After winning the final four games of the season last year, including a win in the Papajohns.com Bowl over South Carolina of the SEC, Husky football head coach Randy Edsall says the team has already shown in the pre-season that it wants to continue its winning ways in 2010.
The Huskies concluded a difficult 2009 season, after coping with the tragic death of Jasper Howard and losing five games by a total of 15 points. Edsall says the experience has made the 2010 squad “probably the closest a team has been since I’ve been here.”
Collectively, he says, the team has moved forward.
“We didn’t see peaks and valleys in practice,” says Edsall, who begins his 12th season leading the Huskies. “Their focus and the work they did in the summer time prepared them. It’s been businesslike.”
With three consecutive bowl games on their resume, the Huskies are gaining increased respect around the nation. The team received its highest pre-season ranking in the Big East Conference (third), as well as consideration in polls for a pre-season national ranking. The Athlon Sports 2010 College Football Annuals ranked UConn No. 20.
Not that the Huskies place too much emphasis on pre-season talk.
“We don’t look at the pre-season numbers,” says senior fullback Anthony Sherman, one of the co-captains. “We just want to prove we’re a little higher than they expected us to be.”
The season begins Sept. 4 on the road against Michigan. It will be the first game held in the renovated Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., the nation’s largest football stadium of any kind in the United States, with a capacity of 109,901.
“The way we look at it is that it’s just another team on our schedule,” Sherman says. “We can’t let that dictate the way we’re going to play. We need to execute what we need to execute first. Our expectations for this season were set last January, when we came back to prepare for this season. You take on yourself first before you worry about your opponents.”
Edsall says despite the departure of leading performers such as running back Andre Dixon, offensive tackle Mike Hicks, and defensive end Lindsey Witten, the returning Huskies exhibit the confidence of a team with experienced veterans.
“We lost some pretty good players from last year,” he says, “but we’ve added new players. We have to create our own new identity. They’re all doing their own part to establish their role in the success of the team.”
The experienced offensive line is led by redshirt junior center Moe Petrus, who has been named to the 2010 Rimington Trophy Watch List. The Rimington Trophy is awarded to the top collegiate offensive center.
“I think this is going to be a big year for the O line,” says senior guard and co-captain Zach Hurd, a first team 2009 All-Big East selection named to the 2010 Outland Trophy Watch list, which recognizes top linemen in college football. “Everyone has stepped up and is starting to play real well together.”
On the defensive side, the Huskies will return eight starters, led by redshirt senior linebacker and co-captain Scott Lutrus. But the defensive line is already making adjustments, following the loss of redshirt sophomore defensive end Marcus Campbell, who suffered an injury that will put him on the sidelines for 2010.
“These are things you can’t control in football,” Edsall says. “When you lose a guy who’s played in games, that’s lost experience. Now other guys will get their opportunities, and they’ve got to step up.”
Among the returning anchors of the defense is senior linebacker Lawrence Wilson, a first team Big East selection in 2009 who was named to the 2010 Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List, which goes each year to the nation’s best defensive player.
Edsall will have an even closer look at the defensive side of the team this season. With this year’s young group of defensive backs, along with a new defensive back coach, Darrell Perkins, Edsall is doing double duty as head coach and working with the safeties. Edsall coached defensive backs at Syracuse, Boston College, the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL, and George Tech, before becoming head coach at UConn.
“I see those young men are getting better,” he says, “and the other corners are getting better because we have two coaches. Everyone is getting more individual attention. I think it’s working out very well.”
For the 2010 Football schedule, go to the Athletics website.