Susquehannock grad Randy Edsall believes UConn decision not to play has been proven right

The (New London, Connecticut) Day (TNS)
Randy Edsall

While sitting out the competitive college football season, UConn's Randy Edsall heard from several coaching colleagues.

The callers reinforced what the Susquehannock High School graduate already firmly believed — that he made the right decision to just practice and not play games out of concern for the health and safety of his players.

The college football season has been filled with frequent disruptions, scheduling changes and cancellations caused by COVID-19 related issues.

"Seeing what was happening out there in the world of college football, colleagues would call you and call our coaches and just say, 'you guys really made the right decision,' " Edsall said recently during Zoom news conference. "Some of these teams, they didn't know who they were playing sometimes, or if they were going to play that particular week. Talk about stress and strain on people.

"We didn't have to go through that, so there was no stress or strain. It gave us a chance to really sit back and do some things that you don't get to do through a season or through a spring. ... From a coach's standpoint, a lot of coaches would like to have a time where you take a year and do things to take a look at your program and step back."

Had similar experience in 1994: Edsall has been through a fall without coaching football games before. Back in 1994, he joined Tom Coughlin's staff in Jacksonville, serving as a secondary coach for the expansion team. They had a year to prepare for the Jaguars' first season in the NFL in 1995.

He leaned on that experience this fall.

Edsall and his staff used the break from competitive action to do a thorough evaluation of the team and focus on player development. They saw positive physical gains in their players.

Hitting the pause button turned out to be a positive in so many ways.

"It wasn't a year off for us," Edsall said. "We worked just as hard in the fall and put the time in in terms of football, recruiting and player development. Those are things that are an advantage. When you get an opportunity to do that and make the most of the opportunity, I think it enhances your program and I think that's what this will do for us."

Huskies did have COVID-19 issues: That's not to say UConn didn't experience its own COVID-19 problems. The Huskies had to deal with some significant disruptions.

"We had 23 positive tests this fall of student-athletes," Edsall said. "Nobody of real significance in terms of bad symptoms. Most of them were asymptomatic. Out of those 23 guys, when they tested positive, the number of days that we had players in isolation from July 1st to Nov. 21st was 708 days. The average when somebody had to be isolated was 35.4 days. So when we had somebody that tested positive, they were basically out for 35 days."

Through contact tracing, UConn had 70 players that needed to be quarantined, some more than once. Only 20 players on the roster — not including the 14 that elected to spend the fall semester attending school virtually from home — never had to be in isolation or quarantine.

Productive fall: Yet the Huskies still had a productive fall. They lifted three days a week and practiced twice a week.

Edsall praised his team's attitude, effort and work ethic.

"We were able to really get a lot accomplished," Edsall said. "I was really proud of my kids for how they handled everything. All that time was very, very significant for our overall development as players, as an offense, as a defense and on special teams.

"We were able to get a lot of really good work in in terms of fundamentals and techniques, running our plays and running our defenses, doing drill work for special teams. You really got a chance to teach it and go over it and rep it and correct it and coach it without the process of a game plan."

"All in all, it was very, very good for us."

Making strides: Edsall saw gains in several other areas. The Huskies look like a different team.

"There's a lot of guys that really made some great strides in the weight room," Edsall said.

Also, the extended practice time without games proved to be a huge plus for the coaching staff.

"We had time to really sit down and put things together in terms of seeing everybody," Edsall said. "The good thing about this is all these guys are pretty much going to be coming back for the spring and then the fall. Then when you add seven new guys that are going to come in at mid-year, you've got a lot of depth.

"Excited and anxious as we continue to move forward."

What's next: So what's next for the Huskies?

After heading home for the holidays, they'll return to campus around Jan. 15, undergo a mandatory two-week quarantine period and start lifting and running on Feb. 1. Spring practice will begin on Feb. 15 and run for five weeks, ending March 19. They'll have three scrimmages.

UConn is scheduled to open its first season as an independent on Aug. 28 at Fresno State. The Huskies will hold their home opener on Sept. 2 against Holy Cross.

Edsall believes they'll be a better team because of the work they put in this fall.

"I thought the fall was really good for us in terms of the situation we were put in," Edsall said. "I've had people ask me, 'Do you still think you made the right decision?' Most definitely."