Just in case UConn's better-than-expected 2-0 start to the 2015 football season does not inspire enough confidence in the direction of the football program, look no further than the recruiting results.
With the news of Southington's Jay Rose announcing his verbal commitment to UConn, the 2016 recruiting class adds another great piece to an already impressive group.
Six out of eight verbal commitments made their pledge to UConn before this season even started, after a 2014 season which ended with a brutal loss against a winless SMU team and a 2-10 record. Still, Donovan Williams, Keyion Dixon, Quayvon Skanes, Tahj Herring, Eddie Hahn and Ryan Gilmartin (five of whom are 3-star prospects) chose to be a part of what Bob Diaco is building in Storrs over numerous other options.
That group of six collectively held offers from UMass, Temple, Northwestern, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, Vanderbilt, North Carolina State, Wake Forest and more. Diaco and his staff look for leadership skills, achievements off the field, multi-sport athletes and promising players with big frames and high upside. Now we know where they are going to get them, too.
Believe it or not, Connecticut recruiting is actually going to be key for the success of Bob Diaco's tenure. Whether or not the state produces a treasure trove of talent, it is important to have strong representation for the state school and have as many of its best players as possible to go to UConn. Tim Boyle, Casey Cochran, Arkeel Newsome, Matt Walsh, Max Delorenzo, Noel Thomas, and the great Dan Orlovsky are examples of the positive effect this brings.
Many of those players saw coaching transitions at UConn during their recruitment or early in their careers but stayed on board to represent their home state. They didn't care if it was Randy Edsall, Paul Pasqualoni or Diaco. UConn, of course, lost out on many talented in-state players to other schools during that time, but what makes it more important going forward is the prospect pool is growing.
It is widely documented that Connecticut high school football is improving and the number and caliber of Division I prospects coming out of the Constitution State is rising. Diaco and his staff would be wise to ride that wave.
So far, so good.
Jay Rose had offers from Boston College, Maryland, N.C. State, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, but none of them made his final four. Rose had narrowed his list to Wisconsin, Wake Forest, Syracuse and UConn before choosing to bring his hometown team back to prominence.
This does not mean Diaco and his staff are placing any extra emphasis on Connecticut over other places. Quite the opposite, in fact. They have done a great job of expanding the regional reach of the traditional recruiting footprint, thanks to the American Athletic Conference, believe it or not, with current verbal commits hailing from Chicago, Charlotte and Virginia in addition to the three from in-state. Additionally, talent-rich New Jersey was a major area of emphasis in the Class of 2015, and should be again in 2016. For now Eddie Hahn is the lone Garden State-er committed, but that should change. Diaco is from New Jersey and has emphasized his desire to pull from his home state repeatedly since taking the UConn job.
It sounds fairly obvious, but is always worth stating: bringing in as many high-quality players as possible gives a team the best chance of fielding a winner. To that end, recruiting ratings do matter. They aren't everything—former No. 1 pick Eric Fischer was a two-star TE and Richard Sherman was an undersized and under-recruited wide receiver—but the ratings definitely carry significance. This class is rated higher than previous UConn classes on average, with a majority of recruits holding a three-star rating from one of the major sites.
The future is bright for UConn football. Winning on gameday should get fans excited, but so should these wins on the recruiting trail. The commitments of Skanes, Herring and Hahn were all big wins for UConn. Cumulatively, their commitments, along with the rest of the class, show that this staff is doing a better job on the recruiting front than its predecessors.
The commitment of Rose is proving that the best players in the state are now more inclined to pick UConn than before. Without following recruiting so closely further beyond the past five years, it is hard to say this conclusively, but it would be hard to believe any high school senior has chosen UConn with a better-looking offer list than Rose's.
Many of Connecticut's top recruits still chose other options, and that's just fine. Four-star linebacker Koby Quansah, the top-rated recruit in New England, chose Duke. His teammate at Kingswood-Oxford, Isaiah Wright, chose Rutgers. Greenwich's Scooter Harrington chose Boston College. Cheshire Academy's Tarik Black is not expected to pick UConn, with offers from Alabama, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Mississippi State, UCLA, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin, among others. But progress is clearly being made in the right direction without sacrificing elsewhere.
This is not like when Pasqualoni was hired under the pretense all the best Connecticut prospects would come to UConn. In the years since that bumbling decision, the state's football prospects have improved, and the new head coach is a stronger ambassador of the program – someone who can earn a player's trust with his passion, resume and knowledge of the game. This staff is winning recruiting battles across the country that previous staffs never got involved in, and they're doing a better job in Connecticut as well.