little over the summer and a lot in fall and am amazed at how affective it is."

On Coach White:
"Coach White gave me some pointers and I took them back to Chicago with me this summer to practice them. He really emphasizes a great hang time so that our coverage can get down the field."

#11, Scott McCummings, RS Freshman, QB:
On curiosity of who will start for opener:
"I am very curious. I don't know any more than anyone else at this point. It is exciting. Everyone still has a chance. Everyone is doing really great in practice. I have no idea when we will find out."

On what he has improved most on:
"I've improved on my running mechanics. I always need to improve on consistency. The consistency in my game will be a long term project that I need to improve on."

On how to avoid a letdown for two quarterbacks who don't start:
"There is no way to. It's football. Everyone has to be shielded against things like that and be ready to work through it."

On excitement for a game:
"We are definitely excited. It feels like camp has been going forever. It has been the longest year of my life. Really, football never ends so it is nice to have a game in sight."

#5, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, RS Junior, CB
On the defense being anxious to play:
"It does seem like we are anxious. We're ready to go full speed and let everything fly."

On reservations because playing Fordham:
"The number one thing is to get the win. We've just been preparing to get the win."

On expectations on himself:
"Coach Brown has been getting us prepared. He keeps telling us to be great and only expect greatness out of ourselves. Going out there every day with Coach Brown we just do a lot of things with our hands and our feet. You can see our whole secondary is going to be a much more aggressive unit. We are ready to go out there and see another team."

On playing cornerback:
"We are on island out there. We have to take care of business out there. This is what we have been working hard and preparing for."

#18, John McEntee, RS Junior, QB
On the season opener:
"The team is really excited right now. We had a pretty tough camp and we are excited to play somebody else."

On first game being like a live tryout:
"I think we are always being evaluated. I think we may all get in there against Fordham. It is a great chance for evaluation."

On D.J. Shoemate:
"We've known each other since we were 11. He had a beard and I was like I want this kid on my team. We always kept in touch and when I realized he wasn't happy at USC I told him to come check out UConn and he liked it."

On why choosing UConn as a walk-on:
"I didn't really have any options other than here. A couple coaches were at a convention in southern California and said they needed a scouting team quarterback. My name came up and I was excited for the opportunity."

On coaching staff giving him a chance:
"I'm thankful for this coaching staff. They made it a fair chance for all of us. It has been the best opportunity I have been given since I have been at UConn. I am trying to make the most of it."

#2 Michael Nebrich, Freshman, QB
What are the main differences in playing quarterback here compared to high school?
"I think the base difference is making sure you get everything in the play book down. We just started looking at Fordham last week. The biggest thing in camp was getting the playbook down and knowing what you had to do for each play. When it came down to start game-planning, you knew everything you needed so it made that whole process a lot easier."

Do the three quarterbacks have a good camaraderie or do you want to kill each other?
"(laughing) No, actually we are all good friends. We all kind of use each other to push each other. In the meeting room we are all joking around with (Quarterbacks) Coach (Joe) Moorehead. We're all good friends."

Can you talk about the development of the vertical passing game?
"I think we're all better with that after camp. During the spring it was a little hard to get going because there's new routes and new concepts with the O-line. Once the O-line got settled in with what they had to do, it was a lot easier to deliver the ball down the field. We're doing a good job with it, but obviously we need to be much better as we move on."

Are you anxious to play someone else other than your own defense?
"Yeah, it's going to be a lot nicer not playing against them every day. It's but fun playing against them and it's made us so much better."

Do you get the sense that the quarterbacks are all pretty much in the same place?
"Honestly I have no idea. They don't tell us anything. We have to go out everyday and give everything we have. I honestly have no idea."

On coming here with the opportunity to play right away:
"When I first came here, the idea to play early was there but I really had to get in the film room and get bigger. That was one of the big things I needed. Right now I think that I'm able to play but that's the coach's decision whether I do or don't. I just have to wait and see."

Are you expecting to find out who starts Wednesday night or more like Thursday before the game?
"I would assume right before game-time, that's my guess."

Would you rather have a few more weeks to work on this offense or do you think you are ready to go and play anyone right now?
"I think what we need right now is a game. You can only practice so much and go against your own defense so much. What we really need is a game situation. Going against another team, against different speeds to get things down. I think we are game ready so playing Fordham and these early games will really help us."

