When the 2008 UConn football team was honored during the Huskies’ game against Cincinnati Saturday, they received modest applause from a half-full Rentschler Field of fans who recalled their on-field heroics from a decade ago.
Quarterback Tyler Lorenzen, QB-turned-wideout D.J. Hernandez, defensive back Darius Butler and defensive lineman Rob Lunn (who hoisted his toddler high above his head when the camera got to him) all got the biggest reception from the UConn faithful, but it was a far cry from the raucous environment at The Rent when those three took the field 10 years ago.
“The Rent was excessively loud that whole year,” Lorenzen said, as the ESPN Radio speakers behind him malfunctioned and blasted an advertisement right in our ears.
“A little louder than that,” Lorenzen laughed.
There were tons of memorable moments from that season, when the Huskies went 7-5 in the regular season and capped it off with a bad win against Buffalo, but the first four games of the season – all wins – stood out to Lorenzen and Hernandez, as well as Husky fans across the state.
Donald Brown had always been good for the Huskies prior to 2008, but in their undefeated stretch to start the season, he was a man on a mission.
Brown kicked the year off with 146 yards and four touchdowns Week 1 against Hofstra, then rushed for 214 yards and the game-winning touchdown in overtime against Temple in Week 2. He would go on to earn 2,083 yards, setting the UConn single season rushing record.
“[Brown] put together an amazing first game, I think it was four touchdowns; this guy showed up every single week,” Lorenzen said. “The OL [offensive line], the receivers, everyone was putting in the work to make it all happen and Donnie was executing, that’s what it’s all about.”
If you were in the UConn weight room during the summer of 2008, you knew Donald Brown was going to start the season like a bat out of hell, Hernandez said.
“He worked his tail off to make it all happen, it’s not like he got lucky by any means, that was all the hard work that he put into it,” Lorenzen said. “Donnie was amazing, flat out.”
Brown’s nuclear season would continue the next week, earning 206 yards on 10.3 yards per attempt as the Huskies welcomed Virginia to Rentschler field with a 45-10 beatdown.
The next week UConn hosted Baylor and young star quarterback Griffin III, earning a thrilling 31-28 victory over the future Heisman-winner. Brown rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns while Lorenzen added two more on the ground, working Rentschler into a fervor Griffin described as “the loudest place I’ve ever been as a football player.”
“It’s crazy to think playing in the Big 12 conference and in some of those stadiums and he said that, but it was real loud and the environment around the team was awesome,” Lorenzen said.
UConn would go on to grind out a win against Louisville on the road the next week to reach 5-0 on the season and get ranked No. 23 in the AP poll, but dropped five of their last seven games in the season to finish fifth in the Big East with a 3-4 conference record.
Besides Brown, that 2008 team housed plenty of other future multi-year NFL players, like running back Jordan Todman, defensive back Darius Butler – “D-Back’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen,” Hernandez mused – and specialist Marcus Easley.
Only one player from that team is still playing professional football. Fullback Anthony Sherman is an integral part of the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense, playing much the same role as he did on UConn’s 2008 squad: carrying the rock in short-yardage situations and diving into a mass of large humans to open holes for ball-carriers, but also now throwing defenses off-balance as a pass catcher.
If you asked players from the 2008 team, however, none of this would have come as a surprise. They knew from the first time they saw Sherman on the practice field that his unique laundry list of skills would translate, Lorenzen said.
“Just having the ability to move him in different positions, utilize his hands, physical between the tackles – and he can run – makes him tough to match up against linebackers,” Hernandez said.
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.