Storrs - For two years, B.J. McBryde and Angelo Pruitt sat, watched and learned from two gifted defensive tackles - Kendall Reyes and Twyon Martin.
Reyes, a two-time All-Big East performer and second-round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers, and Martin, a consistent, reliable, in-the-trenches player, combined for 83 career starts before graduating last season.
They've left a void in the heart of UConn's defense, but also an opportunity for players like McBryde and Pruitt, a pair of redshirt sophomores.
"I've had the honor to be behind some great guys and learn from them," said the 6-foot-3, 296-pound Pruitt, a former scholastic star at North College Hill in Cincinnati. "I just watched what they did right, watched what they did wrong, and listened.
"They gave me their techniques: what to watch, where to place your hands, watch the (offensive) guard and which way he's leaning. I just try to keep that in the back of my head when I'm going up to the ball."
McBryde and Pruitt will be in the mix to play supportive roles to junior Shamar Stephen and senior Ryan Wirth, although McBryde may get his chance earlier because Stephen is sidelined indefinitely after spraining his right knee in practice Monday.
"Ever since we were freshmen the coaches said your time will come," said the 6-foot-5, 301-pound McBryde, who arrived from Beaver Falls, one of Pennsylvania's legendary high school programs. "Now it's here and we've all got to work together and step up. We don't have Kendall and Twyon to look at anymore, so we've put the time in and I think our D-line is going to be pretty good."
McBryde and Pruitt have played for two different head coaches (Randy Edsall and Paul Pasqualoni) and two different defensive coordinators (Todd Orlando and Don Brown), but have stability in playing for the same defensive line coach - Hank Hughes.
Brown said that's been key to the development of all the young defensive lineman in the program.
"Coach Hughes does a great job of coaching our D-line," Brown said. "They've been in the soup with him for awhile, so we expect them to be consistent performers this year. ... And they were playing with guys that you can role model yourselves after. Kendall and Twyon were great guys. They did everything right. I'm happy (McBryde and Pruitt) role-modeled after two quality human beings."
And now it's time for them to grab a share of the spotlight.
"Most people think you've got to be tough because this is the trenches," McBryde said. "But the most important thing you've got to have is the mentality to be a tough person because if you've got that, everything else will fall into place."
Added Pruitt: At the defensive tackle position you've have to be aggressive, you have to have quick reaction and you have to out-work your opponent. I'm ready to show everyone that's believed in me that I can do it. I want to show them why I'm here, that I deserve to be here and I'm appreciative to have an opportunity."