STORRS - This summer, it’s been incredibly difficult for UConn football players to keep up with the Joneses.
That would be Kevon and Travis Jones.
The two men who share a surname are among six true freshmen who could start Thursday when the Huskies open the season against No. 21 Central Florida Thursday night at Pratt & Whitney Stadium (7 p.m., ESPNU).
There’s a youth movement this season with the Huskies, as head coach Randy Edsall and his staff unveiled a depth chart Sunday that included 17 freshmen, including redshirts.
“I think it’s a unique situation. I don’t know if I’ve ever had this many freshmen that are in the mix to play,” Edsall said after practice Sunday morning.
Six true freshmen listed as starters, including five on defense. The headliners could be linebacker Kevon Jones of East Hartford and defensive lineman Travis Jones of New Haven.
The other true freshmen listed as starters are right guard Christian Haynes and cornerback Keyshawn Paul. Both Jonathan Pace and Lwal Uguak are listed as possible starters.
Edsall makes it clear that just because a player is listed atop the depth chart doesn’t guarantee that man the lion’s share of the plays. In addition, alterations to the depth chart are possible right up until kickoff Thursday night.
The coach makes it clear that he’s seen nerves get the better of freshmen many times in his career, necessitating a switch.
“Their status might change after today. You get a little bit closer to game time and that sphincter gets a little bit tighter with some of these young kids,” Edsall said. “We’ll have to see how that plays out as the week goes on.”
Travis Jones (6-foot-4, 350 pounds) is a former Wilbur Cross High standout who has been practicing with the Huskies’ starting defense since he began workouts this month with the team.
Kevon Jones, “KK” to his teammates, was largely behind senior Santana Sterling and sophomore Ryan Gilmartin during the early stages of training camp but apparently made a strong late push to earn a starting nod.
None of the freshmen were allowed to speak to the media but sophomore safety Omar Fortt was among those who said Kevon Jones (6-2, 230) had made great strides already.
“He’s definitely a big body, too. He’s going to be really nice in the future,” Fortt said.
Nearly all of the true freshmen listed on the two-deep wouldn’t start in a perfect world but the Huskies defense - the fourth-worst in the country last season - must find eight new starters this season. And the first-year players are apparently the most qualified on the roster.
“They’re a work in progress. They’re not even close to being the finished product but they’ve shown things they can do,” Edsall said. “But we’re not in a position from a program standpoint to have them redshirt.”
The established Huskies aren’t surprised that so many young players will be getting on the field early in their careers.
“I definitely saw that coming in (this summer). There’s a lot of kids with talent. And we had a lot of veterans who left so we had to fill those roles,” Fortt said.
In addition to the rookies, there were a few other surprising twists on the initial depth chart of the season. Redshirt freshman Ian Swenson was listed ahead of junior Marshe Terry at Husky linebacker, and freshman Luke Magliozzi has apparently supplanted sophomore Brett Graham as the starting punter.
Terry made 60 tackles last season as a safety for the Huskies and as one of the defense’s few returning starters was expected to be an impact player in 2018. Swenson made 15 tackles in the first three games a season ago before missing the remainder of the campaign with a shoulder injury.
“He can go out and execute the things you want done,” Edsall said when asked about Swenson. “I think that’s the biggest thing for all these guys to understand. You have to do your job.
“Who wants to put somebody on the field who doesn’t do the job?” Edsall added.
Swenson isn’t exactly counting his chickens, yet.
“It’s good, obviously. It’s a good feeling to be up with the 1’s and playing,” Swenson said. “We’re still competing. We’ll see, it could be either way on game day.”