The top 10 Connecticut football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
CB Jamar Summers, Jr.
Summers was an unknown at the start of 2015, so quarterbacks tested him. They won’t be so daring when facing UConn this fall. Summers was the Huskies’ resident pickpocket a year ago, landing on the All-AAC First Team with a league-leading eight interceptions. Summers has the requisite size for the position—6-0 and 185 pounds—and his coverage skills are advanced for a one-year starter. He could parlay another stellar year into early entry into the 2017 NFL Draft.
DT Foley Fatukasi, Jr.
In 2014, Fatukasi got on the tarmac. Last season, he took off, earning honorable mention All-AAC with 50 tackles, eight stops for loss, seven sacks and four forced fumbles. He has a great motor, with uncommon quickness and get-off for a 6-4, 310-pound interior lineman. Equally effective stuffing the run as he is penetrating the pocket, Fatukasi is poised to become one of the league’s defenses stars this fall.
WR Noel Thomas, Sr.
Only two Husky receivers in the last half-century have been drafted by the NFL. Thomas is positioned to become No. 3 in 2017. In an offense that struggles to complete passes downfield, he caught a team-high 54 passes for 719 yards and three touchdowns. Plus, at 6-1 and 199 pounds, the son of a coach has the size to not only play above opposing defense backs but also block downfield with the effectiveness of a poor-man’s tight end.
LB Junior Joseph, Jr.
In his first full season as a regular, Joseph seized the opportunity for additional snaps. A 13-game starter in the middle, he was named honorable mention All-AAC for finishing second on the team with 93 stops. His tackle total will soar above the century mark once he eliminates a few missed tackles. Joseph is 6-1 and 242 pounds, with enough lower body strength to take on—and shed—much bigger opponents.
RB Arkeel Newsome, Jr.
Connecticut broke ground on a new backfield last year, Bryant Shirreffs behind center and Newsome to his rear. Newsome was solid, despite getting tepid support from his linemen. He rushed for a team-best 792 yards and six scores on 183 carries, using a 5-7, 180-pound frame to get lost behind his blockers. But he also was a consistent threat out of the backfield, ranking second on the Huskies with 45 receptions for 465 yards and a pair of touchdown grabs.
FS Obi Melifonwu, Jr.
Melifonwu continues to develop into one of the top defenders in Storrs. After breaking on to the scene as a rookie in 2013, he’s performed with even more poise and production over the past two seasons. Built like a linebacker-in-waiting at 6-3 and 216 pounds, the heady Melifonwu covers lots of ground and has the range and long arms to deflect passes from centerfield. He finished third on the team with 88 tackles, while getting a hand on seven throws.
CB Jhavon Williams, Sr.
Williams is one of the Huskies’ defensive veterans, having started 30 career games, and he’s also one-half of one of the American’s best corner combos. A year ago, he upped his production to 55 tackles, two stops for loss, three interceptions and 10 passes defended. And this season, the 5-10, 190-pound Floridian is liable to become a turnover machine if opposing quarterbacks avoid Jamar Summers’ area of the field.
QB Bryant Shirreffs, Jr.
UConn has a quarterback it can build around. Now, it needs that quarterback to take the next step after getting his feet wet a year ago. In his first season of eligibility, Shirreffs brought dual-threat potential with him from NC State. He ranked second on the team with 503 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 154 carries. However, there’s room for growth as a passer. The 6-2, 220-pound Shirreffs was light on big plays through the air, connecting on 168-of-279 passes for 2,078 yards, just nine touchdowns and eight picks.
OG Tommy Hopkins, Jr.
Connecticut has had major problems at the line of scrimmage for far too many years. Hopkins, though, was an exception in 2015, even if he’s suffering from guilt by association. He started all 13 games at left guard, his first as a regular, easily grading highest among his O-line teammates. At 6-6 and 316 pounds, Hopkins has a large wingspan, untapped ability as a run blocker and all-league potential if voters focus solely on No. 62 when watching games.
DE Luke Carrezola, Jr.
Carrezola is a hybrid, ideally suited and sized—6-3 and 260 pounds—to shift between outside linebacker and defensive end, pending the scheme and situation. He plays with nonstop energy and a constant chip on his shoulder, determined to prove that bigger schools were wrong three years ago. Carrezola was more than his numbers in 2015—45 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss and six sacks—playing with the drive and attitude that becomes contagious to the rest of the Huskies.