UConn freshman Swann ready to spread his wings
STORRS — It generally takes about four hours for UConn senior defensive end Luke Carrezola to drive from his hometown of Langhorne, Pa., to the Storrs campus. If Carrezola drives with the same relentless mindset he brings to the football field, perhaps the journey takes a little less time.
Whatever the final tally might have been before Carrezola arrived back on campus, he was pretty certain that the wide-eyed youngster who rode shotgun on his most recent trip was destined for some big things.
Jordan Swann, who along with offensive lineman Stanley Hubbard were the last players to commit to UConn when former coach Bob Diaco was in charge, was a speedy defensive back who had 10 interceptions as a senior at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore. However, Carrezola wasn’t concerned about any of Swann’s gaudy statistics in high school. Carrezola saw “the look” from his younger teammate and figured he would be seeing the field sooner rather than later. Sure enough, just like in 2014 when Carrezola made the jump straight from high school to playing immediately at the collegiate level, Swann will be front and center when UConn hosts Holy Cross in Thursday’s season opener.
“I think he is locked in more than any other freshman that I know,” Carrezola said. “It is his work ethic that I have seen. He is a great kid in general and has been making big plays in camp so I am looking forward to seeing it transition to the field.”
Swann is UConn’s No. 3 cornerback backing up seniors Tre Bell and Jamar Summers. However, it is in another role where he could make a larger impact. Swann will return punts and go back on kickoff return duty with redshirt freshman receiver Tyraiq Beals. Both positions are in need of a jump start.
Under orders from Diaco to fair catch punts, UConn set the Football Bowl Subdivision record by returning just three punts a season ago. The Huskies also had failed to average at least 20 yards per kickoff return in each of the last five seasons and only five FBS have longer active streaks.
“I have goals to give the offense good field position, hopefully score and make plays for my team,” Swann said.
“I was actually watching Devin Hester highlights, the punt return, guys like William Likely, a bunch of people. I make one cut and I try to beat people.”
Hester is a the former University of Miami and Chicago Bears star who returned an NFL record 14 punts for touchdowns. Likely found the end zone four times as a punt returner during Edsall’s run as the head coach at Maryland. Swann also has another former punt return dynamo who taught him the nuances of being a game-breaking returner. One of the assistant coaches at St. Frances Academy is Jermaine Lewis, who still ranks in the top 10 in NFL history in every major career punt return category.
“I didn’t really do it in high school until my senior year when I starting taking it serious,” Swann said. “He helped me a lot, we were doing one-handed catches, between the legs catches so I am real comfortable out there catching punts. He’ll call me and ask me if I am confident, comfortable back there.”
Finding electrifying returners was something Edsall proved rather adept at during his first stint at UConn. The Huskies scored 16 touchdowns on either kickoff or punt returns from 2004-10 and during that time, UConn averaged nearly 1,500 yards on special teams returns in each of those seven seasons with seven of the players who handled return duties eventually playing in the NFL. That number was nearly cut in half during Diaco’s time in Storrs.
So what led to Edsall naming Swann as the guy who can invigorate a struggling unit?
“Just by what he did in practice, what he did in scrimmages,” Edsall said. “I probably did more live situations in the kicking game this preseason than I had probably in any preseason that I’ve been coaching because I wanted to find out some things. I just see a guy who has a lot of confidence in his ability, a guy who has the ability to be able to make some plays as a return guy, somebody who the job is not too big for him, he has proven in practices and scrimmages that he is the best guy we have.”
Swann found the end zone on a return in a recent scrimmage and if he or red-shirt freshman Quayvon Skanes returns a kickoff for a score, it would be the first time that has happened at UConn since the 2011 Fiesta Bowl.
Swann sounds like he is ready to meet the challenge.
“I feel like people get nervous when they put too much on themselves, but I am in a great position because I am young and I just want to make plays for my team, make plays for the seniors because they need to go out right,” Swann said.
Swann admits that returning a kick or punt is all about instincts, but getting comfortable as a cornerback is a different story. It’s safe to say that when he comes into the game, there will be a target on his back since he will be a true freshman.
“Corner is so much mental, especially with Coach (Curome) Cox, he focuses on a lot of little stuff and technique which I need to focus on and continue to get better at,” Swann said. “I am behind Tre so he will help me. Coach Cox will help me. The biggest thing for me was the film aspect and mental aspect, but I am catching on.”
Bell, a Vanderbilt transfer who was the only defensive back voted to UConn’s leadership council, was Swann’s roommate during preseason camp. Swann has been trying to absorb every bit of knowledge he can from the senior.
“I kind of knew Tre before I came here,” Swann said. “He is a great guy and I got real close with him. He just told me just to be comfortable, always set a goal for myself and just have fun. At the end of the day we are here to play football because we want to have fun.”
NOTES: Edsall said on a Tuesday conference call that tight end Tommy Myers, linebacker Junior Joseph and running back Jason Thompson will be game captains for Thursday’s season opener. He also said that former Lackawanna College linebacker Eli Thomas has enrolled at UConn although he is not expected to play this season.