Between the ongoing search for UConn's new head coach and the surprisingly encouraging end to the regular season, a pretty big headline managed to slip through the cracks: Yawin Smallwood is going pro.
Smallwood made the announcement following the conclusion of Saturday's 45-10 win over Memphis, according to the Hartford Courant, Smallwood made the decision the night before the final game and told his teammates in the locker room afterwards.
From Paul Doyle of the Courant:
I'm just happy and excited that I was able to come to the University of Connecticut," Smallwood said. "These coaches work their tail off to make sure that I develop into a good player. ... It's just a dream come true and I'm just going to keep on working."
"Ultimately this was my decision. I felt it was best for me to go ahead and enter. I feel like I'm ready. I've proved I can make plays out there on the football field and I just felt like it was the right time."
This should hardly come as a surprise, after all Smallwood is one of the nation's best linebackers and has been pegged by most experts as an early round prospect. Still, Smallwood has been one of UConn's best players for the better part of three years now, and with his departure he will leave behind a major void at the center of the Husky defense that won't be easy to fill.
For starters, UConn hasn't played a game without Smallwood on the field since the Fiesta Bowl. Smallwood has started every game for UConn since the beginning of the 2011 season – a total of 36 games – and during that time he managed to accumulate 332 total tackles, 27 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles and two interceptions, including the game-winning pick-six against Temple earlier this year.
Smallwood also boasts exceptional leadership skills, and his speed and decision-making on the field impacted the game in ways that didn't always show up on the stat sheet. For his efforts, Smallwood was named First Team All-Big East last year and likely has a whole truckload of awards coming his way this season too.
It's a real shame that Smallwood's career coincided with the depressing Paul Pasqualoni era, because for all of his talent and production, he was never able to showcase his ability on a good team or in a bowl game. Because of that, he'll likely go down as one of the more underrated UConn players of all time, and that's too bad, because there's a decent chance that Smallwood could eventually become one of UConn's best NFL alumni.
While the Huskies will undoubtably miss Smallwood next year, here's to hoping he's successful at the next level and can help boost UConns rep in the NFL.