What's been the biggest adjustment to playing college quarterback?
"Probably the speed of the defense and the playbook. You have to know everything from the protection to where everybody needs to be, what side to read on. Getting all that down has been a big adjustment. Then of course, the speed of the defense and the small windows you have to throw through has been a big thing."

#24 D.J. Shoemate, Senior, TB
What's the mindset of the team going into the first game?
"We are very comfortable with the whole game plan going into Fordham. We are getting the mental thing down. We are focused on running 100-percent every play so we can execute on Thursday."

How hard is it for the guys on the offense to not know the quarterback, and does it even make a difference to you?
"At this point, we can't control that. We try to worry about what we can control and that's on the field. As far as chemistry, all the guys are comfortable with whoever comes in at quarterback. They've been switching a lot of the same guys in. Guys are really, really comfortable with who's been in there."

Your whole career you've been waiting for an opportunity to play tailback, can you talk about the road and seeing this opportunity before you?
"I've been waiting for this opportunity for a while, honestly. I've sacrificed a lot to get where I am at this point. I've given it my all. I'm going to play 110-percent every play. I'm going to cherish this and not turn back. I'm loving every moment. It's been a while since I've been able to be a part of the team and I felt like it was a team I could contribute to and call my own. I'm taking advantage of every opportunity."

There was one fumble against Michigan last year and you got a label as a guy who can't hold on to the ball. How have you been able to convince the coaches that you are not that guy?
"I feel like I never had that issue in my life. When there was that reputation I felt like I really needed to do something coming in from last year to this year. I felt like I needed to do a lot of drills and focus on fundamentals. Just simple things that really make the big difference in the big scheme of things. I don't have that problem. I've proven to myself, my teammates and my coaches that I can hold on to the ball. I think getting more reps and getting familiar with carrying the ball in different type of running plays, my familiarity with switching arms takes care of itself now."

Can you talk about your first impressions when you met Johnny McEntee? It's been a long road for you guys.
"The first time I met Johnny, I wanna say it was eighth grade. We were getting ready to go to the high school we went to. I came there and had this big 13-inch afro. I was playing around and kicking. I used to punt and kick and do all that. I kicked like a 50-yard PAT or something and caught the eye of Johnny and his farther. Since then, we've always been really close."

Talk about Johnny's development to where he's being treated as a potential starter here.
"Yeah, Johnny has a lot to offer with this team. We have a lot of scramblers that give different looks here and there but Johnny for the most part has really developed his skills as far as knowing his skills and strengths. He's really worked on perfecting everything and trying to better everything he does. I think his poise really sticks out. He's a lot more confident and familiar with the offense now. He's sees this as a great opportunity to come out and seize the job."

#99 Kendall Reyes, RS Senior, DT
Sio Moore thinks you guys will be a top-10 defense in the country this year. He says you will be flying around, aggressive and shutting people out. Thoughts?
"I think we definitely can. We have the potential to come out and get there as long as we do what we have to do. Hit the film and come out ready to play. It's about us and how good we want to be. If we do everything the right way, we definitely have the potential to be a top-10 defense."

Can you talk about the new style? Everyone on defense seems really excited about the aggressiveness that these coaches are letting you have.
"I mean, we like it a lot. Before, we were really conservative. So it's like bringing a kid to a candy store. Before, we only got candy know and then. Now, it's like, "hey we're in there!". So it's really fun. It's really different from what we did last year. We are excited to see how it turns out in the game."

What do you see from the QBs? Is it a great battle?
"Oh definitely. This whole year the quarterback battle has gone on strong. All the guys have great talent and are stepping up. I'm excited for the game to start. All those guys have talent and will do their thing."

On defense, do you feel any extra pressure to carry a young, inexperienced offense?
"Just the same pressure there always is. We never want to give up points at all. If we can do what we have to do and every phase does what it has to do, we'll be in great shape. Same amount of pressure. We have a job to do. Let's shut `em out. That's our whole mentality out there."

Anxious to get out there and play somebody new?
"Definitely. I've been waiting a long time for this. It's my senior year, the last go around. We are all excited and ready for this."