STORRS >> Not much has gone right for Bob Diaco in his third season at the helm of the UConn football program, but when it comes to recruiting in Fairfield County, Diaco and his staff certainly seem to be taking steps in the right direction.
The first player to commit to UConn after Diaco’s hiring was former St. Joseph High standout Steve Hashemi.
Then, in a span of just over a month, the Huskies received commitments from a pair of Fairfield County prospects when Staples High tight Ryan Fitton and St. Luke’s defensive back Omar Fortt declared their intentions to come to UConn.
Running backs coach David Corley, who was recently promoted to offensive coordinator, was given the responsibility of breaking down the walls that formed among Fairfield County coaches especially after the firings of former head coach Paul Pasqualoni and George DeLeone, favorites of Connecticut high school coaches. Calling it no easy task would be an incredible understatement.
“From our program’s standpoint, we want this whole state to know that we love Connecticut football and the guys that can play at a high level in the state of Connecticut, we are going to get after them and recruit them as hard as we possibly can,” Corley said.
“Down in Fairfield County, they have some great coaches, some great teams, They are putting out some state champions down there so we are enjoying getting down there. We are going on our third season so I have gotten to know those coaches down there a whole lot better.”
As Corley mentioned, Fairfield County teams have enjoyed remarkable success especially in the recent seasons as 23 Fairfield County teams have won CIAC state titles in the last 10 years and another 19 reached the state title game during that span. It’s a number that could grow especially since FCIAC powers Darien and New Canaan rank first and second in the latest GameTime CT/Register Top 10 poll.
“It was unfortunate what happened to Coach Pasqualoni,” Staples coach Marce Petroccio said. “I have the utmost respect and admiration for Coach (Pasqualoni) and the first year or two, it was a little rough to have anybody come in there. That is certainly not Coach Diaco’s fault or his staff’s fault. They are there to do a job and that is the nature of the game now and the nature of coaching. The good part is time heals all wounds. As long as you are up front with me, honest and have a genuine interest in the kid, you are more than welcome to come to Staples. I think that is the feeling down here now that the ice is beginning to melt more and more all the time.
“The thing down here, you have a lot of ground to make up for all of those years. I think they are doing a great job and they will make up ground. They are in a dogfight with Boston College because those relationships run deep but they are trying, they are good guys and once you open the door for one kid, the door opens for everybody else.”
UConn isn’t getting the top-rated Fairfield County prospects yet. The two most highly-touted high school seniors from that part of the state (linebacker Ben Mason and offensive lineman Andrew Stueber) have both committed to Michigan.
In 2016, Greenwich’s Scooter Harrington and New Canaan’s Lucas Niang signed with Stanford and Texas Christian respectively. Boston College received pledges from the top two Fairfield County recruits in 2015 and when the Huskies play at BC on Nov. 19 former Fairfield Prep star Anthony Palazzolo figures to be the second-string right offensive tackle while Zach Allen out of New Canaan ranks third on the Eagles with four sacks and is tied for fourth with eight tackles for loss.
Still, Fortt is rated as the third best Fairfield County native in the Class of 2017. While Marcus Easley, Scott Lutrus, Sean Mulcahy, Dan Orlovsky, Trevardo Williams and current star receiver Noel Thomas are among the top Fairfield County prospects to shine with the Huskies, you would be hard pressed to find a recruiting class during the Football Bowl Subdivision era with multiple commitments from Fairfield County players. It should also be noted that Darien long snapper Brian Keating is planning to go to UConn as a preferred walk-on.
“There is a presence here in Connecticut, a recruiting presence here in Connecticut,” said Noel Thomas Sr., the father of UConn’s leading receiver and head coach of Fortt at St. Luke’s. “I am very fond of the recruiting coordinator, Coach Corley who is very close to the pulse of Connecticut now that he has gotten used to our area.”
Fitton expressed the hope that more players from Fairfield County could join him at UConn.
“There is a lot of talent there so I think it is good that we have three guys from there,” Fitton said. “Hopefully we can continue to get guys from the FCIAC and all over the state.”
With UConn in the midst of a disappointing season, it’s uncertain what the coaching staff will look like a few months from now but Corley would enjoy trying to get more players from Fairfield County and throughout Connecticut to play for the Huskies.
“You look at the class last year, it is not Fairfield County, it is the whole state but that is obviously the area I am at,” Corley said. “Anytime you get good players from in state, when our fans get to see kids who they have seen play high school ball, play from Little League all the way through high school, it is just an added bonus to what we are doing.
“Anytime we recruit any kid it is always great to watch that kid mature and grow. Arkeel Newsome (a former star at Ansonia High based in New Haven County), when they announce his name before the game people go crazy in the stands because he is one of their own. That group down there in Fairfield County, they have great players and we are working really hard. We have to continue to keep building that relationship.”