STORRS - Having lost two of its top four running backs, one to a transfer and one to a season-ending injury, the men who will line up behind and beside the quarterback this season for the UConn football team is clear.
Sophomore Kevin Mensah and redshirt freshman Zavier Scott, though not necessarily in that order, will get the bulk of the carries and the playing time for the Huskies when the season starts next Thursday against No. 21 Central Florida at Pratt & Whitney Stadium.
But as the Huskies know well, things often happen that alter your depth chart and contingency plans have to be made.
To that end, UConn coach Randy Edsall and his staff have taken a long look at the performances of true freshman running backs Kyhon Gillespie and Dante Black in recent practices.
“I’ve been pleased with Dante and Khyon. They’ve done a good job,” Edsall said. “They got a lot of work.”
Gillespie, a Hartford native, and Black, who is from Lilburn, Georgia, are likely to play on occasion this season - the NCAA’s new regulation allows freshmen to play in up to four games while keeping four years of eligibility - even if Mensah and Scott are the Huskies’ workhorses.
“They’re a little bit different in terms of their styles but both have been productive, both have shown the ability to learn,” Edsall said.
Sophomore Nate Hopkins opted to leave two weeks ago, while junior Donevin O’Reilly tore his ACL last week.
“We have Zavier and Kevin, but I know we have to (look at) other guys. You hope it doesn’t get to that but if need be, I know we have two guys there who could go in and do a good job.”
Running back isn’t the only position where freshmen could have impact.
Edsall said he won’t release the first depth chart of the season until Sunday, but he acknowledged there will be plenty of first-year players on it.
“There’s going to be a lot of freshmen starting and in the two-deep,” said Edsall, entering the second year of his second stint in Storrs after replacing the fired Bob Diaco. “Because they’re the best that we have.”
Many of those freshmen were given their first taste of game action at UConn with Monday’s scrimmage.
“We’re going to have a lot of young guys playing for us,” Edsall said. “Even last night, going into Rentschler Field, you could tell a few of the freshmen were a bit nervous playing there for the first time. … We have to make them as comfortable as we can.”
One more new face
The UConn roster increased by one over the weekend as Terrence Ganyi, a freshman from Montreal, joined the team. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound prospect had originally planned to enroll at UConn next year, but instead arrived early.
“We had him in summer camp this summer and he was going to be a guy who was a 2019 guy,” Edsall said. “But when we looked at all his information and everything, we found out he could be a 2018 player. We got all the paperwork, got everything worked out, he was admitted to school, so here he is.”
Ganyi will play the “Husky” position at UConn, a cross between a linebacker and safety.
“We’ll get him into pads and see, but he’s a really good athlete. He’s a physical player. I really like what I saw,” Edsall said. “And he’s a great kid.”
There is a chance Ganyi plays this season, thanks in part to the new NCAA regulations for freshmen.
“He’s a little bit behind right now because he hasn’t been able to practice,” Edsall said.
Voice from the past
Edsall said he spoke at length recently with former UConn athletic director Lew Perkins, the man who hired him to coach the Huskies in 1999.
“He called me and then I called him back. We spoke for about 40 or 50 minutes,” Edsall said.
Perkins, now 73, was the Huskies’ athletic director from 1990 to 2003 and was instrumental in the upgrade of the football program from the Division I-AA level to I-A (now FCS and FBS).
“He was a guy that had the vision and foresight to make this all happen. He wants to see us do well,” Edsall said.