East Hartford's Jones injects energy into a young UConn defense

UConn coach Randy Edsall yells to a player on the field during the fourth quarter of the Aug. 30 game against Central Florida at East Hartford. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)
UConn coach Randy Edsall yells to a player on the field during the fourth quarter of the Aug. 30 game against Central Florida at East Hartford. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)

Storrs — His family's home is roughly a five minute drive from Pratt & Whitney Stadium.

So you can imagine what it meant for Kevon Jones, an all-state standout during his East Hartford High School days, to make his collegiate debut as a true freshman at linebacker on Thursday in a lopsided loss to nationally-ranked Central Florida.

Jones is thrilled to be playing for the Huskies.

"As soon as coach (Randy) Edsall offered me (a scholarship), I knew this is where I wanted to be," Jones said. "This is a great honor and I took advantage of it. It's your home school. I wanted to be close to my family and my friends so they could always see me play football."

A 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker, Jones had a positive debut, finishing tied for third on the team in total tackles with nine.

Jones moved ahead of senior Santana Sterling on the depth chart into the starting spot for Saturday's non-conference game at No. 20 Boise State.

"He was productive," Edsall said. "He wasn't always as sound as you'd like him to be, but the one thing he does is he has the ability to take a blocker on and get rid of him and make a play. ... Was he always where he was supposed to be? No. But at least he's got some physical tools that he can do some things that other people can't do.

"He's got to now start studying the game and studying the opponent to make himself play faster. ... He's still got to get in a little bit better shape."

Jones credits his family for his ability to deal with all challenges — on and off the field — that come with being a newcomer to college life. He's the youngest of seven, looking up to four brothers and two sisters.

"I just want to thank my family," Jones said. "My mom just raised me the right way and put me in a place to be successful."

Edsall has no choice but to rely heavily on newcomers like Jones this season. Eleven true freshmen, including eight on defense, saw action last week. The Huskies paid the price, allowing 652 yards of total offense.

On week two's depth chart, six freshmen are listed as defensive starters, counting all four up front — Travis Jones, Caleb Thomas, Lwal Uguak and Jonathan Pace. Kevon Jones lines up at linebacker and Ryan Carroll at cornerback. Carroll replaces freshman Keyshawn Paul, who struggled against Central Florida.

"The more reps that these guys can get, the better they're going to be," Edsall said of his young defensive linemen. "They've just got to keep coming along. Sometimes it's painful growing up. As long as they're going to give us an effort and everything else."

Early signs indicate that Travis Jones, a 6-4, 350-pound defensive tackle out of Wilbur Cross, is another Husky with a bright future. He had seven total tackles in his first game. He's enjoying playing with fellow Connecticut product Kevon Jones.

Thursday's performance was just a start for the two Huskies.

"We were happy but we know we could have played better, getting off the ball quicker and being more aggressive," Travis Jones said.

The UConn coaching staff is doing all it can to try to speed up the growth process. There's a lot of teaching going on during practice.

Learning to fight through adversity — like Tuesday's workout in steamy conditions — is a major part of the lesson plan.

"They've never had to face adversity," Edsall said. "They've never had to be comfortable being uncomfortable. ... They haven't done anything like this. ... We're trying to get them to be confident. Some of these guys aren't as confident as they should be."

Baptism by fire continues with a long road trip to Boise State, a 56-20 winner over Troy in its season opener.

News and notes

• UConn came out of the opener relatively healthy. Starting cornerback Tahj Herring-Wilson missed some practice time on Tuesday but Edsall expects the red-shirt sophomore to be fine and ready to go on Wednesday. ... Defensive end James Atkins will miss practice Tuesdays and Thursdays due to a class commitment. ... Offensive guard Cam DeGeorge, center Ryan Crozier and Herring-Wilson received praise from Edsall for their play in the opener. ... The Huskies will leave for Boise on Thursday in order to get acclimated to the time change and conditions. They're scheduled to be back home by 7:30 a.m. on Sunday.

g.keefe@theday.com

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