The Huskies finished 3-9 in 2013, their third straight losing season, but there were several bright spots down the stretch. For starters, the team won its last three games. They also appear to have found their future quarterback in Casey Cochran. And Wednesday, redshirt junior linebacker Yawin Smallwood and senior defensive tackle Shamar Stephen were named to the inaugural American Athletic Conference All-Conference team.
Details via the AAC press release: Smallwood’s honor comes after he we was named UConn’s Defensive Player of the Year earlier this week. The linebacker started all 12 games for UConn and led the team with 118 tackles, currently placing him at 22nd in the nation and third in the conference with 9.8 stops per contest. Smallwood also picked up 9.5 TFL and a team-high four sacks, adding an interception, nine pass breakups and a pair of forced fumbles to an all-around dominant season.
Smallwood was honored by the conference two other times this season, earning a Weekly Honor Roll nod on Sept. 23 and Defensive Player of the Week honors on Nov. 25. He was also named CBSSports.com Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 23 after compiling 13 tackles with a sack and forced fumble against then-No. 14 Michigan on Sept. 21. His Player of the Week nod from The American came after sealing UConn’s win at Temple on Nov. 23 with a go-ahead 59-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Smallwood notched double-digit tackles in six games, including a career-high 16 vs. Towson on Aug. 29, and at least seven in four others. He is a repeat member of the All-Conference First Team after being named to the All-BIG EAST First Team in 2012.
Stephen adds his All-Conference honor to the Team MVP he received earlier this week. The defensive tackle was a stalwart on the UConn front, starting all 12 games and compiling 60 tackles, including 10 for loss and three sacks. The UConn captain finished third on UConn in total tackles while leading the squad in tackles for loss and finishing second in sacks. Stephen had a career-high eight tackles vs. USF on Oct. 12 and finished with multiple tackles for loss in three games, including a career-high 2.5 against Buffalo on Sept. 28.
Smallwood has announced that he will enter the NFL Draft this spring, which means that neither he nor Stephens, who has used up his eligibility, will be available next season for new coach Bob Diaco, the former Notre Dame defensive coordinator hired Thursday to replace Paul Pasqualoni.