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1st-year coach Bob Diaco looking to build UConn football program

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 27 2014 10:57 p.m. MDT

Connecticut head coach Bob Diaco, center talks to his team during the first NCAA college football practice, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) (Jessica Hill, AP) Connecticut head coach Bob Diaco, center talks to his team during the first NCAA college football practice, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) (Jessica Hill, AP)

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — When most people think of the University of Connecticut, the first thing that pops into their heads is, naturally, basketball.

Not football.

The Huskies, after all, are a hoops powerhouse, having won both the men’s and women’s basketball championships last spring. The UConn women downed BYU in the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament after the Cougars threw a major scare in the Huskies in the first half.

First-year UConn football coach Bob Diaco, who spent the previous four years at Notre Dame as its defensive coordinator, embraces the school’s devotion to basketball.

At the same time, he is building a football program that finished 3-9 last season and takes on BYU in its season opener Friday.

“For the last nine months, we’ve been working hard on our players’ hearts and minds and their bodies,” said Diaco, who earned the 2012 Frank Broyles Award, emblematic of the nation’s top assistant coach. “They’ve come a long way in a short period of time. They’ve made a great investment. … They have a deeper understanding of how we need to conduct our culture. Systematically, we’re still at a very baseline level. Players know their assignments, but it’s a very baseline understanding. Not a lot of depth at this point. They’re improving fundamentally every day.”

Connecticut head coach Bob Diaco, left, stands with player Reuben Frank, right, as he talks to his team during the first NCAA college football practice, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) (Jessica Hill, AP) Connecticut head coach Bob Diaco, left, stands with player Reuben Frank, right, as he talks to his team during the first NCAA college football practice, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) (Jessica Hill, AP)

WATCHING THE WEATHER: In last year’s season opener at Virginia, then again the following week in Provo against Texas, a torrential rainstorm and lightning caused a prolonged delay that affected both games.

Cougar linebacker Alani Fua said even if it rains Friday when BYU visits UConn, “I’m sure nothing will compare to Virginia or to Texas here. Those were two of the hardest rains I’ve ever seen. I’d be surprised if I ever saw it again.”

The forecast for East Hartford is 80 degrees and mostly sunny with a 0 percent chance of rain, according to weather.com.

PAST MATCHUPS WITH BYU: Diaco faced the Cougars in 2012 and 2013 at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish won both games in South Bend, Indiana.

“I recall from those matchups that they were absolutely bitter dogfights, tough, hard-nosed games to the very, very end,” Diaco said. “BYU has a massive amount of fight and scrap and they play with great effort. They’re very sound and very well-coached football team. They’re going to be coming at you for four full quarters no matter what. They have a lot of talented players back from a year ago.”

Connecticut coach Bob Diaco walks the sidelines during the first half of UConn's Blue-White spring NCAA college football game at Rentschler Field, Saturday, April 12, 2014, in East Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) (Jessica Hill, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Connecticut coach Bob Diaco walks the sidelines during the first half of UConn's Blue-White spring NCAA college football game at Rentschler Field, Saturday, April 12, 2014, in East Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) (Jessica Hill, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

HERO CARDS: Earlier this month, Mendenhall introduced the 2014 Hero Card Campaign to raise funds for Thursday’s Heroes during the football season.

Each season, the team reaches out to individuals and families overcoming challenges.

Thursday’s Heroes has teamed up with XOJO SPORTS to raise $500,000 this season. Mendenhall has invited fans to get involved at GetMyHeroCard.com and acquire "Hero Cards."

"We invite all our amazing fans to get involved and get a Hero Card,” said Mendenhall. "There are so many deserving heroes rising above significant challenges every day and we want to be able to reach more of them."

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