Whoever ends up at QB can depend on strong blocking from linemen Tyler Bullock (50), Xavier Hemingway (75), Guz Cruz (65), Jimmy Bennett, Joseph Danielson and Stephen Brown (61). Photo © 2011 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
Don’t be surprised if the University of Connecticut’s unsettled quarterback situation ends up producing a signal caller on a par to achieve what Donovan McNabb did during his legendary career at Syracuse.
And if the development of a new passing sensation should, indeed, come to pass, it will come as no surprise to UConn’s first-year head coach, Paul Pasqualoni, McNabb’s mentor with the men of Orange.
Discussing his quest to find a starting quarterback during training camp, Pasqualoni told reporters they wouldn’t know his decision until a couple hours before the season opening kickoff against Fordham on Sept. 1.
The newly hired head Husky recalled how, back in 1995, people covering Syracuse had been stunned when Pasqualoni opted to open the season with an unheralded freshman under center, as he chose to tab McNabb instead of the media’s consensus choice.
“Everybody in the media had Kevin Johnson starting and when Donovan McNabb walked out for the first snap, everybody was scrambling to get the press guide to see where he grew up.” Pasqualoni said.
Johnson ended up at wide-out for the Orange and, later, the Browns. Meanwhile, McNabb started and starred, setting Syracuse records that still stand, taking his team to a bowl game all four years (Gator, Liberty, Fiesta, and Orange).
Pasqualoni obviously has a reputation for thinking outside the box – and he might have to do so once again as he ponders the first major decision in store for him in Storrs. Redshirt sophomore Michael Box is the only one of the four QB candidates with in-game experience at UConn.
Senior co-captain Kashif Moore will wear the number 6 this season in memory of his close friend Jasper Howard.Photo © 2011 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
“In practice, all four of them rotate. There’s not one main guy at all,” said senior receiver Kashif Moore, whose route-running ability and soft hands can make even a rookie thrower look good.
“That’s something that the coaches are trying to evaluate right now. So the best guy will play and that’s up to the coaches,” said Moore who was chosen as one of the team’s four co-captains according to Coach P, “because of his excellent leadership [along with] his productivity.”
The other captains are senior center Moe Petrus and defensive tackle Kendall Reyes and junior defensive back Blidi Wreh-Wilson.
Moore caught some game passes from Box in 2010 after Box took over the reins in mid-season, subbing for a floundering Zach Frazier who was ignominiously dropped from starter to third-stringer after four games; Frazier got bumped back up to No. 2 after Cody Endres got bounced for alleged drug usage – and the fifth-year senior finally became the re-starting quarterback when Box got hurt.
After regaining the starting role, Frazier regained his throwing touch and led the Huskies to four straight wins, a conference crown and a spot opposite Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Despite the 48-20 loss to the Sooners, 2010 was a dream season for Connecticut which turned in an 8-5 campaign, earned a No. 25 end-of-the-regular-season ranking and shared the 2010 Big East title.
And that’s when longtime head coach Randy Edsall skeedaddled to Maryland, leaving immediately after the Oklahoma game and putting the Huskies in a position where they would learn of their coach’s departure while awaiting their own departure on an Arizona tarmac, young men futilely waiting for their no-show head coach to board the team plane back to Hartford.
Coach Paul Pasqualoni, a Cheshire High grad, has won at Syracuse and in the NFL and is now head of UConn’s football program. Photo © 2011 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
So now, Pasqualoni, faced with the pressures anyone would when taking over a program, also bears a bonus onus, as it were: taking over a team fresh off its first-ever BCS Bowl game.
“I don’t think that places any extra pressure on me,” said the new UConn coach. “No matter what level you’re at, your goal is to win your conference and get in the playoffs and reset. That’s what I like about the BCS; you win your conference and you’re in the championship series.”
Of the 10 teams invited to play in BCS Bowl games this past season, only two have new head coaches: Pasqualoni, is one, David Shaw at Stanford the other. The two men arrived at their new posts via completely different paths: Shaw, offensive coordinator at Stanford for four years, replaced Jim Harbaugh who left to become head coach of the Forty-Niners.
The new UConn coach, on the other hand, left the pros to head back to campus life where he continues to be affectionately called by the often face-saving and always time-saving moniker of “Coach P.”
Pasqualoni – not to be confused with longtime NFL sportswriter Len Pasquarelli or early 1950s UConn grad Pasquale Leo – is neither new to the Nutmeg State, serving as head coach at Western Connecticut from 1982-86, nor is he new to the Big East, leading Syracuse to four league titles and nine bowl games during his head coaching tenure from 1991-2004.
He left the Orangemen for Dallas where he was the linebackers coach for a couple of Cowboy playoff teams coached by Bill Parcells before they both moved to Miami where Bill was the GM and Paul was defensive coordinator for the Dolphins when they won the AFC East title in 2008.
Quarterback Michael Box (4) started a few games in 2010, but it was Johnny McEntee (18) who grabbed the headlines when his trick passing video went viral this past spring. The two are competing for the starting job with freshmen Michael Nebrich (2) and Scott McCummings (11) and walk-on Blaise Driscoll (17) of Avon Old Farms. Photo © 2011 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
“My time with Bill has been a very, very good experience,” Pasqualoni said as he stood in the vast expanse of UConn’s indoor training facility that is the Mark R. Shenkman Training Center.
Like Pasqualoni, his protégé is also set to lead a new team this season, McNabb signing with the Vikings after having been unceremoniously dumped by Washington. After the 2009 season, the longtime Eagle landed in DC on a team as dysfunctional as most of the United States Congressmen who attend the Redskins home games.
Asked about the uncomfortable situation – including a nationally televised benching – in which McNabb found himself during his stay in Washington a year ago – the former Syracuse coach said he really didn’t know what had happened to his college star.
“I’d say that when they reached the point where they weren’t winning, Donovan got more or less demoted,” Pasqualoni said. “And you know, a certain amount of that [winning and losing] goes to the quarterback no matter what level you’re playing at.”
Which is, of course, why Coach P. – back being the big man on a campus – is taking his time before deciding who will start at QB for the Huskies, this second go-round at college coaching infused with wisdom gathered from several years of NFL exposure.
But college or pro, the game still has one ball, four downs and 11 men on the field … although the pay checks are quite a bit bigger in the pros – most of the time.
Paqualoni did point out that a major difference for him is that preparing for college games “the week begins on Fridays. Fridays are the first day of the week to me, it’s just like a Sunday, outside of going to Mass, it’s just like a Sunday to me,” said Coach P.
Posted Aug. 16, 2011
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