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Diaco, Huskies full of spring excitement

POSTED April 16, 2016
BY Patrick Tiscia
Twitter: @PatrickTiscia

EAST HARTFORD – Spring football games are very similar to the first day of school. There’s excitement, anticipation, and hope for great accomplishments.

You could feel that at UConn’s scrimmage Saturday at Rentschler Field, just four months after the Huskies reached a bowl game. Coach Bob Diaco, especially, was full of passion when meeting with the media, opening his press conference with a gleeful four-minute opening statement.

He’s ready for the first day.

“I’m excited about the team, excited about the direction, excited about the energy, excited about the communication, and the sight and sounds,” said Diaco, who is entering Year 3 of his tenure. “It just sounds right and feels right.”

Did we mention he is ready?

Anyway, it’s very difficult, if not reckless, to make predictions or come to any conclusions following an intersquad scrimmage, especially five months before the season. However, there were some things for the Huskies to like.

First off, Ron Johnson was explosive out of the backfield, rushing for 91 yards on nine carries, including an electrifying 60-yard touchdown down the right sideline.

“His evolution as a runner came because of his evolution as a worker,” Diaco said. “He approaches the day differently than he did. He's just now settling in to who he is - as a professional, mature worker. He’s very coachable, and is not into excuse-making. There's big things ahead for Ron.”

"I think I just have a much better understanding of the playbook,” Johnson explained. “I have more confidence in my work and in my ability to go out and make plays.”

And he also has a sense of humor.

“My mentality there was that you can’t get run down from behind. That’s embarrassing. My home boys would pick on me.”

After a solid 2015, Bryant Shirreffs completed 9-of-12 passes for 92 yards, even more impressive as he’s been battling the flu. Garrett Anderson bounced back from two interceptions to lead two touchdown drives, while Dallas Parker and Cameron Stapleton notched two sacks apiece defensively.

"We played a lot of players, especially on defense,” Diaco said. “There were a lot of situations where we needed to take a hard look at the next man in to get an evaluation on. So that was the real idea and energy for the day.”

Diaco inherited a mess when he took over the program in 2014 and endured a difficult, and painful, 2-10 season in his first campaign. UConn, though, showed some strides at the end of that year, and built on that, reaching a bowl game last season after winning a memorable, field-storming game at The Rent against Houston.

What’s the next step for the Huskies? Contending for the AAC title and becoming a regular on the bowl scene. It’s this time of year that lays the foundation for success.

“This is so great. We got 15 practices (in this spring),” Diaco said. “We installed a myriad of different things at a much higher level. It's being installed at that level, coached at that level, talked about at that level and absorbed at that level.”

Throughout the country, programs are participating in their spring games, with some hosting sizable crowds, notably the obscene 100,189 Ohio State drew on Saturday. UConn is not at that level. A decent and passionate 5,500 were in attendance Saturday in East Hartford, and Diaco appreciated every one of them.

“I loved the crowd,” he said. “I don’t how many were there, but it was energetic. You could hear the crowd today. You could feel it, so just please, tell a friend. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s going to be a great, great team to follow, a great team to be a fan of.”

Now that is someone who is excited. And ready for his team’s first day.

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