EAST HARTFORD, CT - AUGUST 30: Yawin Smallwood #33 of the Univeristy of Connecticut Huskies celebrates with teammates Jesse Joseph #91 and Sio Moore #3 following his sack of Mike Wegzyn #11 of the University of Massachusetts Minutemen during the game on August 30, 2012 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
When the Huskies' defense take the field Thursday against Towson in the season opener, they'll do so without many of the players that made this unit one of the best in the Big East in recent years. Gone are Trevardo Williams, Ryan Wirth, Sio Moore, Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. And the mastermind behind it all, defensive coordinator Don Brown, is now at Boston College.
But don't be surprised if this 2013 group looks a lot like previous versions. In part, because, one of the nation's best linebackers, Yawin Smallwood, will still be on the field.
Coach Paul Pasqualoni announced Sunday that Smallwood, defensive tackle Shamar Stephen and left guard Steve Greene have been named tri-captains. And Smallwood understands the responsibility that comes with being the de facto leader on defense.
“I’m kind of quiet but I’m just trying to get the best out of every single one of these players,” Smallwood said, via the Connecticut News. “I’m just trying to push everyone to be the best they can be. That’s my job as captain.”
And Smallwood feels the same way about Stephen.
“Shamar is kind of a quiet guy but once he’s on the football field, he’s a real tough guy out there,” Smallwood continued. ”He’s just trying to get the best out of players, like myself. We’re just out there trying to compete and be the best players we can be. He’s always motivating players around him, trying to get the best out of them.”
Smallwood's leadership will come in handy when 6-4, 208-pound safety Obi Melinfonwu takes the field against Towson. Melinfonwu, who will replace the injured Andrew Adams, is long on athleticism (and just plain long) but short on experience. As for how athletic, Pasqualoni considers Melinfonwu one of the best athletes he's ever seen -- at any level. But the question is how fast can Melinfonwu learn the position.
“I think I can make an impact,” Melinfonwu said Sunday, via SNY.com. “I am excited, but I am also nervous. I am excited for the opportunity.”