Wide Receivers Starting to Catch On

STORRS – Dwayne Difton didn't come to the University of Connecticut to just fit in. Difton, a 5-foot-11 175 pound receiver from Ft. Lauderdale, came to Storrs to be a difference maker.

The Ft. Lauderdale native had offers from Rutgers, Minnesota and South Florida among others but when he came to Connecticut to visit he knew this was the place where he wanted to be. Even a last minute bid by Tennessee wasn't going to sway him. Connecticut was the place that needed him most.

"Coach (Terry) Richardson was my recruiter, he went to my moms job and recruited me hard and said we needed help on ‘O,'" Difton said at media day on Monday. "On my visit I liked everything I saw, and they let me know they needed help on ‘O.' There are a lot of teams that needed help on their offense, but this team really needs help."

The Huskies had one of the least productive passing games in the country a season ago averaging only 130 yards per game passing. The wide receiver position has only produced one 100 yards games in four years and with the unit catching only three touchdown passes a season ago the opportunity for immediate playing time was an almost certainty. Difton is the prime suspect. 

UConn has four true freshmen wide receivers with varying experience and ability levels joining the team this fall. Difton is joined by Largo, Fla. product Mike Lang (6-0, 180) as well as 6-foot-4 Malik Generett from York, Pa. and local product Marcus Aiken (6-foot-1 175 pounds) from New Britain via St. Paul-Bristol.   

"We needed four guys, and we got four with Malik, Marcus, Dwayne and Mike," UConn coach Randy Edsall said.  "I felt it was an area we needed. We felt we found four pretty darn good ones and they have an ability to contribute. When and how much is what we are determining right now."

Difton has jumped to the head of the class with the frosh wide receivers. He played for the No. 1 high school team in the nation in St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale and counted former All-Pro wide receiver Cris Carter as his position coach. Last year Difton caught 25 passes for 416 yards and five touchdowns for St. Thomas. 

"He's as good a route runner as I have seen come in as a freshman," Edsall said. "He is a very good route runner with very good hands. He has courage, is not afraid to go across the middle and he has a good background. He has also been very well-coached. Chris Carter has coached him, that's an all-pro receiver coaching at St. Thomas."

He plans on doing something similar this season for the Huskies and all signs point to him being a major contributor to the offense. 

"I am going to work hard to start and help the offense out," Difton said. 

Edsall has played and started freshmen wide receivers and the past and said that Difton could see time as the starting wide receiver if he earns the job through the next three weeks.  

With holdover sophomores Mike Smith, Kashif Moore as well as senior Brad Kanuch and others pushing for a spot such as senior Marcus Easley and sophomore Isaiah Moore the unit is much more athletic and dangerous than a year ago. 

What has helped the unit immensely was not only the addition of the freshmen wide receivers to the team, but also the competition that it brought out in the holdovers. Kashif Moore and Mike Smith have impressed Edsall with their play in the spring and early in fall camp and adding Difton and Co. to the mix has raised their level of play.

Smith, who caught 12 passes for 137 yards as a true freshman, thinks he and Kashif are ready for a big year whether the freshmen play or not. 

"After last season me and Kashif had to step our game up," Smith said. "We knew we were better than that. We can't repeat what we did last year.

"I think highly of myself as an athlete.  I am not cocky about the way I play, but when I am on the field I can get open and make a play. I can't turn every play into a big play, but if that opportunity arises I am going to make a big play."

After four years of declining production and no big plays, the Huskies appear to finally have some answers. 

POSITION UPDATES

Senior left tackle Dan Ryan has moved slightly ahead of highly touted redshirt freshman Jimmy Bennett for the starting spot. Edsall cited Ryan's experience…at tight end redshirt freshmen Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt have separated themselves from the other tight ends on the roster…kick returner will be manned Jordan Todman and Robbie Frey while punt returns will be by Jasper Howard… At quarterback after Zach Frazer and Cody Endres, it appears true frosh Michael Box is ahead of redshirt freshman walk-on Johnny McEntee and redshirt freshman Casey Turner, who is No. 5 on the depth chart. 


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