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    UConn Football
    Wednesday, August 17, 2022

    UConn coach Mora building a bond with preps like St. Thomas More

    In this Nov. 27, 2021, file photo, Jim Mora speaks with the media during a press conference in East Hartford announcing him as the new head coach of UConn football. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

    Days after being hired in November, Jim Mora showed up on the St. Thomas More campus in Montville to meet with the football team.

    Mora's visit so soon after taking over at UConn made quite an impression. He brought along assistant head coach Nick Charlton and tight ends coach John Marinelli.

    "It was very humbling for us, especially our program and our school..," St. Thomas More coach Ernest Anderson said. "Coach Mora took the time, even if they weren't scholarship kids, to meet with every member of the football team. A lot of head coaches don't have that much time, especially when you just got hired.

    "Coach Mora is a great person. Obviously, we know he's a phenomenal coach and football has been part of his life forever. He makes you feel at home. And he takes the time to talk to you and get to know you."

    Mora has made building good relationships with Connecticut high school and prep school programs a priority.

    He has traveled the state visiting football coaches and players. He attended games last fall, including the annual Thanksgiving Day game between Norwich Free Academy and New London.

    UConn's spring practices are open to high school and prep football teams.

    Basically, Mora has laid out a welcome mat.

    "We want high school coaches not just at practice, but they've been coming to meetings," Mora said. "Prospective student-athletes want to sit in meetings and see how we coach and start to see if they fit in what we do schematically. Really just let the coaches get familiar with them and build those relationships.

    "We invite them all the time, come down, sit in the meetings, ask questions. I tell them to get as close as they want in drills. Just try to have an open environment where they feel comfortable."

    During any spring practice inside the Shenkman Training Center, there will be teams and coaches watching from the sidelines.

    Coach Augie Tieri and some of his Danbury Hatters visited on Tuesday. Tieri thanked coach Mora and his staff for their hospitality on his Twitter account. "Amazing immersive learning experience for my coaching staff & exciting fun atmosphere at practice," Tieri wrote.

    St. Thomas More has attended three spring practices.

    Whenever the Chancellors want to visit, Anderson reaches out to Marinelli, who won two state championships as a player under his father, Lou, at New Canaan High School and one as a head coach at Greenwich.

    Mora and his assistant coaches make sure their guests feel at home.

    During practice breaks, the UConn coaches make sure to stop by and chat with them, according to Anderson.

    "Every time I've gone up to UConn, it's a family feel," Anderson said. "Coaches know me by my first name. They take the time to learn about you and know you. The energy and vibe that you get from his staff and coach Mora, in particular, is a family atmosphere.

    "When we arrive, they allow our players to sit in on their meetings before they actually go to the practice field. Our guys are able to go into a quarterback meeting, a wide receiver meeting, an offensive line meeting and look at film of what they did at a previous practice, talk about what they're about to do in today's practice and get a sense for the coaches, the program and how things operate.

    "The kids love it. They feel wanted. They feel at home. Every time we go up there, the energy is so infectious."

    Mora realizes his job is more than just about rebuilding a football program that has suffered through 10 straight losing seasons and posted a 4-32 record since 2018.

    He has to rebuild a connection with the state football community that's been in need of repair.

    By reaching out to them and inviting them into his football home, Mora is starting to do just that.

    "We have a lot to learn from them," Mora said. "We can all learn from each other. I think it should be collaborative. At this time of the year, especially, you don't close your practices, especially when you're trying to create energy and that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to create interest."

    Mora's efforts are already paying off.

    His first recruiting class included some in-state players: Prince Samuels (Windsor), Cam Edwards (Norwalk), Victor Rosa (Bristol Central) as well as Brady Wayburn, Denzel Mountali and Derek Spearman, all from Loomis Chaffee in Windsor.

    St. Thomas More offensive lineman Ben Murawski also will play for Mora.

    'When Mora first got hired, he offered Ben," Anderson said. "He watched Ben's film and saw what I was preaching to the whole entire country. There's not many people that are 6-foot-7, 335 pounds that move like that.

    "John Marinelli, who's great, showed coach Mora Ben's film. Coach Mora loves him. Ben had offers, but what really sold him was when he went on his official visit."

    g.keefe@theday.com

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