STORRS - Because of his head coachâ€™s pronouncement earlier this week that freshman running back Kevin Mensah was the fastest member of the UConn football team, the Huskiesâ€™ freshman running back has received a number of challenges lately.
â€śThereâ€™s a lot of fast people on the team,â€ť Mensah said this week as the Huskies prepared for Sundayâ€™s game with East Carolina. â€śEver since he said that now they want to race me.â€ť
Cornerback Tyler Coyle wouldnâ€™t mind a shot at Mensahâ€™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.
â€śJordan Swann,â€ť Mensah said, referring to the Huskiesâ€™ freshman kick returner. â€śI think that would be a good race.â€ť
Regardless of whether he ranks first, second or even third on the roster, itâ€™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.
â€śHeâ€™s just got speed and explosion. We saw it from the day he came in here,â€ť UConn coach Randy Edsall said. â€śHe would have been playing from the beginning if he didnâ€™t get hurt in training camp. Heâ€™s still got a lot to learn, donâ€™t get me wrong, but he gives us things that we donâ€™t have at that position.â€ť
Mensah, who hurt his knee in late August, was glad to finally get into the mix.
â€śIt felt good going out there after getting banged up in preseason, being able to help the team out,â€ť Mensah said.
He may be helping his team out even more this week.
Itâ€™s not clear how far up the depth chart Mensah has come so far. Heâ€™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 Huskiesâ€™ 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 Huskiesâ€™ sub-par offensive line.
Although Newsomeâ€™s elusiveness is perhaps unmatched at UConn, Mensahâ€™s straight-ahead speed is something that intrigues the Husky coaches and his teammates.
â€śHeâ€™s definitely a burst. He goes full speed all the time. Great kid, perfectionist,â€ť UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs said. â€śHeâ€™s definitely trying to be a sponge and learn as much as he can. Iâ€™m proud of him for the way he came into the game, this last game. We expect a lot out of him but heâ€™s doing a great job.â€ť
If he wasnâ€™t overly concerned about the one-game delay in actually starting his college football career, itâ€™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.
â€śThat was special to me. Iâ€™m always going to remember that,â€ť Mensah said. â€śI love him for that.â€ť
Even after a standout season at Shepherd Hill, minus the two games he was forced to miss as his legal battle continued, Mensah wasnâ€™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.
â€śI was going to go there. And then coach Edsall brought me up here and gave me a scholarship,â€ť Mensah said.
Mensah committed to join the Huskies in June.
â€śTheyâ€™ve been following me since my senior year,â€ť Mensah said. â€śAfter he gave me the scholarship I automatically wanted to come here. I felt like I was part of this team already.â€ť
Mensah showed some impressive speed and didnâ€™t take long to commit to UConn. Heâ€™s also been rapidly adjusting to the college game now that heâ€™s here.
Stopwatches included, he clearly is the fastest Husky.