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With a scholarship in hand, senior Jeremy Claflin sets his sights on a bowl game

Jeremy Claflin, a former walk-on from West Hartford, earned a scholarship in dramatic fashion this off-season. The UConn Blog spoke with him about life as a walk-on, the path to earning a scholarship, and goals for his senior year and beyond.

We hear and read a lot about the highly sought-after prospects in the revenue sports of football and basketball. This site dedicates a decent amount of time and effort towards coverage of recruiting for both, with great fanfare when a player with multiple scholarship offers chooses the University of Connecticut.

But the roster would be incomplete without the additional players who make up the scout team. It is a role which requires a personality completely different from the players who have been aggressively pursued by college coaches since they reached their teens. It requires a selfless, hard-working type who can put 100 percent into preparing the team for games even if they may not see the field or court on gameday.

For over four years Jeremy Claflin, a safety from Conard High in West Hartford, has fulfilled that role for UConn Football. He was rewarded for his efforts with a scholarship earlier this summer but remembers a time when playing football in college was not even remotely on his radar.

"I was behind an all-state safety on the depth chart and didn't start until I was a senior, so I never really heard much of anything recruiting-wise"

"I always wanted to go to the Naval Academy, went through the whole process, got a letter of recommendation from a congressman and everything, but didn't get in," he said. "So I decided to go to UConn for academics."

One day his high school football coach suggested sending film to UConn and seeing if he might have a chance to play there. The thought had never occurred to Claflin.

"I was behind an all-state safety on the depth chart and didn't start until I was a senior, so I never really heard much of anything recruiting-wise," he said. Paul Pasqualoni invited him to camp that year as a preferred walk-on after checking out his film.

"It felt pretty great that I didn't have to try out for the team, that Pasqualoni believed I was good enough for a spot," Claflin said. "I was a little nervous because Division 1 football is a whole other level than high school in Connecticut, but it was reassuring that my football coach and then UConn's head coach felt like I could play at the next level."

Claflin recalls about six other guys who joined him that summer in the preferred walk-on role. All but one are no longer with the team.

It was certainly an uphill battle to make it onto the field and contribute, but Claflin set steady goals for himself.

"My first year I was doing scout team/practice player-type stuff," he said. "I just had my sights set on getting in on special teams, because that's the most attainable thing."

Attainable, sure, but it would not come easily.

"These are world-class athletes, so it took some time to get comfortable at that level. I was a practice player through my second year, and in my third year I got a shot to play on special teams once coach T.J. Weist took over," he said. "He gave me my first chance."

Unfortunately for Claflin, Weist would not be there for long, and he would have to climb back up the ladder to earn the favor of new head coach Bob Diaco.

"I sort of had to work my way up the depth chart," he said. "(I had to) start all over again and show them they can trust me, which was tough because I had been working my way up over the course of three years. Now (as a redshirt junior) I have to start over."

Luckily for Claflin he didn't have to wait another three years, by the final game of the season he was a starter on all four special teams units. This off-season he has transitioned from safety to linebacker, which has contributed to the team's ability to prepare and also to his ability to hand strike and make tackles in traffic on special teams.

Though he never expected to earn a scholarship, it was obviously something on his mind.

"I always dreamed of it. But I really just had to put my head down and not think about it because I didn't want to distract myself or my teammates about it"

"I always dreamed of it. But I really just had to put my head down and not think about it because I didn't want to distract myself or my teammates about it," he said.

Diaco could have called the redshirt senior into his office, or had an assistant coach tell him at a position meeting, but instead the UConn head coach extended the scholarship offer in a way that made the whole team a part of the moment.

"We had a workout right before we went on break where they bussed us over to do a Marine-style workout," he said. "After the workout, they had a nice barbecue for us, and coach Diaco got up in front of the team."

"Diaco said, 'Before we get to the barbecue I have a housekeeping item. This clipboard that I've been holding all day has some paperwork, and Claflin needs to sign it!'"

Claflin recounted his feelings at that moment, "It was unreal, my teammates were cheering and pushed me up to the front and I signed the papers. It was so dramatic how he did it. People were coming up to me afterward saying it was the happiest moment of their lives to see that happen."

Through his experience, Claflin has advice for players who may not be receiving attention as recruits.

"Hard work does pay off," he said. "It may not happen overnight, in my case it was four years in the making. If there are kids coming out of high school that aren't being recruited or have three or four stars or whatever that means, you are all made for victory and those are kids just like you are. If you've been competing you can continue to compete."

He believes this is especially true for Connecticut players who may have an opportunity for a preferred walk-on role with UConn.

"With the precedent Diaco is setting, he won't bury these kids," he said. "He'll give them a chance. He's not afraid to if they're helping the team. I think it was special for the freshmen who are walk-ons to see me signing my scholarship right in front of their eyes."

Now in his fifth year at UConn, Claflin has already completed an undergraduate degree in Accounting and has begun a Masters in the same subject. Though he is getting ready for life after football, he still has one goal to meet before leaving the gridiron for good.

"It's my last year, I want to go to a bowl game more than anything."