In the next week, after sitting out the 2020 season in the fall, the University of Connecticut football team will finally get to be back on the field competing. Well, sort of.
The Huskies won’t be playing any games against opponents, but they will begin their five week spring season with more intense practices and scrimmages than they’ve had in a long time. But, just because there won’t be any opponents doesn’t mean there won’t be competition.
“There’s definitely some trash talk, and there’s definitely guys going back and forth at it because that’s what we wait for,” senior offensive lineman Ryan Van Demark said Wednesday. “In spring ball and camp, we’re not playing for a game, we’re playing one against one. So when we get that chance to go, we’re letting it all loose. We’re trying to go out there and get better technically and fundamentally, but at the same time, we’re trying to put each other in the ground.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, spring practice will be pretty much the same format it always is: three long, intense practices per week for five weeks. But for the players, it certainly feels a little different after not playing in the fall.
“If you think about it, we haven’t really put on the pads in a while,” Van Demark said. “So this is the first time we’re going to be putting on the pads. I’m pretty sure the whole team’s amped up just to get out there with some shoulder pads and start hitting each other. But it definitely changes the attitude because I think we’re all motivated and ready to go for the season.”
The goals, however, remain just the same.
“I always have the same expectations for myself,” junior defensive lineman Travis Jones said. “Go out there and dominate and compete every day with the guys and try to get better every day I step on the field.”
For head coach Randy Edsall, the expectations also haven’t changed for what he’s looking for from his players this spring.
“I don’t think it’s going to be different than it was any other spring from the standpoint that I just want to see guys continually get better each and every practice that we have,” Edsall said. “I want to see guys competing, and I want to be able to have as much depth as we can. I hope we feel confident that we got 80 guys that we think can go out and play and contribute next fall.”
Edsall said everyone on the roster will be participating in spring practice with the exception of linebacker Terrence Ganyi and wide receiver Darius Bush, who both have torn Achilles heels. Other players who will be limited are tight ends Brendan Heatherman and Jay Rose who are both recovering from surgeries — Heatherman on his knee and Rose on his pectoral muscle.
Van Demark and Jones are both part of the team’s “Leadership Council” made up of leaders at each position. Their main task is to make sure the whole team is buying into the team-oriented goals, which revolve around winning a bowl game next season.
“I can just see a glaring difference this year rather than the last three years,” Van Demark said. “We have more kids bought in. We have more kids definitely trying to get after it every day, trying to get a ring … I think everybody has that shared mentality, and the sky’s the limit for us. I’m super excited about this year.”
Edsall said the leaders of the team are doing an incredible job. He believes this is the most player-driven team since he’s been back at UConn, and that’s really important moving forward.
“Guys are holding each other accountable to do the things that they’re supposed to do,” Edsall said. “As a coach, I haven’t had to do as much. And as I’ve always said, when it’s a player-driven team, it’s so much better and you’re going to win more than when it’s coach-driven.”
The Huskies will look to make some strides in the next few weeks to get themselves closer to their ultimate goal next fall.