STORRS - Ardell Brown is only two weeks into his career as a Division I football player, yet the wide receiver is already one of the most respected members of the UConn football team.
Having a leader be a newcomer to the program is not altogether surprising for a team that performed so poorly a season ago, but it seems that Brown has already taken it a step further.
“He’s a tremendous young man. His work ethic, the way he comes out here and goes about his business is really special,” UConn football coach Randy Edsall said after a practice this week. “It’s something that’s really helped the wide receiver room.”
Edsall had in recent years bemoaned the lack of leadership his team was receiving from the wide receiver corps, but it appears Brown is something different than the Huskies have had recently.
“That room has not been a real good room since I’ve been here,” Edsall said of his wide receivers. “We haven’t had the leadership that we want in that room.”
A 5-foot-10, 183-pound graduate student from Rochester, New York, Brown joined the Huskies in the offseason after transferring from Division II Seton Hill. Brown was a record-setting pass catcher at the suburban Pittsburgh university, and a long-time leader in that program.
“It’s something I kind of grew into at Seton Hill, being a young guy and playing early,” Brown said. “When I came here the biggest thing I wanted to do was be as real as possible, just be authentic with them so they know who I am at the core.”
Off the field, the Huskies are learning what Brown’s core looks like. On it, they’re seeing quite a specimen as well.
Brown was perhaps the best receiver in all of Division II last season, recording 81 catches for 1,267 yards and nine touchdowns.
Brown had three touchdown catches in his team’s opening game of the 2018 season at Virginia Union, and hauled in 12 passes for a whopping 204 yards four weeks later against Clarion. His final game in a Seton Hill uniform saw him catch 10 passes for 160 yards.
He set Seton Hill records for career numbers in all three categories, racking up 159 grabs for 2,425 yards and 20 TDs.
All of those numbers are a welcome sight for a Husky football team badly in need of receivers. UConn saw five of its primary receivers leave the team following the 2018 season: Hergy Mayala, Kyle Buss and Aaron McLean graduated, while Tyler Davis and Keyion Dixon transferred.
The only returner among the Huskies’ top six receivers from last season is Zavier Scott. Scott, who last season played running back and this season has moved back to wide receiver, missed UConn’s final two games last season with an injury but is healthy now and practicing.
For the Huskies, who open the season Aug. 29 against Wagner, those departures leave a rather significant void.
That’s where Brown comes in.
Though he only recently set foot on campus for the first time, he will undoubtedly be one of UConn’s top receiving threats in the upcoming season.
Although he says he feels like he belongs, the jump up in playing level has already been noticeable to Brown.
“The effort and the competition every day. It’s full speed every play, every time,” Brown said. “Here everything is going full speed.”
As it happens, speed is something Brown rarely lacks for.
“My technique and my speed have carried me through,” Brown said. “Being here, it’s still something I can depend on.”
That doesn’t mean Brown is resting on his laurels. Edsall said he’s among the hardest workers the Huskies have.
“I appreciate the young man in terms of how hard he goes, the effort he gives each and every play,” Edsall said.
And Brown’s new teammates are seemingly giving him every sign that they enjoy his company, and his abilities. His transition to the FBS level hasn’t been too taxing so far.
“It’s been really good. The people around here made it easy,” Brown said.
UConn would like its offensive possessions to be a little more easy this year. The Huskies had an impressive ground game last season, with quarterback David Pindell and running back Kevin Mensah both eclipsing the 1,000-yard barrier in rush yardage. But Edsall and offensive coordinator Frank Giufre are searching for a deep threat that will take some of the pressure of UConn’s rushers, Mensah and Art Thompkins this year, to produce play-in and play-out.
Once again, enter Brown.
“We need one (a deep threat). We need one to pull some of the safeties and corners, back some of those guys up so there’s not seven and eight guys in the box every single play,” Giufre said. “You go back and watch cut-ups, sometimes it’s like there’s 14 guys on the field. Where do these guys come from?”