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UConn football position preview: Running backs

Kevin Mensah returns and has a shot at the UConn all-time rushing record

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Randy Edsall expects more out of his star rusher Kevin Mensah, or at least that’s what he let on at UConn football media day:

“I think the challenge for Kevin is taking his game to another level. He’s maturing, and he needs to continue to mature,” Edsall said. “I’ll just be honest. He hasn’t developed as the type of leader that I would expect from a guy in his situation. He’s gotten better, but still has a ways to go.”

It’s a strong charge to your star running back, but given Mensah’s resume it’s hard to imagine anyone else getting the majority of snaps in the backfield.

Mensah’s 2019 season was one for the record books. The Worcester, Massachusetts native eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight year in a row, the first Husky to do so since Jordan Todman in 2009 and 2010. He just needs 1,181 yards in the upcoming season to become the program’s all-time leading rusher, breaking the record held by Donald Brown.

Mensah is well aware of Edsall’s challenge, and admits that it’s taken some time to get used to his coaching style. But after his fourth year with the program, they’ve managed to work some things out.

“Coach and I, we’re good. We’re good together,” Mensah said. “He knows what’s the best for me, and I’m starting to understand that. I’m starting to listen to him more and just be more patient, more humble.”

UConn needed another experienced runner to push Mensah, and Miami transfer Robert Burns is the man for the job.

Standing 5-foot-11 and weighing in at 225 lbs, Burns is more of - How Mensah himself described him - a “bulldozer” to Mensah’s “little sports car”

Burns was a four-star recruit out of high school in 2017 out of Gulliver Prep in south Florida. He chose Miami over offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State and Ohio State, but never kicked it off at the South Beach program, amassing just 47 carries in his four years with the Hurricanes, playing mostly on special teams.

His physicality is undeniable, however, and he brings even more experience and poise to the UConn backfield.

“Burns is a great addition to our team, he’s awesome, it’s like he’s always been here,” Mensah said.

Also fighting for snaps next to the quarterback will be freshman Nate Carter, who enters the program from Bishop Kearney high school in Rochester, New York. Carter certainly has the leadership pedigree Edsall is looking for in a running back; he was team captain his senior year.

Carter enrolled early on campus in 2020 and immediately turned heads in spring practice before COVID-19 threw a wrench into everyone’s plans.

“He’s a very even-keeled, level-headed kid, does not seem like he should be a senior in high school right now,” running backs coach Kyle Weiss said at the time. “He’s dynamic, he’s fast, he’s quick. And the one thing that’s pleasantly surprising with Nate is he’s physical. For being a senior in high school, he picks up blitzes. He has no problem being physical with a guy that’s much bigger with him.”

With two offseasons now under his belt, Carter is ready to take a bigger role in the UConn backfield. UConn has two legitimate backup options to take the weight off of Kevin Mensah heading into 2021, and it will also take some pressure off of the winner of the quarterback competition.