In sports like college football and the NBA, it’s been said that winning the offseason is better than winning the regular season, that the endless optimism that comes with savvy off-the-field moves is better than the fleeting success during the regular season.
I used to think that it was a load of crap, but now I’m thinking they’re onto something. Because UConn has been winning in the transfer portal and on the recruiting trail, and it feels great.
UConn finished the 2022 recruiting window with a few marquee signings to send their fans into the true offseason happy, inking five Class of 2022 recruits and eight transfers on national signing day.
Overall, UConn went heavy on offensive linemen and quarterbacks, two areas head coach Jim Mora would be wise to bolster if they want to get winning right away.
Nikko Pohahau is a sizeable addition, a 6-foot-5, 278-pound offensive tackle from City College of San Francisco. Tres Barboza is transferring in from UTEP as a 6-foot-4, 310-pound junior offensive tackle from Tyler, Texas. Jake Guidone, a graduate transfer from Dartmouth, rounds out the bunch. Guidone is 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, with great experience and good size for an interior lineman.
“He has aspirations to go to the league, and he’s got the skill set,” Mora said in his signing day press conference “It’s my prediction he will be an NFL center.”
UConn’s quarterback room also got a major upgrade on Wednesday, with the addition of Ta’Quan Roberson and Zion Smith. Roberson transfers in from Penn State, where he fell down in the pecking order behind Sean Clifford. He was rated a four-star recruit coming out of high school and was ranked the fourth-best recruit in the state of New Jersey by ESPN. He’s a threat on the ground and in the air, and is looking to restart his career in Storrs.
“This kid’s a winner, and we’ve already seen it, organizing guys on the field Saturdays, galvanizing the locker room,” Mora said. “We needed to add some talent, competitiveness, some maturity. He’s got the intangibles.”
Zion Turner was the second QB add of the day, a three-star recruit from St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the more highly-regarded high school football teams in the country, where he put up some pretty sick stats. Turner had offers from multiple Power 5 schools before getting lost in the recruiting shuffle there, but still boasts some immense talent and certainly has a winning resume.
With the focus on offensive line and quarterback, Mora is taking an important step towards rebuilding UConn’s roster with the idea of improving the chances of short-term success. Building a roster in the transfer portal era is all about balance, and Mora hopes to strike the right one heading into 2022.
UConn’s marquee signing of the day, however, came from the other side of the ball. Marquez Bembry, a junior linebacker from Stone Mountain, Georgia by way of Kentucky, is an inside linebacker turned outside linebacker, and appeared in 24 games for Kentucky in his three years at the school.
“He can do a lot of things well,” Mora said. “He’s got strong hands, he’s violent at the point of attack [and] he has great leadership qualities.”
UConn also added a pair of defensive backs on that same side of the ball. Cam Edwards is a 5-foot-10, 181-pound player from Norwalk High School, where he was named New Haven Register State Player of the Year. Edwards played both sides of the ball in high school, but will feature at safety for the Huskies. The Huskies also added 6-foot-1 defensive back Isaiah Davis out of Fairburn, Georgia, and Lee Molette III, a large defensive back from Nashville.
The rest of UConn’s February signees are as follows:
LB Prince Samuel, 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Windsor, Connecticut
WR Nigel Fitzgerald, 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Greensboro, North Carolina (Old Dominion)
DE Matt Hoffman, 6-foot-4, 214 pounds, Cheltenham, Pennsylvania
LS Tommy Zozus, 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, Punta Gora, Florida (FIU)
RB Will Knight, 5-foot-8, 213 pounds, Smyrna, Delaware (Delaware)
Next up for UConn football will be spring practices, culminating in a spring game that will be held at Joseph J Morrone Stadium, Mora announced on Tuesday.