The fax machine at UConn Football headquarters should start humming any minute now as Bob Diaco and the Huskies get ready to officially welcome their incoming freshman class for this fall.
This is Diaco's second full recruiting class as head coach. He was hired in December of 2013 and managed to hold on to the players who had committed to the previous regime while adding a few impact players of his own in the few weeks he had before #NSD2014. To Bob's credit, Vontae Diggs, Steve Hashemi, Ryan Crozier and Ron Johnson are among the players he added to the 2014 haul.
The 2015 class offered a few interesting takeaways. The first was size- the average height of the 23-person class was 6-foot-3. For many of those players, the plan was to take smart, motivated athletes with the right frame and mindset to succeed and mold them into contributors after a year or a few waiting in the wings. Many, including promising quarterback prospect Tyler Davis, redshirted.
Others saw the field as true freshmen, including wide receivers Tyraiq Beals, Hergy Mayala, Aaron McLean, and Frank Battle. Tight ends Chris Lee and Zordan Holman as well as offensive tackle Matthew Peart earned spots on the two-deep depth chart. Defensive lineman David Ryslik practiced with the second unit more and more as the season progressed. Despite what Bob Diaco will say about how tough it is to move up the depth chart, there is always going to be a likelihood that someone who signs with UConn today sees time on the field in the 2016 season.
We also learned a little about the Huskies' geographic strategy. New Jersey was an important state, as part of an emphasis on the greater Tri-State and New England area as UConn's recruiting region. Diaco's staff also secured commitments from talent-rich pools such as Florida, the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia), and Chicago. Interestingly enough, out of 23 players only one came from Connecticut- offensive lineman Bryan Cespedes from New London High.
Of course, one year does not make a trend. After signing seven players from New Jersey in 2015, the Huskies will only be adding two from there this year. One of them—three-star athlete Eddie Hahn—should be pretty darn good, and the other plays a critical special teams role, but generally speaking you'd like to have the more players from highly competitive states, and New Jersey is the closest one of those to UConn. Given Diaco and co-offensive coordinator Frank Verducci's ties to New Jersey, it's much more likely that this is a coincidence and not the UConn staff falling out of favor in the Garden State.
Diaco's staff will also be bringing in four players from the state of Connecticut this year. We can always argue the merits and importance of in-state recruiting but regardless there is a large handful of quality players coming out of Connecticut, and keeping as many of the better ones as possible is a good thing.
Through my work with Rivals, I have chronicled this recruiting class pretty closely (detailed preview Part I and Part II for your viewing pleasure). I've seen many of these players on the field in high school and in prospect camps and spoke with most before they committed to UConn. From those conversations, I would be remiss not to emphasize the lengths that Bob Diaco and his staff will go to ensure "locker room" fit. Often the coaches will watch prospective student-athletes play a sport other than football and make sure to speak with teachers and administrators about their behavior off the football field when they visit their schools.
That emphasis shines through in the conversations with these players, who are excited to be at UConn, motivated by the direction of the program, and interested in taking it to new heights. Another sign of the caliber of person Diaco looks for is the amount of players with offers and interest from the service academies as well as the academically elite football schools. Another one is the number of players in the class (5) who played quarterback for their high school team.
I have previously compared college football recruiting to the NFL Draft. Like the draft, it will be a few years before we know if today was actually a hallmark day for the program, but all indications are that some very talented players are on their way to Storrs- perhaps better (on average) than ever before.
Happy National Signing Day!