UConn football starts 2021 spring season behind offseason full of conditioning

Photo of Maggie Vanoni

It had been 361 days since the last time the UConn Huskies played football.

But the extended offseason finally ended on Tuesday as UConn held its first practice of the 2021 spring season.

“It was just exciting because this offseason every single one of the players on this team has grown physically and mentally, so just to be able to test our ability down the field and just go out there and have fun,” senior linebacker Omar Fortt said during Wednesday’s media availability. “It was just very relieving to go out there and play ball.”

The Huskies geared up in helmets and played 11 on 11 football with a spring roster featuring seven early enrollees from UConn’s December signing day, including its two Connecticut natives — Tyler Phommachanh (Avon Old Farms) and Josh Tracey (Avon Old Farms).

Since canceling the 2020 fall season due to risks of health and safety, the team has been putting its extra time into the weight room to be well conditioned for spring ball.

“Spring ball is for us to come together as a team and continue to work on the fundamentals and techniques and for our new guys to get their first live-fire in the program, it’s a reason why they enroll early,” Director of football strength and conditioning Matt King said.

Not only has the team’s physical developments increased greatly from last season, as King said the team is overall faster than it has been in years past, but the players’ mental strength has also improved from handling a year without football and simultaneously living through the pandemic when access to strength and conditioning resources was limited.

“Mentally, it’s been a tough year on them regardless, because of the fact that we were in a pandemic, but just seeing them being able to have the mental toughness to be able go home for an extended period of time and still maintain their strength, their power, and their speed.” King said.

“A lot of guys didn’t have access to a lot of stuff where they lived. Some guys had full gyms, some guys might only have a sandbag or some water jugs or whatnot to work out with. … And coaches were pushing film to their iPads, so these guys became more of a student of the game and that was tough.”

The decision on whether or not to come back for a fifth year was “fairly easy” for Fortt, a St. Luke’s alum from Stamford.

“It was best for me to come back and take my time to be with my brothers,” he said. “As a team standpoint, we have a lot of seniors this year and what that does is it creates something for the younger classmen to look up to. … I think that was the main reason that drove us all back for a fifth year. More so not about the selfish individual standpoint, but just to come together as a team. So, I’m glad I’m here with my brothers celebrating this spring ball, my last spring ball, and going to be my last season.”

From being a mentor to his younger teammates to soaking in all the memories of one last season as Husky, including Friday’s offense vs. defense Tug-A-War matches, Fortt said the main goal this year is to reach the postseason.

“We’re all here to accomplish a goal and that goal is to get to a bowl game and just have fun and play with our brothers, so I think that’s the bigger picture that we’re looking for,” he said.

While the Huskies won’t practice in pads until Friday, King and Fortt both noted the levels of excitement and competition are at full volume already this spring as coaches have had to remind players to dial it back in preparation for the 2021 season.

“We want to make our identity as the UConn football team is the most physical and the team that has the most tenacity,” Fortt said. “Every time we go on the field it’s a mindset of it’s a competition.”

maggie.vanoni@hearstmediact.com