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Jim Mora says ‘desperation to win’ has kept UConn football players who might have transferred in Storrs

STORRS — The UConn football roster has been young for a while. Players have come and then gone, searching for a better situation; looking for an opportunity to win or to play at the next level.

When Jim Mora joined the program as head coach and hired an almost entirely new coaching staff, the vibe around the program has made Storrs now seem like that green grass on the other side. The competitiveness of the players and the passion has grown exponentially since Mora came along last spring.


Veteran mainstays like Christian Haynes, Jackson Mitchell, Nate Carter and Ian Swenson could’ve had a shot at the transfer portal, but because of Mora, they all decided to stay in Storrs.

Why? “They’re desperate to win,” Mora said after practice Tuesday.


The Huskies have won just four games since 2018, though they didn’t play in 2020 due to the pandemic.

“I think it’s all about the players, I don’t think it has really much to do with the staff. Certainly we try to set an example and set a standard and bring them along, but we’ve got a group of guys that are desperate to win. And when you’re desperate, man, you’ll do what it takes,” Mora said. “They want it so bad. And those are the guys that are fun to coach.”

Now, with more older players who have been with the program joined by some who transferred in, younger players get a chance to develop. They don’t need to be thrown into action straightaway.

Swenson, a senior linebacker who’s played nearly every game after sitting his redshirt freshman season in 2017, echoed a familiar notion among the returners, crediting Mora for his decision to stay.

“For one, I love this place,” Swenson said. “And Coach Mora coming made my decision pretty easy to come back here. I want to pursue the next level.”

The Huskies have had just four players drafted since 2016. Mora, who has NFL coaching experience with five different teams – the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks – gives a sense that dreams of the next level are only more possible with him at the helm.

“(Mora) just really cares about us, to be honest,” Swenson said. “He’s been to the league, he’s been at UCLA and now he’s here. He’s got so much experience, he knows how to do things the right way.”

Swenson has played with Mitchell, the team’s leading tackler in 2021, since 2019. Now adding Marquez Bembry, a graduate transfer from Kentucky, the linebacker position is as veteran as it comes for UConn.


“(Mitchell and I) have had great chemistry and we’re just building off of that,” Swenson said. “I know he’s gonna do his job, I know I’m gonna do my job, and everyone around me is gonna do their job.

The energy and attitude around the program is in stark contrast to the way UConn has been looked at among the rest of the FBS. That doubt still exists on the outside, but inside the facilities and within the program, the view is the opposite. The UConn season begins at Utah State Aug. 27, less than three weeks from now.

“We’re all getting along well. The locker room is phenomenal, especially on the defensive side,” Swenson said. “We’re just taking it one day at a time. Getting better and getting ready for that (first game).”

Quarterback competition needs more time: Since former starting quarterback Steven Krajewski transferred to Georgia State last spring, the position has been up in the air. Penn State transfer Ta’Quan Roberson impressed during spring ball, but the other contenders weren’t able to participate.

Cale Millen transferred in from Northern Arizona, Zion Turner came as a freshman after graduating from St. Thomas Aquinas High in Florida, and Tyler Phommachanh was nursing the knee injury that ended his 2021 season with the Huskies.

The competition hasn’t developed much since the start of camp. Reps with the first team are still being divided and none of the quarterbacks have pulled away from the pack.


“Every day it just looks a little bit different,” Mora said. “There’s some good things that they’re all doing, each of them has some things that they do really well, and they each have some things that they struggle with. We’re still sorting through that.”

Mora noted that he wants to make the decision soon but will not choose his starter until it is as clear as possible.