STORRS - Randy Edsall looks and speaks like a bit like a drill sergeant, so it‚Äôs not hard to imagine the UConn football coach‚Äôs first interaction with defensive end Luke Carrezola when he returned here in January.
It‚Äôs easy to envision Edsall taking one look at Carrezola‚Äôs flowing blond locks and, in his best gravelly Clint Eastwood voice, immediately ordering him off to a barber.
And when Carrezola showed up for spring practice with shockingly short hair, it‚Äôs what many assumed had happened: the strict disciplinarian Edsall had instructed his senior defensive star to get a haircut for the first time in two years.
As it turns out, however, there were no marching orders given.
Carrezola, clearly not worried about any Samson-like sapping of his football strength, decided on his own to cut the hair that not even a football helmet could contain.
‚ÄúI was looking at myself in the mirror and I was like ‚ÄėGeez, my hair is going down to my shoulders now. I look like Tarzan or something,‚Äô ‚ÄĚ Carrezola said after the Huskies practiced Tuesday morning in the Shenkman Center. ‚ÄúSo I decided to cut it. I‚Äôm getting some compliments about cutting the hair, but I‚Äôm definitely going to miss it.‚ÄĚ
The final gap between haircuts for Carrezola was two years and four days, he says. And although his new head coach didn‚Äôt insist on the change, he nonetheless wholeheartedly agrees with the decision.
‚ÄúHis hair was longer when I got here but I like his look right now,‚ÄĚ Edsall said.
A 6-foot-3, 260-pound native of Langhorne, Pennsylvania, Carrezola is coming off a solid season in which he made 43 tackles, including a team-high 11 tackles for a loss. He also led the Huskies with six quarterback hurries.
Although the Huskies‚Äô defense is being revamped, moving from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-3-5, and Carrezola himself is moving from outside linebacker back to defensive end, he is expected to be one the Huskies‚Äô primary weapons next season.
New defensive coordinator Billy Crocker‚Äôs approach to defense has been met with plenty of enthusiasm from the UConn players.
‚ÄúI think it‚Äôs more of an attacking defense. I think it‚Äôs safe to say that a lot of people thought we were a conservative defense last year,‚ÄĚ Carrezola said. ‚ÄúThis year is definitely more of a downhill, try-to-live-in-the-backfield type of attacking defense.‚ÄĚ
Crocker himself has apparently injected some life into the Huskies as well.
‚ÄúCoach Crocker is awesome. He‚Äôs the same guy every day. He comes in high energy and expects the most out of you, the best out of you,‚ÄĚ Carrezola said.
The fact that Crocker came to UConn from Villanova, where he once recruited a young Carrezola from Neshaminy High School in Langhorne, has helped Carrezola appreciate the approach even more.
‚ÄúI had communication with him since way back so it‚Äôs awesome to have him here,‚ÄĚ Carrezola said.
Carrezola won‚Äôt be able to fully appreciate the defensive scheme this spring. He‚Äôs still rehabbing a shoulder injury and has been forced to wear a red ‚Äúnon-contact‚ÄĚ jersey during all of UConn‚Äôs spring workouts. Still, Edsall has liked what he‚Äôs seen from Carrezola thus far.
‚ÄúI see a guy that‚Äôs a competitor. I see a guy that‚Äôs worker. He‚Äôd want to be out there right now if it were up to him,‚ÄĚ Edsall said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs cleared but he just can‚Äôt have contact.‚ÄĚ
It‚Äôs clear to Edsall, he says, that Carrezola has earned the respect of his teammates.
‚ÄúI would think that he‚Äôll probably be one of our leaders on our team,‚ÄĚ Edsall said.
Former UConn coach Bob Diaco saw punt returns as potentially dangerous plays for his team. So much so that he instructed his returners to always call for a fair catch and not try to advance the ball at all, lest they commit a turnover.
Edsall made it clear Tuesday that strategy will not be repeated in 2017.
‚ÄúI think we will return punts. I see that as an offensive play. We‚Äôve had great success here previously with some good returners.‚ÄĚ Edsall said, adding that he will coach the team‚Äôs punt and kickoff returners himself.
UConn‚Äôs opponents punted 58 times last season. The Huskies only returned three.
Down and dirty
Edsall was not overly pleased with his team‚Äôs performance during its first practice in full pads on Saturday, though he did say they improved slightly for Tuesday‚Äôs workout. The biggest problem, the coach says, came in the trenches.
‚ÄúWe have to play a lot lower. We‚Äôre too high on both sides of the ball, offensive line and defensive line,‚ÄĚ Edsall said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve got a bunch of drills that will take care of that. We‚Äôll get them to bend their knees. We‚Äôve got a bunch of waist-benders, right now. In football, you have to be knee-benders.‚ÄĚ
Edsall on the wide receivers, whom he complimented last week: ‚ÄúHergy (Mayala), he‚Äôs doing really well. The young guys? They‚Äôre inconsistent right now.‚ÄĚ ‚Ä¶ Offensive lineman Nino Leone, a 6-foot-6, 345-pound redshirt freshman from South Hamilton, Mass., was one of the players who seemed to shine in a very physical, 1-on-1 drill during Tuesday‚Äôs practice. Not surprisingly, defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi, a 6-4, 310-pound senior, was also one of the standouts. ‚Ä¶ Mason Donaldson, a redshirt freshman wide receiver from Allentown, Pennsylvania, made a nice move and better catch during a red zone drill. ‚Ä¶ Offensive linemen Ryan Crozier and Tommy Hopkins, like Carrezola, continue to wear red jerseys and were limited in practice.