STORRS - Transfers are as much a part of college football these days as blocking and tackling.
Recruiting good players from the transfer portal is nearly as important as recruiting good players from the high school ranks. On a team like UConn, which is hoping to make a marked improvement this season, perhaps even more so.
The Huskies believe they’ve landed several potential stars, and are positive they have at least one diamond.
Six transfers could make an immediate impact at UConn this year, including two likely starters on each side of the ball.
Quarterback Mike Beaudry from West Florida, wide receiver Ardell Brown from Seton Hill, running back Art Thompkins from Toledo, linebacker D.J. Morgan from Notre Dame, defensive end/linebacker Dillon Harris from Lackawanna College (and Bloomfield), and safety Diamond Harrell from Los Angeles Valley College are all going to contribute significantly as the Huskies try to gain ground following a 1-11 season. Beaudry, Brown, Morgan and Harrell are very likely to start when UConn hosts Wagner on Thursday night at Pratt & Whitney Stadium.
Thompkins arrived at UConn in time for spring practice, while the others joined the program only in time for training camp at the end of July.
Each man has experienced college football already, whether at the Division I, Division II or junior college level, and each of their experiences have been different. But they have bonded in many ways already because of their similar backgrounds.
“Ardell is my roommate so we go back and talk sometimes like ‘This is a lot different from what we’re used to,’” said Beaudry, who like Brown was a standout in Division II. “So it’s kind of cool to know that there’s other new people. We kind of share that experience of new things.”
In addition to a new school, new classes and, for some, a new climate, the transfers that UConn has welcomed have spent the last few months learning a new language. Every college team calls plays and formations slightly differently, and getting that jargon down is an important step in getting on the field for a new team.
“The biggest thing coming in for me was the terminology. Everybody has inside zones and outside zones,” Thompkins said.
Of course, the language barrier can be overcome quickly by some and the rest of the procedures that are unique to a new program can be adapted to quickly if need be.
“At the end of the day it’s still football. It’s just a different place and a different uniform,” Morgan said.
He may brush it off slightly, but UConn coach Randy Edsall is among those who have been impressed with Morgan’s adjustment to a new routine.
“He’s picking things up,” Edsall said. “He’s doing a good job of communicating and learning the way we do things.”
For some of the newcomers, the level of play will come as something of a shock. There are talented players at almost every place, there are just more of them at certain locations.
“Coming from a JUCO, there’s a different level of competition, different game speed,” Harrell said. “The playbook is way bigger. I definitely have to get in that.”
The newcomers have already acquitted themselves well during practices with the Huskies and off the field with their new teammates.
Beaudry, who will be the team’s starting quarterback, led West Florida to the Division II national championship game in 2017. He missed nearly all of last season with an injury.
“He takes it upon himself to be mentally and physically prepared each day,” UConn safety Tyler Coyle said of Beaudry. “He’s in the film room late nights. He tries to pick apart the ins and outs of our defense.”
The Huskies hope Beaudry will do the same to the opposition this season. For his part, the new quarterback at UConn got a sense of the other Huskies’ determination not long after arriving on campus. He knows 2018 was a difficult time for them and they don’t want a repeat.
“They were here. They know. You can kind of feel that drive that people want to be better and people are attacking this like ‘We’re going to be better than we were before,’” Beaudry said. “People know the things that we have to be better at. You can kind of feel the energy and the enthusiasm around the program.”
The UConn defense, based on its performance a year ago, is probably more in need of an injection of new blood than the offense. Players like Harris, Morgan and Harrell have done that already.
“I think each one of them has a little bit different niche. D.J. is a little bit more outgoing than Dylan and Diamond, but I like what all three of them bring to the table. I like what they’ve been doing,” Edsall said.
UConn’s 1-11 record a year ago didn’t frighten off any of the newcomers. Nor do their teammates’ memories of that season bother them, apparently.
“I did look at that before I got here. But now it’s a new season. Last season is over with. We’re just focused on Wagner right now and getting that first win,” Morgan said.
As Beaudry claims, there is seemingly a new energy around the program.
“I wasn’t part of that. That’s last year,” Harrell said. “We have to focus on this year, one day at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a time.”
UConn ended last season with nine straight losses. It has dropped 16 straight games to FBS opponents, last winning such a game Oct. 21, 2017 over Tulsa.
Instead of being weighed down by UConn’s recent history, the transfers plan on writing their own chapter in the same book.
“Feeling really good. I feel like we have a really good shot to win every game,” Morgan said.