Sports

Pasqualoni’s First Spring Practice Kicks Off UConn Football

Connecticut head coach Paul Pasqualoni watches his team during the first day of spring NCAA college football practice in Storrs, Conn., Tuesday, March 15, 2011 (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Connecticut head coach Paul Pasqualoni watches his team during the first day of spring NCAA college football practice in Storrs, Conn., Tuesday, March 15, 2011 (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

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NEW YORK (AP) — UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni walked off the football field after 2 1/2 hours of coaching his new team with a big smile on his face.

“I’m just happy to be here, that’s all,” he said. “I’m happy to be here working, and starting spring practice.”

Tuesday marked a new beginning for Pasqualoni, who coached college football for 19 years, including 14 at Syracuse, before being fired in 2004.

He was hired away from his job as an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys by UConn in January, after Randy Edsall left for Maryland.

Edsall’s departure came a day after the Huskies finished an 8-5 season by losing to Oklahoma 48-20 in the Fiesta Bowl.

UConn will return nine defensive starters on defense from that team and six on offense. But as far as the new coach is concerned, every job was open on Tuesday.

“It’s a show-me game,” Pasqualoni said. “The older guys have got to come out here and show us that they can learn the system, that they understand the system … and they’ve got to improve, like everybody else, every single day.”

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The players seemed to embrace that attitude.

Tailback D.J. Shoemate, who transferred from USC last summer but played sparingly behind Jordan Todman, said the new coaching staff has been like a breath of fresh air.

It might also help that Todman has left for the NFL, and backup Robbie Frey has transferred.

“I do know that there are a lot of great opportunities for a lot of us,” he said. “A lot of guys are stepping up and trying to fill some new roles. The intensity, the competition, the focus is a lot different.”

The Huskies also have new offensive and defensive coordinators, but six assistants are returning from Edsall’s staff.

Cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson said that has provided some continuity to go along with the feeling of a fresh start.

“The change has been good,” he said. “The only difficult part has been the terminology. I love it. I love the playbook. It’s a system where we get the play and go. It’s going to be fast and fun. It’s a good taste.”

One of the biggest competitions is likely to come at quarterback, where Zach Frazer has graduated. Four players: sophomore Michael Box, junior Johnny McEntee, redshirt freshman Scott McCummings, and freshman Michael Nebrich, who enrolled in January, all received equal repetitions.

“That’s what is making everybody better, is that it is an open competition and nothing is for certain,” said Box, the only one of the four to see playing time last season. “Every day I’ve got to compete and do more than I ever had.”

Box said it hasn’t been hard to learn the new system, and the game is still football. But, he said there are some differences between Edsall and Paqualoni.

“He’s a lot shorter than Edsall was, and not as broad shouldered,” he said. “But he’s a great coach and he gets us fired up and we’re buying in.”

Tuesday afternoon’s practice is the first of 15 before the annual spring football game on April 16.

Pasqualoni said he was impressed with how the team was able to handle the amount of new information it got on the first day, and had already grasped a lot of his system.

“Now we’ve got to start getting better,” he said. “So, like I said to them, now the real work starts.”

How far can the Huskies go under Pasqualoni? Let us know in the comments below…

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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