Sports

Shoemate Gets Chance To Play Tailback At UConn

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut tailback D.J. Shoemate still wears his 2009 Rose Bowl championship ring.

The junior, who transferred to UConn from Southern California this summer, says he’s not trying to show off to any of his new teammates, but instead wears the ring as a reminder of what it takes to become a champion.

“I’m keeping my eyes on the prize, the Orange Bowl, BCS bowl,” he said. “When I was at SC, we competed with everybody. We worked hard. We prepared, and the end result was a Rose Bowl championship. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.”

Shoemate had committed to Southern California as a 15 year-old sophomore in high school. But after arriving, he was moved from tailback to fullback, and said it was not a good fit. He started the Rose Bowl, but spent most of his time at USC as a reserve.

He began looking for a new school after the NCAA hit the Trojans with sanctions that allowed players to transfer without having to sit out a year.

“I just saw the opportunity and the love I didn’t feel for fullback,” he said. “I thought I could be utilized in a totally different way.”

He looked at Texas, TCU, Boise State and North Carolina. He added UConn to the mix at the urging of a close friend and high school teammate, Johnny McEntee, a backup quarterback for the Huskies.

“We ran a similar offense in high school,” McEntee said. “I just told him that we had some opportunities for him here and if he wanted to come, he could be a big impact for us.”

Shoemate had already seen UConn play. He traveled with McEntee’s family during a USC bye week last November to watch the Huskies at Notre Dame. UConn won 33-30 in two overtimes.

“They showed heart, camaraderie, and they just executed,” he said. “That really, really stuck out to me when I was considering going to another university.”

What tipped the scales, Shoemate said, was UConn coach Randy Edsall. He encouraged Shoemate to visit several schools before making a decision. He didn’t promise Shoemate playing time, but told him he could compete for time at tailback.

“That showed his true character, he wasn’t trying to tell me a bunch of bull crap,” Shoemate said. “He was just keeping it as real as possible.”

Shoemate joined an already deep stable of tailbacks at UConn, but made his way up the ranks during training camp. When the final depth chart was released Tuesday, he found himself behind only junior Jordan Todman, who rushed for almost 1,200 yards a year ago while splitting time with Andre Dixon.

Todman said he welcomes Shoemate, who he describes as a strong and punishing runner, and a great athlete.

“We’ll take on anybody who can help us win games,” he said.

Shoemate is expected to be used mostly in short-yardage situations. Edsall said Todman, Shoemate and junior Robbie Frey all will see action on Saturday against Michigan.

“We have a role right now that we think D.J. will fill,” Edsall said. “And I think that role that we have, I think he’ll do a good job with that role. I’m glad that he’s here, because there are things that he’s going to do that are going to contribute to the success of our football team and most especially our offensive team.”

Shoemate said he’s been impressed with his teammates’ work ethic, drive and passion for learning the game. He said he’s hoping that by the end of his two years in Storrs, he’ll be able to replace that Rose Bowl ring.

“I’m 100 percent a Husky now,” Shoemate said. “The ring that I wear just signifies the hard work that it takes to get to that level. Without a doubt, I believe we can get there.”

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