- Brian Bennett, College Football
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Coaching changes can be difficult on players. But when Randy Edsall left Connecticut for Maryland, D.J. Shoemate wasn't all that upset.
Change, in Shoemate's case, meant a fresh start. After transferring from USC last year, Shoemate came to Storrs with a lot of hype. Yet after fumbling the ball in a costly situation at Michigan in the opener, he established residency in Edsall's doghouse. He would only carry the ball 28 times all season.
When Paul Pasqualoni took over the job in January, he made it clear to Shoemate that 2010 was ancient history.
"In my first meeting with Coach P, he told me it was a clean slate," Shoemate said. "He said, 'We want to see what you can do, and we're not going to criticize you on what happened in the past.'"
Pasqualoni and offensive coordinator George DeLeone don't have a lot of choice other than to give Shoemate a long look at tailback this spring. Star runner Jordan Todman skipped his senior year to enter the NFL draft, and backup Robbie Frey transferred after the season. Shoemate and Martin Hyppolite are the only real contenders to replace Todman this spring.
"It's one of the greatest opportunities of my life," Shoemate said. "I'd be foolish not to answer the call."
First, Shoemate realizes he must fix the ball-security issues that plagued him last year. He said he has worked on keeping the ball high and tight and to get comfortable carrying it in his left arm when running to that side. He has also been using a strap that attaches to the ball while he runs, as another player tries to pull it away.
Then he'll have to re-establish himself and show the talent that made him the No. 5 athlete in the Class of 2008, according to ESPN Recruiting. At 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, he has power and speed. USC used him as a fullback and a receiver, and he can do a lot of different things out of the backfield. He likes the way Pasqualoni and DeLeone are running this Huskies offense.
"I think it's more suitable for myself and my style of play," he said. "It's more of a pro-style attack. I feel I can carry that on to the next level, hopefully."
Asked if he could be a workhorse back like Todman, Shoemate doesn't hesitate by answering, "I know I can." This is his last shot to prove it, in his senior year. Last season, he said, taught him to be more patient and mature, as he made his contributions on special teams and didn't complain about his diminished role.
This year, he's looking for a much larger role in the UConn offense. At the very least, he's starting with a new opportunity.
"I'm ready to pick the load up and run with it," he said.