STORRS - If UConn football coach Randy Edsall wanted an outsider to try to light a fire under his Huskies and motivate them to improve quickly, it’s hard to imagine a better fire starter than Andre Dixon.
The former UConn running back stopped by his old team’s spring practice Thursday morning, and when it was over Dixon delivered an impassioned speech to the Huskies about what it takes to compete at college football’s highest level.
The hero of one of UConn’s biggest-ever football victories, a 33-30 double-overtime win over Notre Dame Nov. 22, 2009, Dixon implored the Huskies to give everything they had to the program.
“When I’m inside these white lines, I’m a dog! Every down, every play, every way!” Dixon bellowed at the current players huddled around him inside the Shenkman Center.
Dixon, who ran for 114 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown in that UConn victory eight-and-a-half years ago over the Irish in South Bend, Indiana - and fired the ball into the stands in celebration seconds afterward - brought the game up as proof that big things are possible if a team like the Huskies works hard enough.
“That’s how we did it. Little old Connecticut, up in Notre Dame, kicking (butt),” said Dixon, whose touchdown against Notre Dame that day gave the Huskies their first win since the death of their teammate, cornerback Jasper Howard.
Edsall teared up after that victory, which came during his first stint as the Huskies’ head coach, and nearly did so again recalling Dixon’s passionate approach to football and life.
“He’s the same. No different now than when he played. He’s all …,” Edsall said as he slapped his chest. “So much heart and ability.
“It’s great to have guys like that so these kids can see what it means, what it’s all about. Because we’ve lost that and we have to get that back.”
UConn, which has been 3-9 in each of the last two seasons, hasn’t had a winning record since Edsall departed for Maryland following the 2010 season.
Part of Edsall’s effort to rekindle the energy that surrounded his program inside and out nearly a decade ago, is to bring back some of the key figures from that era.
From Dixon’s view, things have already started to change.
“As a team, there was an energy about us that I’m starting to see back here with Edsall coming back,” Dixon said after his speech to the players. “Because I came in the years before and it was different.”
Edsall, Dixon insists, hasn’t changed much. After the coach’s encouragement, and Dixon’s own words, the now 30-year-old New Brunswick, New Jersey native joked that he was ready to put on some pads himself.
“I felt like I wanted to play just now. I was like ‘Coach! Don’t get me going like that!’ ” Dixon said with a laugh. “But it was good to be back and to see there’s good stuff brewing. I know given time that these dudes are going to do great things again.”
Dixon complimented those he saw Thursday who play the same position he once did at UConn, but the Huskies’ top running back missed Thursday’s practice and Dixon’s passionate speech. Kevin Mensah, a sophomore from Worcester, is being held out this week by the coaching staff for academic reasons.
Whether Mensah has been in attendance or not, one player who has caught the attention of the coaches frequently this spring has been Zavier Scott.
A 6-foot-1 redshirt freshman who was born in Fort Hood, Texas, but who moved frequently with his military family and came to the Huskies from Vilseck High School in Germany, Scott has made a number of big plays during practice in the last few weeks.
“He’s pretty natural. He’s got some God-given talent and the ability to see things, his ability to slide, that you don’t teach. He has some of those traits that you just don’t teach,” Edsall said. “And just a great kid that works his tail off.”
Scott came to the Huskies as a wide receiver and spent his redshirt season at UConn in 2017 playing the position, but switched to running back before spring practice began.
“He’s a football player and he’s an athlete. You could probably put him at a couple different positions and he would do fine,” Edsall said.
Scott largely agrees, and said he was fine with the move.
“I’ve played running back before so it kind of settled nice for me,” Scott said. “It was an easy transition. I kind of had the coaches hinting towards it, so I felt like it was going to happen sooner or later. And it just did.”
Tight end Tyler Davis (concussion) remained on the sidelines Thursday, though defensive tackle Kevin Murphy (concussion) returned to practice, albeit in a red, non-contact jersey. … Defensive end Connor Freeborn has a sprained MCL in his left knee, Edsall said, and he too did not practice. Freeborn was hurt Tuesday, and was scheduled to be re-examined by doctors late Thursday. … A number of high school coaches were in attendance for Thursday’s workout, including at least one from Stafford High. … Linebacker Eddie Hahn, safety Tyler Coyle and offensive tackle Matt Peart were wearing the gold jerseys that the coaching staff is awarding this spring for strong play.