This is not a normal semester by any means. Not for anyone at UConn and especially not for the football team, which is used to daily practices during the week and games every weekend this time of year.
But this year is different. UConn football isn’t having a season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so instead they are using this time to prepare for the 2021 season. Senior captain and left tackle Ryan Van Demark feels that will significantly help the program.
“We are now using this year without games as a big year for us to get in the weight room, get bigger, get stronger and get faster,” Van Demark said. “I think it’s something huge for our team that really is going to help us out in the future, and we’re going to show that.”
Van Demark said all his classes are online now, so it has allowed him to get in a routine of working out, going to team meetings, getting schoolwork done and resting. It has actually helped him focus on football more, since the only thing he has to go out for is football-related activities.
As a captain and one of the leaders of the team, his role this semester is to make sure everyone on the team is doing the right thing, both in training for next season and with the current COVID-19 protocols.
“We created a bubble in the summer and really have worked hard to keep that bubble how it is,” Van Demark said. “We’re doing a very good job. I commend my team for that.”
That has allowed the team to put in a lot of work this semester to get better. Van Demark said he has seen improvements in both the players’ bodies and their football knowledge. He said the work in the weight room with Matt King and his staff has gotten the players bigger and stronger, and the player meetings and film sessions have improved the collective football IQ of the team.
Van Demark thinks without a doubt all that will translate positively onto the field next season.
“Personally in my mind, I think success on the field is totally derived from the weight room or what you do in the dark,” Van Demark said. “So basically, what we’re doing now without a season, what we’re doing in the dark, is definitely going to show in the light next season when we start to go against other colored jerseys.”
The bubble-like atmosphere has also brought the team closer, and Van Demark said that’s another thing that will contribute to success in 2021.
“As a team and our camaraderie, we’re definitely coming together,” Van Demark said. “I feel closest to the team than I’ve ever felt before right now, and I think it’s something truly amazing that we’re going to show on the field next year.”
Especially for the freshmen, this “redshirt” year will really help with their development because instead of getting thrown right into the fire, they have a chance to adjust to college life and figure out their place on the team.
Van Demark’s main focus is to keep everyone on the team on track with the goal of making a bowl game next season, a goal he feels is well within reach with the improvements the team is making off the field right now.
“Really the mindset of the team is just working our way to a bowl game,” Van Demark said. “Everybody wants a bowl game. Everybody wants a ring, and in the weight room and on the field, you can see everybody’s mentality towards that.”