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    Saturday, June 03, 2023

    Hurd ready for the next challenge

    He removed his No. 78 jersey for the final time Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium and his emotions ran the gamut.

    Zach Hurd, who left Waterford High School five years ago as a boy and earned his college degree last month at UConn, was disappointed with the Huskies’ 48-20 loss to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, proud of the way his team battled from start to finish, sad to see it all end and excited about the next chapter of his life.

    “I couldn’t have asked for a better experience,” an emotional Hurd said from inside the UConn locker room. “From the moment I decided to go to UConn I knew it was right …  staying near home, staying near my family, staying near everyone I love. UConn embraced me and loved me, everyone from my head coach to my man Chris (Stasaitis) in the equipment room.

    “Obviously I would have rather gone out with a win, but the boys in this room played their heart out and played to the last whistle and that’s all I can ask.”

    The 6-foot-7, 325-pound Hurd started all 39 games during his final three seasons and was one of the main reasons why UConn earned respect around college football for its physical, disciplined play up front. He leaves Storrs as a two-time first-team All-Big East selection (he was a unanimous choice this year) and will play in two upcoming all-star games – the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 22 in Orlando, Fla., and the Texas vs. the Nation game on Feb. 5 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

    And he’s ready to pursue his next goal: playing in the NFL.

    “I’m going to go for it,” Hurd said. “I’m going to try for the NFL. I’m going to stay out here in Arizona and train at Athletes’ Performance and I’m going put myself in the best position to succeed.”

    When the Huskies fly back to Connecticut today, Hurd will stay in the Phoenix area to train with Athletes’ Performance, an organization that works with athletes in areas such as weight training and the proper nutrition to succeed at the next level.

    Among the athletes taking part in the program last year was Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, who was drafted No. 1 overall by the St. Louis Rams and earned the starting job as a rookie this season.

    Coach Randy Edsall also announced Saturday night that Hurd has been invited to take part in the NFL Combine starting Feb. 23 in Indianapolis, where he will be joined by teammates Scott Lutrus, Lawrence Wilson, Anthony Sherman and Jordan Todman, who announced after the game that he is leaving UConn a year early to enter the NFL draft.

    We wish Hurd good luck and look forward to seeing him play on Sundays this fall.

    A few notes and observations from UConn’s first BCS bowl appearance:

    * The Huskies continue to close the talent gap with the elite programs in a number of levels, but not when it comes to the skill positions. Oklahoma was clearly superior in that area Saturday night, especially at wide receiver. UConn receivers simply dropped too many balls (Zach Frazer could have easily passed for over 300 yards with a little help) and some came at critical times.

    The Sooners, however, were dynamic. Not only did their receivers make great catches in traffic, they were elusive after the catch, ran excellent routes to get open and caught everything Landry Jones threw in their direction.

    Two dropped passes, in fact, led to interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.

    “These guys would tell you we are getting more talented each and every year,” Edsall said. “And that comes with the success of the program and it comes because of the guys sitting next to me (Todman, Scott Lutrus and Kashif Moore) and the contributions they made.

    “We just have to continue to get guys that can make plays and have more depth of guys that can make plays … we have to get some guys that can make the big plays and change the game.”

    * It was a classy gesture to have Kashif Moore warm up in his uniform No. 82, then emerge prior to kickoff wearing No. 6 in tribute to the late Jasper Howard, one of Moore’s closest friends.

    “I want to thank Coach Edsall,” said Moore, who held the dying Howard in his arms after he was stabbed outside a campus dance following a Homecoming Day win over Louisville in 2009. “This would have been his last game, and I am sure he would have shined.”

    Edsall came up with the idea while jogging around campus during bowl preparations.

    “I just felt in my heart that we needed to do something,” said Edsall, who approached Moore during practice. “I said, ‘Would you want to wear No. 6 for the game?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely.’ So that’s how it took place.”

    * Finally, I hope everyone enjoyed my voice in the blogosphere this year. We will talk to you more as the recruiting season heats up. Happy New Year.

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