UConn football transfers Roberson, Fitzgerald making an impression
Storrs — Ta'Quan Roberson knew little about the UConn football program before entering the transfer portal.
He started to get excited about joining the Huskies after talking to new head coach Jim Mora on the phone.
Mora won over Roberson.
"He said he wants to change the program," said Roberson after Thursday's spring practice inside the Shenkman Training Center. "I was really looking forward to that. Since I've been here, I've just seen a complete 180. He's a guy that you really want to play for."
Mora also sold Nigel Fitzgerald, a graduate transfer from Old Dominion, on his plan to rebuild the program.
"I had an opportunity to talk to him when I was in the transfer portal and I believed in everything he said," Fitzgerald said.
Roberson, a transfer from Penn State, and Fitzgerald, a 6-foot-3 receiver, are hoping to play a part in helping the Huskies rise from the rubble.
Both transfers didn't play much at their previous schools.
At Penn State, Roberson appeared in just two games in two seasons there. Fitzgerald had 15 receptions and 228 yards in 13 career games at ODU.
The newcomers are enjoying their new football home.
"It's been pretty smooth," Fitzgerald said of the transition. "Everyone here has welcomed me with open arms."
Competition for playing time is fierce, as newcomers and returning players are basically starting on even ground with a new coaching staff.
Roberson is battling a crowded field of contenders for the starting quarterback job.
Redshirt junior Steven Krajewski, who appeared in 11 games last season, is the most experienced returning player in the group. Redshirt freshman Tyler Phommachanh of Stratford saw action in three games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He's still recovering, participating in limited drills this spring.
Sophomore Jacob Drena of Southington also is practicing this spring. Zion Turner, who led St. Thomas Aquinas in Florida to three state championships, and Cale Millen, who transferred from Northern Arizona State University, will join the program this summer.
Spring is Roberson's opportunity to make a statement
From his first week on campus, Roberson worked on building chemistry with his new teammates.
"That just doesn't happen overnight," Roberson. "It's countless days and nights indoors tightening up with the receivers, tight ends and running backs just to get that chemistry. Being a quarterback, you've got to be a leader, on and off the field."
At 5-foot-11, Roberson is a bit on the small side for his position. But he's mobile, has a knack for finding a throwing lane and also is blessed with a strong arm.
Mora has been impressed with Roberson, on and off the field.
"I've seen tremendous leadership ability," Mora said. "He's a galvanizing guy. The players like being around him. He's a guy that on Saturdays during March, he's getting them out here and throwing the ball. In the evening, I'd look out here and they'd be throwing the ball. He's the guy organizing that.
"He's a guy that's really eager to learn. He basically lives here. He's just bugging us all the time about how he can get better. ... On the field, I've seen a guy that every single practice has gotten better. He throws a really nice deep ball. ... His accuracy is really improving.
"In practice situations, you're probably not seeing the very best thing that he does, which is create and move and be a threat as a runner and yet still be able to throw."
Fitzgerald also is making a strong impression on the coaching staff.
He has the size and athletic ability to put opposing defenses on alert. He's also one of the oldest receivers on the roster.
"The first couple of practices, he was just getting his feet under him," Mora asid. "He looked like he was thinking a lot. The last three practices, he's making plays. He's a guy you can throw the ball up to high and he can go up and get it. He's not just tall, he's big and he's physical.
"... Our job is to put him in positions where he can do the things well that he does well. I like him a lot. I see his confidence growing every day, every practice, every rep he takes."
Both Fitzgerald and Roberson share something in common.
Fitzgerald's old head coach at ODU used to be Roberson's offensive coordinator at Penn State.
They also both knew coaches on Mora's staff prior to coming to Storrs.
Passing game coordinator/receivers coach John Allen was Fitzgerald's receiving coach at ODU for a season.
Running backs coach E.J Barthel once served as Roberson's trainer; They're both from New Jersey.
"We go way back," Roberson said. "I was pretty excited to reunite with him because he was my trainer when I was little."