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UConn defense adopts superhero mentality

Storrs — There's a purpose behind everything that UConn football coach Bob Diaco does.

So when the Batman logo flashed on the screen during a defensive team meeting, the Huskies were curious to find out what it was all about.

"It was just kind of mysterious," said senior linebacker Matt Walsh said during Sunday's press conference previewing Thursday's regular-season opener against Maine (7 p.m., WCCT). "I wanted to hear the deeper understanding because everything they put in front of us there's a lot of thought that goes into it.

"So obviously, at first, when Batman gets put up on the screen, you know there's a deeper understanding to it. Before we laugh or question it or anything, we want to hear the resemblance and the story behind it."

Diaco explained Sunday the story behind the Batman theme.

He was searching for a way unique to reach and communicate with his players. He wants his defense to play the role of a superhero, unstoppable and fearless protectors of the program.

Boom! Pow!

Batman became the obvious superhero of choice.

"We have a year-long mentality for defending and, even more so, becoming a defender," Diaco said. "Becoming a defender is a mindset. It's not something that you can turn on and turn off. I believe that if you're going to play great defense, you're going to need to do it with a collection of people that buy into the mentality of defending and being defenders.

"So we just got thinking one day about unique defenders, you think of a bunch of people with a bunch of superpowers. But Batman, specifically, has really no exceptional superpower. He just had an interest and a mission and he trained hard. Got a little bit of darkness there, too, and that's kind of cool and we like that. There's kind of a deep intensity there.

"That's what we do. We train and we're ready when called upon."

While Batman watched over Gotham City, UConn's mission is to protect and serve its university and football team, according to Walsh.

"That's how we look at it," Walsh said.

The Batman theme is carrying over into the regular season. The Caped Crusade's logo is a presence during every single defensive team meeting.

Just don't expect the Bat Signal to appear over Rentschler Field in East Hartford on Thursday night.

UConn returns the heart of a stingy defense that ranked 33rd in the country last season. The Huskies allowed 19.5 points per game.

Superhero status doesn't extend to the UConn offense.

"To be honest with you, I didn't know the Batman thing," quarterback Bryant Shirreffs said. "It's kind of a secret society in here. We have our own stuff going on in the offensive room."

News and notes

• The Huskies enter the regular season in great shape health-wise. Redshirt senior linebacker Jon Hicks has been cleared and returned to practice Sunday. ... Maine's Joe Harasymiak will make his head coaching debut on Thursday night. The former Black Bear player was the defensive coordinator the last two seasons. ... Redshirt sophomore Anthony Watkins takes over the starting job at strong safety and junior Brice McAllister also will see time at that spot. "They both need work and both need reps," Diaco said. "The only thing they can do now to get better is playing in games." ... Diaco juggled a few coaching responsibilities on his staff. Kevin Wolthausen is in charge of linebackers as well as special teams while co-defensive coordinator Vincent Brown's duties include defensive line. "Coach Brown had coached defensive line in the past, so that was a nice fit," Diaco said. ... Maine has four Connecticut players on its roster – running back Nigel Beckford (Bridgeport), offensive lineman Isaiah Brooks (Bloomfield), fullback/tight end Julian Dunn (Sandy Hook) and wide receiver Jared Osumah (South Windsor).

g.keefe@theday.com

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