Emotional Day for Seniors

STORRS – Kendall Reyes and Kashif Moore engaged in some good-natured finger pointing the other day after football practice. The topic was Senior Day for the Connecticut football team and which player would start crying first.

"From past experience, I feel like Kendall will be the first one," Moore said as Reyes walked by.

Reyes gave it right back and both players laughed heartily. In the macho world of college football, emotion is always there under the surface. But Senior Day becomes a goodbye to the home fans, a goodbye to some of youth's innocence, a goodbye to teammates and coaches, and the final chapter in an important stage of life. The emotion becomes more raw and visible.

There will be tears Saturday when 13 UConn seniors are introduced to the crowd at Rentschler Field before the noon kickoff against Rutgers. There will definitely be tears for captains such as Reyes, Moore and center Moe Petrus.

"There are so many memories," Reyes said when asked to pick his favorite. "I guess I would say arriving here. There are so many unknowns getting here. Over time, you just kind of see how things work themselves out. I didn't even know if I was going to play or not when I got here. The whole thing means a lot to me."

Reyes, a talented defensive tackle who is 6-4 and 295 pounds, is expected to be an early draft pick and go on to a career in the NFL. He has 40 tackles this season, including 11.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks.

"That's down the road," Reyes said of the unknowns heading into a pro career. "I've got to focus on what I can do right now."

For the seniors, the immediate focus is beating a Rutgers team they have never defeated before. UConn's last win over Rutgers came in 2007, when a majority of the seniors were redshirted. A win Saturday and a win next Saturday at Cincinnati would make the Huskies bowl eligible again. That is important to a class that has been a part of two Big East championships, four bowl games and UConn's first trip to a BCS game.

There were high hopes for another bowl game this season after the Huskies went to the Fiesta Bowl last season. But this 4-6 season (2-3 in the Big East) has been frustrating for the veterans. There have been close calls and missed opportunities, especially last week's loss to Louisville that included nine dropped passes and a lot of missed tackles.

Reyes said the Huskies are heading into the game with a chip on their shoulders.

"We know we're better than the record says we are," Reyes said. "We want to get it right. For us to get it right, we've got to win this weekend against Rutgers."

Moore, who has 35 receptions this season for a team-leading 523 yards, said the Huskies have a good attitude – despite the disappointment of six losses.

"I feel like the leaders of the team have done a good job keeping everyone together," Moore said. "Make sure everyone stays out of trouble and no distractions.

"It's not that hard to do. We've been through almost every situation possible since I've been here. It kind of gives me the experience to help the young guys."

And when Moore says that, you know he's not just talking about the wins and losses, the championships or the bowl games. He's also talking about the murder of teammate Jasper Howard two years ago. Since the Fiesta Bowl, Moore has worn Howard's No. 6 in tribute to his friend. They arrived in Storrs together. Moore held him in his arms in those final, tragic moments of life. And Moore has remained close to the Howard family.

Former coach Randy Edsall gave Moore the honor of wearing Jazz's jersey in Glendale, Ariz. Then hours later Edsall made his sudden and unexpected departure to Maryland. Moore helped pull the Huskies through that difficult time and into the coaching transition to Paul Pasqualoni.

"I think about Jazz all the time," Moore said. "We came into together. If he had gotten redshirted with me, this would have been both our last games.

"It's going to be kind of hard, coming down to the end and the last one at The Rent," said Moore, who celebrated his 23rd birthday Monday. "The fans have always been great. . . . I feel like they won't remember how you came in, but how you left, mostly."

The seniors are: safety Harris Agbor (Mesquite, Texas), guard Gary Bardzak (Mar Lin, Pa.), linebaker Kijuan Dabney (Houston, Texas), fullback Mark Hinkley (Kanehoe, Hawaii), running back Jonathan Jean-Louis (Cambridge, Mass.), defensive tackle Twyon Martin (Parkland, Fla.), wide receiver Isiah Moore (Cambridge, Mass.), wide receiver Kashif Moore (Burlington, N.J.), center Moe Petrus (St. Laudent, Que.), defensive tackle Kendall Reyes (Nashua, N.H.), offensive tackle Mike Ryan (Tamaqua, Pa.), kicker Dave Teggart (Northborough, Mass.) and cornerback Gary Wilburn (Washington, Ga.).

"They've done a lot [at UConn] and gotten a lot accomplished," Pasqualoni said. "I think the best thing we can do for the seniors, and what the seniors can do for the team, is to play a great game on Saturday. I look forward to shaking their hand after the game."

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