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UConn ends football season at home against No. 19 Houston

Another dreadful UConn football season comes to end on Saturday.

Barring a major upset against No. 19 Houston in the season finale, the Huskies will finish with only one win for the third time since 1997, joining the 2018 (1-11) and 1977 (1-10) programs.

Prior to the game at Rentschler Field (noon, CBS Sports Network), UConn will hold an introductory press conference with new head coach Jim Mora, who officially takes over the program on Sunday.

Mora has been serving as an assistant primarily in a role as a recruiter and evaluator since being hired on Nov. 11. Since the announcement, he's been traveling all around the state, including stopping by the Norwich Free Academy-New London Thanksgiving Day football game.

To their credit, the Huskies (1-10) have continued to play hard throughout the coaching changes from Randy Edsall, who stepped down in early September, to interim coach Lou Spanos, who will be in charge for the 10th and final game against the Cougars (10-1).

"They've been resilient," Spanos said earlier this week. "I've got a lot of respect for this team, the adversity throughout the season from the beginning and just their maturation process. One thing about our players is they compete. Do we have to execute better? Yes. But their competitiveness, you see during practice and during the games."

The Huskies have relied heavily on underclassmen. Freshman Nate Carter is the team's leading rusher, freshman Keelan Marion the top receiver, freshman Joe McFadden the starting kicker, sophomore Jackson Mitchell the top tackler and freshman Brian Brewton the top kick returner.

Entering the season, UConn had just 10 seniors, the fifth fewest on a roster in Division I.

Long snapper Brian Keating, a Darien High School graduate, is one of those veterans.

A respected team captain, Keating will leave Storrs with fond memories. He's in graduate school and eventually plans to pursue a professional football career.

"Everything to me has just been so special," Keating said. "Growing up in Connecticut and coming to games here, I always thought about playing for UConn but I never really thought my dreams would come true. ... I was able to do this, I was able to graduate and able to get significant playing time and able to achieve my dreams.

"Every second, these last couple of weeks, I've been taking extra longer moments to stare up into the crowd, laugh with my teammates, just appreciate everything that UConn has given me. ... The relationships and the experiences have been very noteworthy. I'm going to miss them but I'm going to have the rest of my life to fall back on them. I just think it's been a tremendous experience."

There are bound to be some roster changes with a new coaching staff taking over.

Some players will opt to leave. Jeremy Lucien, a starting defensive back tied for the team lead in interceptions with two, already has entered the transfer portal.

Keating believes Mora will be inheriting a "really good group."

"Just a lot of really good potential at every position, just a lot of guys that have learned to come together and just a lot of energy flying around," Keating said. "We just have really good diversity amongst different personalities on the team. With the game of football, a lot of guys with high football IQ and a lot of guys with passion for the game.

"So he's going to be inheriting a squad that has a will to win and is ready to turn the table. Obviously, I wish I could be part of that. Building the culture up to where it is now, the guys are very positive and they love being around each other so I think that's going to be easy for any coach to want to be a leader for."

As far as what's ahead for Spanos, he declined to answer a question about his future earlier this week.

"Good question," Spanos said. "If you ask my wife and my kids, I'm focusing on now."

Spanos has kept his focus this week on preparing UConn to face a Houston team that's riding a 10-game winning streak. The Cougars stumbled just once this season, losing 38-21 to Texas Tech in their season opener. They belong to the American Athletic Conference, UConn's former home.

When Spanos joined the program as the defensive coordinator in 2019, he was an immediate beam of light, according to Keating.

"He's always someone that I've respected immensely," Keating said. "Being able to see him have the opportunity to be the interim head coach, he immediately focused on the entire team, especially these upperclassmen and these seniors that I've been with these last four or five years.

"He came up to us and said, 'We're trying to make this experience as fun as possible for you guys.' He took whatever input that we felt was necessary to help make us be successful and help us have fun, most importantly. He's been an absolute pleasure to play under."

g.keefe@theday.com

 

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