STORRS – Nate Carter is tired of hearing about the struggles of past UConn football teams. He’s tired of hearing how the program has been an eternal cellar dweller for the past decade-plus, with its last winning season in 2010 and its last season with more than three wins in 2015.
The sophomore running back is determined to change the national perception of the program.
“The (national) perception of this team for a few years hasn’t been good,” Carter said after the team’s first practice at fall camp under first-year coach Jim Mora on Friday. “With the arrival of Coach Mora and his team, it challenges us all. It’s a brotherhood. We’re changing the culture. We’re trying to spark a revolution. We’re trying to put UConn football back on the map like he was. So we are all very motivated, from the players to the coaches, everyone.
Mora, 59, who has 10 years of experience as a head coach – the most recent being a six-year stint at UCLA from 2012-2017 – inherits a UConn program after a 1-11 season . The campaign began with Randy Edsall as head coach before abruptly stepping down and ending with Lou Spanos as interim head coach.
UConn begins its second season as an independent on August 27 at Utah State. The Huskies welcome fans to Rentschler Field for games against Central Connecticut State (September 3) and Syracuse (September 10) before heading to Michigan on September 17 and North Carolina State on September 24.
Despite the program’s lack of wins lately, Mora said he was encouraged by the players’ performance in their first practice of the fall.
“It’s been a long road to get to (Friday) and I think it went well,” Mora said. “Obviously we have a ton of work to do, but what’s encouraging is that it’s a group of young men who want to improve. I think they’re really driven, I think they’re selfless. I think they like hard work.
The Huskies enter fall camp with quarterback competition after starting starter Steven Krajewski traded to Georgia State on May 17.
Ta’Quan Roberson, a redshirt junior who transferred from Penn State in December, shared reps with the Huskies’ first team during spring training and took the majority of first-team shots on the first day of the fall workouts.
Roberson, a redshirt junior, played three games at Penn State last year and completed 11 of 28 passes for 85 yards. He also ran the ball 12 times for 24 yards.
The competition also includes redshirt freshman Tyler Phommachanh – who was restricted during spring training as he recovered from a torn ACL in his left knee in the Huskies’ loss to Vanderbilt on 2 October – Cale Millen, a transfer from northern Arizona who committed to Oregon out of high school and freshman Zion Turner, a three-star freshman from St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. joined the team during the summer.
Phommachanh, who spent most of Friday practice with the Huskies second team, threw for 321 yards and a touchdown while running for 92 extra yards and two touchdowns in more than two games last season.
“I really love our five quarterbacks as people and as players. I think they have the right mindset, the right attitude, the right work ethic and I’m excited to see how this competition is going,” Mora said. “My eyes had never seen Tyler (Phommachanh) play at top speed. He caught my eye. I was like, ‘Okay, I see why that kid was in last year.’ It made sense to me today, and I had never seen it before. Now I want to see it continue.
UConn added a number of impact transfers this offseason, including offensive linemen Jake Guidone from Dartmouth, who joined the Huskies in December and will compete for center despite earning a mention honorable of the All-Ivy League as a tight end in 2019, Kyle Jeurgens of Boise State and Dayne Shor of Alabama.
Three-star Kentucky transfer Marquez Bembry will likely play alongside junior Jackson Mitchell and senior Ian Swenson in the linebacking corps.
Mitchell, a Ridgefield native who was named to the 2022 Butkus Award preseason watch list, started all 12 games for the Huskies in 2021. He led the team with 120 total tackles, including 6½ tackles for one loss and three forced fumbles. He was tied for third on the team with 1½ sacks and added one interception and two pass breakups. His 73 tackles assisted ranked fourth nationally while his 10.0 tackles per game were 11th.
The Huskies suffered a significant loss in offseason practice as placekicker Joe McFadden, who played all 12 games in 2021, got his foot stuck in the grass during the final practice session. team and tore the ACL in his kicking leg.
He had successful surgery on Friday afternoon but will be out for the season, Mora said. Noe Ruelas, a sophomore from Hall High in West Hartford, will replace him.
“Obviously it’s a blow,” Mora said. “(McFadden) is an exceptional kicker. He’s also a guy who would be a backup bettor for us. He’s a team leader. He’s someone our players really respect. He is reliable. And we just wish him a speedy recovery. I know he will continue to be an influence on this team even if he can’t do it on the pitch.
Carter, who was named to the Doak Walker Award pre-season watch list, has been working on bulking up and transforming his body over the summer to prepare for his role in the new coordinator’s power attack offensive and quarterbacks coach Nick Charlton.
“Looking back at last year, one of the things I wanted to improve on was to be more durable,” said Carter, who was UConn’s leading rusher with 578 yards and two touchdowns last season as a what a rookie. “Put on that muscle, put on that body fat so I can take more hits and have more longevity throughout the season so I can go out and perform at the highest potential possible in every game.”
Carter also spent long hours in the movie theater with running backs coach EJ Barthel identifying weaknesses in his technique.
“I give Coach Barthel, my running coach, a lot of props because he’s really helped me out,” said Carter, who averaged 4.6 yards per carry and also caught 19 passes. for 127 yards last season. “Sit and watch the movie like, ‘ok, that’s what you did last year. That’s what I can help you improve. The little things. Make sure my eyes are okay Working on my vision in regards to reading in the running game and reading in the passing game. Also being able to do more moves in the second tier. … Taking fewer shots too. Being able to make more people miss .