New and improved Diggs eager to return to action for UConn

UConn linebacker Vontae Diggs attempts to tackle Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. during last year's game in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
UConn linebacker Vontae Diggs attempts to tackle Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. during last year's game in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Storrs — Any time spent away from football is truly torture for Vontae Diggs.

Diggs lives for football.

A senior linebacker, he's beyond thrilled to be back from a knee injury that kept him sidelined since preseason. He returned to practice last week and can't wait to play Saturday at Virginia (noon, ESPN2).

Football is not only his passion but has also been a lifesaver.

"Football saved my life way back when," Diggs said. "It kept me out of a lot of trouble and got me going. Having it taken away for an extended period of time when I should have been out there, it did something to my heart. I think I grew up a lot in that time."

The addition of Diggs, who sat out the season-opening win over Holy Cross, gives the UConn defense a boost. He ranked second on the team in tackles last season.

He's also an inspirational leader and well-respected amongst his teammates.

"He's made an 180 degree turn from when I first got here," coach Randy Edsall said. "I see a guy that's really matured and taken hold of the leadership role that he has. I see a guy that's a tremendous worker.

"Playing football and getting a degree is very important to him. Winning is very important to him. He's going to try to do everything he can to help his teammates and this program be successful. He's not afraid, in my opinion, to ruffle feathers if he has to. I think you need guys like that on your team. And he's not afraid to help other guys become better at his position."

"... I'm just very happy for him that he's going to have the opportunity to be able to get back out there again this weekend and start playing because I know how important it is to him. And then you see the work and effort that he put in to get himself back out there. Those are the guys you root for and you want to see do well."

Diggs was ready to play last week against South Florida, but the game was called off due to Hurricane Irma, putting his season debut temporarily on hold. He admits the unexpected bye week was hard to deal with.

Now Diggs is going through the emotional build-up once again.

"I'm pretty much going through the process again, but times two," he said. "Being the emotional guy I am, the hyper guy I am, I'm ready to ride right now. I'm ready to go out there. We can play today, tomorrow or the next day, I'm going to be ready to go."

It may take a game or two for Diggs to fully shake off the rust.

Diggs hasn't played since last season when he started all 12 contests for the Huskies. He underwent a procedure on his left knee in August after suffering a grade two MCL tear during a preseason scrimmage.

While sidelined, he gained some knowledge of the new defense, bonded with linebackers coach Jon Wholley and gained a whole new perspective to the game.

"I'm picking everything back up where I left off," Diggs said of his return. "Coaches don't want any excuses and I don't want to give them any excuses if I mess up or I have a lapse here or there. I love it. The guys love it. I've just got to keep pushing.

"... I haven't played a game yet. ... Everybody has a little advantage, they're settled in with the defense, so I'm a little behind schedule with that. But, to me, that's nothing. I'm going to go out there and be the same guy I was last year, just new and improved."

The postponement of last week's game ended up being beneficial for Diggs and his fellow Huskies. They improved in every area, according to Edsall.

"We would have loved to play, of course," Edsall said. "I thought we took really good advantage of the opportunity that was presented to us to continue to get better. I thought it did help some of our guys have some extra time to get some bumps and bruises and some things healed up."

News and notes

• When asked if the South Florida game will be rescheduled, Edsall said: "That's something that (athletic director) David (Benedict) is working on." ... Virginia is off to a 1-1 start, beating William & Mary 28-10 and losing to Indiana 34-17 last week. ... Edsall's home in Jacksonville, Fla., area suffered minimal damage during the storm. "We were a lot more fortunate than some people. We're grateful for that. The city of Jacksonville got hit pretty hard."

g.keefe@theday.com

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