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    Saturday, April 20, 2024

    Mora sees tremendous growth in his UConn football program

    UConn head coach Jim Mora signals to his players during last year’s game against Liberty at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
    UConn quarterback Zion Turner (11) scrambles for extra yardage during a 2022 game against Liberty at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

    Storrs — So much has changed from a year ago for the UConn football program.

    Jim Mora, who’s coming off a successful debut as Husky head coach, can see the positive strides in the team’s attitude, work ethic and commitment level.

    While last fall’s 6-7 record that included the program’s first bowl appearance in seven years was considered a significant step forward, the Huskies are far from satisfied and it has shown during spring workouts.

    “They’ve had a tremendous off-season,” Mora said on Saturday. “Their attitude has been outstanding, better than I’ve ever seen. Their commitment has been really impressive to see. I think they tasted a little bit of what success tastes like last year and they want more of it.

    “To me, that’s been demonstrated in everything that they’ve done since the day we got back in January.”

    The Huskies are in a good place.

    Prior to Saturday’s UConn Football Spring Showcase at Morrone Stadium, Mora was as upbeat and excited as ever about his team and the direction that it is headed in.

    “It’s been a really good spring for us,” said Mora, who was hired to lead the program in November 2021. “It’s been very productive. We’ve stayed relatively healthy. We’ve gotten a lot of work done.”

    The Huskies have made improvements across the board, especially on offense. That unit is healthy after enduring an injury-plagued fall season.

    Competition is fierce for the starting quarterback job. Returning starter Zion Turner benefitted from last season’s experience, Ta’Quan Roberson, who started the opener Utah State before suffering a season-ending injury, and Cale Millen also are back. Maine transfer Joseph Fagnano is in the mix.

    There’s depth at the running back position and the offensive line remains a team strength.

    “The quarterback competition has been really healthy,” Mora said. “I think that’s elevated everybody on the offensive team. I think our passing game has really improved a ton. Obviously, we had a couple of losses this week that could affect it.

    “ … We’re much further along than we ever were at this point last year. I think we’re still running the ball well. I’m excited. … I’ve seen tremendous growth offensively and I think it’s because we’re a year into it.”

    Mora was referring to the losses of wide receivers Aaron Turner and Keelan Marion, who both recently entered the transfer portal. Turner led the team in catches (57), receiving yards (527) and receiving touchdowns (three) last season while Marion saw limited action in five games due to an injury.

    Mora is concerned about that area as well as overall team depth, the latter which has improved but still needs to grow.

    Expect a few more additions to the roster before the season opener on Sept. 2 against North Carolina State in East Hartford.

    Some newcomers are already making an impression, including four players — wide receivers Jackson Harper (Avon Old Farms) and Zack Drawdy, quarterback Tucker McDonald, offensive lineman Carsten Casady — that joined the program this spring.

    “These guys are supposed to be in high school right now getting ready for prom or graduation and they’re going to be out here playing college football,” Mora said. “Yet they’ve all just stepped up and really shown tremendous growth.”

    After Saturday’s showcase, Mora and his staff will do a detailed breakdown and evaluation of the team, pinpointing areas that require improvement and any changes needed going forward.

    The Huskies will take a break before resuming workouts in late May.

    “We’re moving in the right direction,” Mora said. “And I think we have the right people. That’s the most exciting thing for me and the most rewarding thing for me. I know this, every day I get up I can’t wait to get here and to work with these people, whether it’s our coaches, our staff, or our players. Every day you just feel an energy.

    “Excitement is high, hopes are high. Along with that, has come a real strong work ethic. I’ve seen everyone raise their standard. To me, it’s really exciting. Listen, every season is a new season. Just because we started to have some success last year doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed this year. We have to keep raising the standard.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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