UConn freshman RB Mensah quick to seize opportunity

Published on Friday, 22 September 2017 17:10
Written by Neill Ostrout

Journal Inquirer

STORRS - Because of his head coach’s pronouncement earlier this week that freshman running back Kevin Mensah was the fastest member of the UConn football team, the Huskies’ freshman running back has received a number of challenges lately.

“There’s a lot of fast people on the team,” Mensah said this week as the Huskies prepared for Sunday’s game with East Carolina. “Ever since he said that now they want to race me.”

Cornerback Tyler Coyle wouldn’t mind a shot at Mensah’s title. Linebacker Darrian Beavers has expressed interest too.

Even Mensah, who runs a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash and is a former Massachusetts state indoor track champion, thinks there might be a contender for his new honorary title.

“Jordan Swann,” Mensah said, referring to the Huskies’ freshman kick returner. “I think that would be a good race.”

Regardless of whether he ranks first, second or even third on the roster, it’s clear Mensah is capable of contributing to the UConn offense right now.

In the first extensive action of his collegiate career last week against Virginia, the 5-foot-9, 198-pound Worcester native had six rushes for 49 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown run on his second carry.

“He’s just got speed and explosion. We saw it from the day he came in here,” UConn coach Randy Edsall said. “He would have been playing from the beginning if he didn’t get hurt in training camp. He’s still got a lot to learn, don’t get me wrong, but he gives us things that we don’t have at that position.”

Mensah, who hurt his knee in late August, was glad to finally get into the mix.

“It felt good going out there after getting banged up in preseason, being able to help the team out,” Mensah said.

He may be helping his team out even more this week.

It’s not clear how far up the depth chart Mensah has come so far. He’s listed as the backup to co-starters Arkeel Newsome and Nate Hopkins. Newsome has by far the most experience and has had success against the Pirates in the past.

Newsome compiled 179 yards rushing and 244 all-purpose yards in the Huskies’ 2015 meeting with East Carolina, a 31-13 UConn win.

But Newsome has struggled this season, albeit some of his missed opportunities can be traced to the Huskies’ sub-par offensive line.

Although Newsome’s elusiveness is perhaps unmatched at UConn, Mensah’s straight-ahead speed is something that intrigues the Husky coaches and his teammates.

“He’s definitely a burst. He goes full speed all the time. Great kid, perfectionist,” UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs said. “He’s definitely trying to be a sponge and learn as much as he can. I’m proud of him for the way he came into the game, this last game. We expect a lot out of him but he’s doing a great job.”

If he wasn’t overly concerned about the one-game delay in actually starting his college football career, it’s because Mensah has already been through tougher fights to get on the field.

After he decided to transfer following his junior season at Holy Name in Worcester to Shepherd Hill Regional High School in nearby Dudley, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) objected to the transfer and Mensah was forced to go to court just to get on the field for his senior year in 2016. Mensah briefly considered attending Cheshire Academy in Connecticut before deciding to fight for his spot at Shepherd Hill.

His coach at Shepherd Hill, Chris Lindstrom, even boycotted as the MIAA refused to allow Mensah to play.

“That was special to me. I’m always going to remember that,” Mensah said. “I love him for that.”

Even after a standout season at Shepherd Hill, minus the two games he was forced to miss as his legal battle continued, Mensah wasn’t drawing as much interest from Division I coaches as he had hoped. He was planning to attend St. Thomas More in Montville for a post graduate season when Edsall offered him a scholarship for 2017.

“I was going to go there. And then coach Edsall brought me up here and gave me a scholarship,” Mensah said.

Mensah committed to join the Huskies in June.

“They’ve been following me since my senior year,” Mensah said. “After he gave me the scholarship I automatically wanted to come here. I felt like I was part of this team already.”

Mensah showed some impressive speed and didn’t take long to commit to UConn. He’s also been rapidly adjusting to the college game now that he’s here.

Stopwatches included, he clearly is the fastest Husky.

Posted in New Britain Herald, General Sports, UConn on Friday, 22 September 2017 17:10. Updated: Friday, 22 September 2017 17:13.