The inimitable Bill Connelly has offered some Big East preseason previews recently. Though I enjoy his writing style and perspective, I found myself disagreeing in principle with his assessment of the Conn Huskies in 2012.
Connelly’s focus was on the Huskies hiring of Paul Pasqualoni as head coach last season. A Cheshire, Conn., native, Pasqualoni played linebacker at Penn State and, in addition to his head coaching experience, has been a defensive position coach and coordinator. At 62, he is also the dean of Big East coaches. The majority of conference coaches are not only younger but also offensive specialists.
Pasqualoni may be the antithesis of Big East coaches, but he has certainly done something positive for football in Connecticut during the past 18 months.
For too long, Connecticut football fans have seen their top high school players leaving for out of state colleges. Some high profile examples are: Silas Redd (Penn State), Aaron Hernandez (Florida), Dwight Freeney (Syracuse), Bill Romanowski (Boston College) and (Brigham Young). To be sure, standout players like these will be recruited by the better programs than the University of Connecticut – and they may accept. Some athletes consider it desirable to play in their home state though.
The past weekend the news for Connecticut football fans was Graham Stewart, a sophomore transfer from Florida, officially enrolling in classes at UConn. The Durham, Conn., resident played for the undefeated state champion Xavier Falcons in 2010 and desired to attend UConn, but the recruiting process left him leaning toward Boston College. Late in the process, Will Muschamp persuaded him to enroll at Florida. Several weeks ago he announced plans to transfer to UConn.
For most Connecticut high school players, UConn is a desirable option. As residents and fans, they know it’s not SEC-caliber football. Still, for this group, there’s a sense of pride that comes from playing for state’s premiere university and football program.
Pasqualoni has established an alliance between UConn and Connecticut high school coaches that his predecessor, Randy Edsall, never sought. Pasqualoni coached previously both at the high school and college level in Connecticut. He is well connected and well liked in coaching circles here. That’s positive for the morale of football in the state. It’s also positive for the UConn program because more players are now opting for UConn.
Late last year, Casey Cochran of Masuk H.S. in Monroe, Conn., two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in the state, signed with UConn, a prized quarterback recruit.
Stewart’s teammate (and son of Xavier’s head coach), two-time state champion Sean Marinan Jr., an all-state lineman and wrestler, was set to attend Yale (New Haven, Conn.) this fall before the coaching change left him without an offer. His next option was Wesleyan (Middletown, Conn.), until he received a preferred walk-on invitation from Pasqualoni at signing day. He chose UConn.
Pasqualoni already has an offer on the table for the next Xavier H.S. prospect, quarterback Tim Boyle. Montrell Dobbs of Ansonia H.S., the state’s top running back prospect had committed to UConn but had an academic issue that prevented his enrollment. He opted to play for another Connecticut native, Steve Addazio, at Temple.
There are plenty of fans who find something to criticize about Pasqualoni. They’re not bashful about stating their objections, including mega-booster Robert Burton. For many though the Connecticut connection trumps all else.