The UConn football team did not have any intercollegiate competition in 2020 but coach Randy Edsall rightly bristles at the notion that the Huskies took the year off.
“It wasn’t a year off for us. We worked just as hard,” Edsall said Thursday on a Zoom call with reporters.
The Huskies are one of just three FBS programs that opted not to play any games in 2020 for COVID reasons, but Edsall doesn’t flinch when asked if still believes it was the correct call.
“Most definitely,” Edsall said.
Other teams may be playing games, or just recently finished playing games, but the Huskies’ schedule has been full this fall, too.
“We were able to get a lot accomplished. I was really proud of our kids for how they handled everything,” Edsall said.
The Huskies practiced every Tuesday and Thursday, while lifting weights every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“All-in-all I thought it was very, very good for us,” Edsall said.
It wasn’t all easy for the Huskies, of course. And not playing games didn’t mean the Huskies were free from the issues caused by COVID-19.
Edsall revealed Thursday that his team had 23 positive COVID tests by his players, though he says none experienced serious symptoms.
A total of 70 players, based on contact tracing, were forced to quarantine at different points during the team’s “season.”
Only 20 players on the roster avoided being quarantined or isolated, Edsall said. A handful of those returned home and attended classes entirely remotely.
UConn sometimes didn’t know how many players were going to practice each day until the last moment. Edsall looked around the country at the rapidly changing schedules of games, and fears his team would have been in just as difficult a spot had it played games in 2020.
“Some of these teams didn’t know who they were playing or if they were playing that week. Talk about stress and strain,” Edsall said. “There was no stress or strain for us.”
A SPRING PLAN HAS SPRUNG
The UConn players will move back to campus beginning on Jan. 15. After two weeks of quarantine, they will begin lifting weights and running with their teammates Feb. 1.
UConn will then hold a series of practices - the team is still referring to it as “spring” practice though it will take place in the middle of winter for the second year in a row - beginning on Feb. 15.
UConn will practice three days a week for five straight weeks, ending on March 19.
Edsall said they will play “three really, really big scrimmages” but aren’t likely to have any workouts open to fans.
Earlier this fall. UConn, and some others, had contemplated playing games in the spring when the COVID-19 pandemic was more under control. But the Huskies eventually decided not to schedule any opponents.
“Weather-wise, I’m not sure it will be conducive to playing outside,” said Edsall, whose team will practice in the Shenkman Training Center on the Storrs campus and isn’t likely to venture to Pratt & Whitney Stadium.
Fans of the team will have to wait until 2021 to get a look at the Huskies in action.
“I don’t see us playing in front of any fans at all in the spring,” Edsall said.
KEEPING UP WITH JONES
Defensive tackle Travis Jones’ immense size - he’s 6-foot, 4-inches tall and some 336 pounds - doesn’t need to lose any weight to play his position effectively. But Edsall says he has been impressed with the way the junior from New Haven has changed his body, nonetheless.
“He really looks good. He’s kind of re-shaped his body,” Edsall said.
The more tone, even stronger Jones, who has been a part of all 24 games UConn has played since he arrived on campus and who has 95 tackles to his credit, is going to be tough to start when UConn restarts in 2021.
“He’s going to be a forced to be reckoned with,” Edsall said.
Edsall says the fall semester at UConn has been one of growth for the Huskies. His players are, in fact, much bigger in the coach’s estimation.
Edsall credited strength coach Matt King for pushing the Huskies to make big gains in the weight room.
“When you see our guys in the spring, you’re going to see a different looking team, physically,” Edsall said. “There were some guys that made a lot of great strides in the weight room.”
PERPLEXING PLAYOFF RANKINGS
The fact that unbeaten Cincinnati (8-0) dropped two spots in the College Football Playoff rankings in the past two weeks despite not playing a game, while Power 5 schools Florida and Iowa State (which both have two losses and are ranked above the Bearcats) were seemingly measured by different standards was not surprising to Edsall.
Having coached in the American Athletic Conference, Edsall feels he has a pretty good handle on what the upper echelon thinks of anyone outside the Power 5. Still, he called the treatment of the Bearcats “perplexing.”
“It didn’t surprise me. It’s like they don’t want somebody from a Group of 5 to be involved in a game, in the top 4. You had UCF (unbeaten in 2017), now you have Cincinnati.”
Jay Rose, a Southington native who is the team’s top tight end, tore a pectoral muscle this fall and was forced to have surgery to repair the injury, Edsall said. The coach said Rose was performing very well before the injury occurred. … Edsall, when asked what fans will see from the Huskies soon: “I think you’re going to see an offense that’s going to be wide open.” … Among the COVID restrictions for UConn players this fall: they weren’t allowed full use of their locker room and typically weren’t allowed to shower in the facility.