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    UConn Football
    Wednesday, August 17, 2022

    Mora is excited to get going at UConn

    In this Nov. 25, 2021, file photo, UConn head football coach Jim Mora, center, greets members of the New London coaching staff at the Thanksgiving Day game against NFA at Cannamela Field in New London. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

    Storrs — Jim Mora admits he was nervous before UConn's first day of spring football practice earlier this week.

    While Mora arrived in Storrs in November with 31 years of coaching experience at the NFL and college levels, he hadn't been on the sidelines since 2017 with UCLA.

    Once Mora picked up his whistle, he settled down and went right to work.

    "I was a little nervous," Mora said Thursday morning after his team's practice inside the Shenkman Training Center. "Do I have my whistle? Do I have my script? Do I have my pen? Where do I stand? But it comes back fast. It's really the only thing I've ever done in my life is coach or be around coaches."

    In his first season in charge, Mora has the difficult task of injecting life into a football program that's suffered through 10 straight losing seasons.

    Players already have noticed a difference in the energy and enthusiasm level.

    "Coach just told us after practice that we've got to bring that juice, that energy," redshirt sophomore Malik Dixon said. "Every game, every rep, every practice, we know that we've got to bring that juice and, of course, it will translate over to big plays in a game, so that's why we bring the energy."

    This spring, the Huskies will have a total of 14 practices plus a Blue-White scrimmage at 6:30 p.m. on April 21 at Morrone Stadium, home of the men's soccer team.

    Mora likes what he's seen during winter workouts and two spring practices.

    "I love their attitude," Mora said. "I love their work ethic. I love their willingness to do the things we ask them with great energy. I feel like they're really engaged. Just a bunch of guys hungry to get better. That's fun to be around, that's encouraging to be around.

    "They get along with each other. They're working hard. They're intent on trying to become a good football team, and that's all you can ask for. A lot of learning is going on. For me, it's a blast. I haven't coached in a few years and I love being back out here with them, so it's great."

    It's an adjustment period for the team and new coaching staff.

    Defensive coordinator Lou Spanos, who served on Randy Edsall's staff and then replaced Edsall as head coach last fall on an interim basis, is the only familiar face. He's known Mora since their NFL days and also worked with him at UCLA.

    Spanos and Mora first met at the 1995 NFL Pro Bowl.

    "He's been great," Mora said. "Besides for Dalton Hilliard, who's our secondary coach who played for me at UCLA and played for Lou, I didn't know any of these guys except for Lou and Dalton. Lou has been very helpful in understanding the personalities of the players, maybe some of their strengths and weaknesses.

    "I'm still going to try to judge it for myself off of what I see with my eyes. But it's really nice to have someone that you have a background with."

    Mora spent the winter getting to know his Huskies during meetings and workouts. His goal is to build deep and meaningful relationships with players.

    "Your message evolves as you get to know these guys, get to know their personalities, what motivates them, what fears they have or insecurities that they have to help them work through that," Mora said. "Every player is different.

    "We're going to be terribly demanding of these young men, but we're never going to be demeaning of them. We're going to be highly critical of the performance, but we're going to encourage the performer. Just getting to know them."

    A ton of questions need to be answered before the season opener at Utah State on Aug. 27.

    Near the top of the list is settling on a starting quarterback.

    The Huskies have four quarterbacks on the spring roster and two more expected to join the program this summer.

    Redshirt freshman Tyler Phommachanh, who's from Stratford and attended Avon Old Farms, is making a comeback from knee surgery. He's participating in some spring drills while wearing a brace on his left knee. He appeared in three games last season before suffering the season-ending injury at Vanderbilt on Oct. 2

    "Tyler really hasn't been able to do much other than just a little bit of light throwing," Mora said. "I watched his film last year and I was impressed with him. I met him at (the) Clemson (game) and I was terribly impressed with him.

    "As I've been around him more and more, I love his personality. I think he's got charisma and leadership ability. I'm excited to see him get on the field and compete hard in the summer.

    "I think it's going to be a good group. I think there's going to be really good competition. ... At that position, the earlier you can define how you're going to work those guys and who's going to be your No. 1, or if you're going to try to platoon, which I've never been a big fan of, the better it is for your football team. But we're not going to make a decision until it becomes clear."

    Competition is a word that Mora mentioned several times on Thursday.

    Mora puts a big emphasis on effort, competing and finishing as well as attitude.

    "All we do is compete," Dixon said. "He wants us to go hard. He always harps on finishing, so we've got to finish every play."

    Sophomore Keelan Marion added: "Great energy. Each one of the coaches brings it every day. I love it. We all love it."

    News and notes

    Marion, a wide receiver, had a couple nice catches in Tuesday's drills. He fired up his offensive teammates by turning a short catch into a long touchdown with a sprint to the end zone. ... Spring practices are held in the morning, starting with 7 a.m. meetings before taking the field at about 8:30. The players don't mind the early starts. "We've got classes right after," Dixon said, "so we just knock it out really quick, compete really quick and just finish the day off strong in class." ... Former UConn player Jon Wholley, now the head coach at Avon Old Farms, watched Thursday's workout. He was a member of the UConn team that won the 2004 Motor City Bowl. He also spent three years as an assistant (2006-08) in Storrs.

    g.keefe@theday.com

    UConn football coach Jim Mora answers questions from the media after practice on Thursday in Storrs. (Gavin Keefe/The Day)
    Jim Mora speaks with the media during a press conference announcing him as the new head coach of Connecticut University football, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in East Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

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