EAST HARTFORD - When the UConn football team opens its season 17 days from now, it‚Äôs likely to do so with a freshman who has never played football in his life.
Well, that‚Äôs not entirely accurate. He‚Äôs 23 years old - not the typical age for a freshman. And he‚Äôs played lots of football, just not the American version.
Luke Magliozzi, a native of Westmeadows, Australia, arrived late last week to begin his college football career and is in line to be UConn‚Äôs primary punter this season.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve never played before but I always watched it back home,‚ÄĚ Magliozzi said Sunday before the Huskies practiced at Pratt & Whitney Stadium. ‚ÄúI watched a lot of NFL. I was an Eagles fan growing up.‚ÄĚ He may have never punted in an American-style game but Magliozzi has been kicking balls very high and very far since he was young.
‚ÄúI always felt I had a big kick growing up,‚ÄĚ Magliozzi said. ‚ÄúObviously footy (Australian Rules Football) didn‚Äôt go the way I wanted it to back home.‚ÄĚ
When his football career in Australia didn‚Äôt take off, Magliozzi began searching for another career. He‚Äôs been training and then working as a plumber for the last four years.
But he never lost the itch to kick and eventually contacted Nathan Chapman, a former Australian Football League player who also had a brief stint as a punter for Green Bay in the NFL.
Chapman, who now is the director of Prokick Australia, said he believed Magliozzi had a good chance to secure a scholarship and perhaps even play professionally someday.
That initial meeting between Chapman and Magliozzi was about a year ago. Magliozzi said he was offered and accepted a scholarship from UConn about three months ago.
Magliozzi‚Äôs journey from Down Under to the Constitution State was no easy jaunt. He came to the U.S. with a group from Prokick roughly a month ago that included stops - in order - in Los Angeles, Utah, Memphis and New Orleans.
Then Magliozzi went to Canada, first to Toronto and then to Ottawa. After a week in Canada filling out paperwork and waiting for clearance, he finally was allowed to head south to New England last Wednesday.And on his final flight, which took him to Logan Airport in Boston, the airline lost his luggage.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm really tired, to tell you the truth,‚ÄĚ Magliozzi said.
Magliozzi admits he didn‚Äôt know much about UConn before his kicking coach suggested he and the school might be a good fit. ‚ÄúNothing, really. I knew it was a good basketball school,‚ÄĚ Magliozzi said. ‚ÄúBut then I looked into it.‚ÄĚ
He also didn‚Äôt realize initially that the Huskies featured an Australian punter previously. Adam Coles punted for UConn coach Randy Edsall during his first stint in Storrs.
Magliozzi said Coles sent him a message via Facebook offering help if the younger Aussie punter needed any.
Edsall said in the brief times he‚Äôs watched Magliozzi punt in person that he‚Äôs been impressed with the hang time he gets on his punts. ‚ÄúI really haven‚Äôt seen a whole lot. He only got here Thursday,‚ÄĚ Edsall said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs had a tremendous ordeal just to get here.‚ÄĚ
Follow the leaders
Edsall has decided not to name team captains this year but has established what he calls a leadership council to help guide the Huskies. The 10-player group, which Edsall revealed on Sunday, will meet weekly with Edsall and will serve in a captain-like capacity.
The players on the council are: wide receiver Hergy Mayala, defensive end Luke Carrezola, cornerback Tre Bell, tight end Tommy Myers, linebacker Junior Joseph, tight end Alec Bloom, center Ryan Crozier, offensive tackle Matt Peart, linebacker Vontae Diggs and running back Jason Thopmson.
Six members of the group are seniors, three juniors (Mayala, Crozier, Thompson) and one sophomore (Peart).
All of the players voted by position for the council leaders, with the exception of the quarterbacks and kicking specialists, though the coaching staff had final say on the selections.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a way for me to connect more with our team,‚ÄĚ Edsall said. ‚ÄúAs I‚Äôve told (the players), it‚Äôs my program but it‚Äôs their team. Now you have guys that ‚ÄėHey, you have to handle your group. If somebody messes up in your group, that‚Äôs a reflection upon you as well.‚Äô ‚ÄĚ
It‚Äôs not a surprise that players such as Myers and Joseph are on the council, but perhaps the appearance of a player like Thompson is a surprise to some. Thompson is a 5-foot-7 former walk-on from Shelton.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a guy that just goes out and does his job. He works and he does his job as good as anybody. He‚Äôs earned it,‚ÄĚ Edsall said. ‚ÄúSince I‚Äôve been here he‚Äôs been impressive to me.‚ÄĚ
Diggs, who tore the MCL in his left knee near the start of camp, says he still hopes to play in the Huskies‚Äô opener Aug. 31 against Holy Cross.
‚ÄúI keep telling Bob (Howard) our head trainer that I‚Äôm trying to get back for Holy Cross,‚ÄĚ Diggs said. ‚ÄúHe gives me an ‚ÄėUhhhhh, you‚Äôre pushing it.‚Äô But I‚Äôm 99.9 percent sure I‚Äôll be back for Week 2.‚ÄĚ