UConn players prepare for only second bowl in Huskies' history

Marc Allard

For the UConn football team, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Although it’s not visions of sugar plums and Christmas presents dancing in the heads of the Huskies. Finals are over and the players can now concentrate on football.

Practices will be held all this week followed by a little break for a pre-Christmas holiday before the team jets south on Christmas Eve to get ready for the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 29 in Charlotte, N.C.

“It’s an exciting time of year,” UConn quarterback Tyler Lorenzen said. “Just being able to play this extra game means a lot and it’s good for our team and good for our program.”

Some of the UConn players, like Lorenzen, have played in bowl games before. For others, like Franklin native Dan Ryan, this will be a first.

“Oh man, it’s going to be awesome,” Ryan said. “It’s something I’ve looked forward to since I’ve been recruited, it’s obviously the number one goal, win championships, go to bowl games.”

It all sounds so easy. Now.

The UConn Huskies were one of the many surprises of a college football season that just seemed to be full of Cinderella stories, upsets and upstarts. From the moment Appalachian State beat Michigan to the time West Virginia lost to Pittsburgh, nothing was a safe bet.

That included the Huskies, who broke out to a 5-0 start before a stumble in Virginia and raised that mark to 8-1 before losing at Cincinnati. But even with that, the Huskies rolled into Morgantown, W. Va., with a chance to win the Big East Championship and qualify for a BCS bowl game.

UConn fell a couple of days short of the BCS competition as it lost big to the Mountaineers, 66-21, but still landed in Charlotte where it will play an opponent it knows something about, Wake Forest.

“We’re playing a quality opponent who we have played before,” UConn football coach Randy Edsall said. “They’re well-coached, they have some good players and good schemes so it will be a tremendous opportunity and a great challenge for us.”

The Huskies rolled over the Demon Deacons in 2003 down in North Carolina, 51-17, but lost to them at Renscheler Field just last season, 21-14 in a home-and-home two-year agreement between the two schools.

One thing the Huskies don’t have hanging over their heads is a lame duck coach as Edsall announced at the team’s year-end banquet that although he interviewed at Georgia Tech, he plans to stay as head coach of the Huskies.

“It’s just one of those things that everyone goes through, it took place, and now we’re really just focusing on the bowl game,"Edsall said.

One player who will be focused on the game possibly a bit more than some others is senior offensive guard Don Thomas.

Thomas has already graduated from UConn but gets to play in the Meineke Bowl followed by a trip to the Hula Bowl, a college senior all-star game in January.

“These next two games will be really important for me,” Thomas said as the senior, who walked on as a sophomore, may have suddenly seen his career path veer more away from political science and law to professional football.

“I think I need to go out there and dominate against Wake Forest and then when I get to Hawaii, dominate that game too. There’s going to be a lot of people watching the game, coaches, scouts, and I just go out there and play my game, I should be good,” Thomas added. “They’re important but I don’t look at them that way because it will probably take me out of my game, I just look at them as another football game.”

Salem native and East Lyme High School graduate, Lou Allen, is just happy to have the bowl game for a little personal redemption. Allen was suspended for the last three games of his senior season for an unspecified team issue, now he gets a chance to atone for his mistake.

“I want to, however I can” Allen said when asked if he wants to make up for the time he missed. “I’m going to be out there on punts and this is my last game, I want to make up for it.”

How hard will it be for the Huskies to focus on football considering the distractions?

“Coach Edsall does a good job of keeping us focused,” sophomore linebacker and New London High School graduate Aaron Bryant said. “He’s going to let us go home for a couple of days before we go out there so that’s good. We get to celebrate with our families and have Christmas dinner.”

The Huskies would have rather played their final game of the year on January first or later but Dec. 29 isn’t all that bad.

“That’s what you want to do coming into college, go to a bowl game,” senior linebacker Danny Lansanah said. “If it’s not a January bowl, close to it, and that’s what we’re going to do. I just want to thank my coaches and teammates for letting me do that as a senior this year.”

Different players, different goals, different agendas but Edsall said the best thing about his team is that, once it gets on the field, the individual goals become secondary.

“To me, it’s all about team and with a team’s success comes individual honors,” Edsall said. “If we didn’t have team success, there wouldn’t be individual honors so, first and foremost, we’re most thankful for what we’ve accomplished as a team.”

The Huskies have also come full circle as they began the season in North Carolina against Duke on Sept. 1 only to end it in the same state.

Reach Norwich Bulletin Assistant Sports Editor Marc Allard at 425-4212 or mallard@norwichbulletin.com