Football took center stage at Rentschler Field on Friday, as the Huskies took on the University of Massachusetts Minutemen. What many people thought would be a blowout ended up a tight contest going into the half — UConn only led 13-10.
The blue and white only distanced themselves from their opponent when running back Victor Rosa scored a touchdown in each quarter of the second half. These were his fifth and sixth scores in a season that has been full of opportunities and surprises. All of this begs a question: what is a true freshman doing as one of the Huskies’ most productive runners in the best year the team has had in six seasons?
Rosa’s first sports were wrestling, baseball and football, the last of which was always his self-proclaimed “first love.” Throughout these early years, the most influential person in his life was his father, Glenn. Whether it be for driving him to practices, coaching him or instilling in him a good work ethic, Rosa remains grateful to his old man.
By the time he was at Bristol Central High School, he had dropped wrestling and baseball in favor of track and basketball. The change was made in an effort to improve his physical conditioning, something that was nowhere more important than in football.
After he was named an all-conference player in his first three years at school, quarterback Rosa earned a laundry list of accolades and achievements during his senior outing across multiple sports. He was the Gatorade Connecticut Football Player of the Year and was all-conference again, rushing for 2,728 yards and passing for 849. He scored 41 touchdowns, won the State Division II Basketball Championship and was the Class L 200-meter champion.
With a successful senior year now behind him, Rosa began to prepare for his arrival at UConn football training camp over the summer. Before Jim Mora was finalized as this season’s head coach, Rosa had applied to UConn football as a slot receiver. However, after a convincing pitch by both Mora and RB Coach E.J. Barthel, Rosa arrived at school knowing that he “was going to go into the running back room.”
At the summer practices, Rosa was used as a Swiss Army knife-esque “gadget” by the coaching staff. However, Coach Barthel told him not long into the summer that he was to be the main RB behind sophomore Nate Carter. From the beginning, Rosa was groomed to fulfill the role that he is now thriving in.
The freshman’s growth was accelerated when Carter was sidelined for the season during the team’s loss to then-No. 4 Michigan in mid-September. The admittedly “big change” did not shake Rosa, who came in ready to “go in, step up, and produce” when his name was called. Since the Michigan game, Rosa has been averaging 4.5 yards per carry and has had double-digit carries in all but one matchup.
This increase in gametime reps has correlated with his attitude of never being satisfied with his football ability. Throughout this season, Rosa has specifically worked on making more “explosive plays” for his team. Increasing his yards per carry, which currently sits at 3.8 for the season, is the first step in achieving this, he says.
With multiple major-minute games under his belt, Rosa looks toward a possible future where the Huskies are in a bowl game. Between the final two games against Liberty University and the Army, the team needs to win one to lock up a spot. The key to doing so: execution. Rosa harps on the need for Connecticut to be more disciplined in third down scenarios and to simply take each game one at a time.
Based on recent history, being able to possibly attend a bowl could be construed as a win for UConn. While they of course want more than a chance, Rosa attributes much of the success up until now to his head coach and the corresponding culture change.
It’s “the little things” that stick out to Rosa the most: inspirational quotes on the walls, how Mora pushes the team every day, and how the team has become “a brotherhood” under his leadership. Without the culture change, the team’s greatest strength of “staying together” would not be a strength at all. Through the “highest of highs and the lowest of lows,” everyone on the team has had one another’s backs, says Rosa.
Now, together, Rosa and the Huskies prepare for a difficult challenge against No. 19 Liberty this weekend. It’s almost time for the true freshman to take the field once again.