With the regular season at its midway point, there's one aspect of the 2017 UConn football team that has flown under the radar.
There's been plenty written about the vastly improved offense, the struggling defense and after managing a total of 20 punt return yards in the previous 35 games, UConn already has 61 yards on seven punt returns in the first six games.
Now it is time to address the improvement in kickoff returns. The only real mentions have been focused on the three lost fumbles on kickoff returns all by different players but there is also some good news to report about the unit.
UConn has ranked 96th or lower in four of the previous five seasons. UConn joins Akron, Army, Illinois, Louisiana Lafayette, Miami (Ohio) and Wake Forest as the only teams failing to average at least 20 yards per kickoff return in each of the previous five seasons. However, the Huskies currently rank 32nd nationally averaging 23.6 yards per return and that includes a 2-yard return by freshman Jay Rose on a kickoff left intentionally short. If that return was taken off the books, the Huskies would be in the top 20.
Jordan Swann began the season as the primary kickoff returner and leads the team with an average of 25.9 yards per return. Kyle Buss has averaged 24 yards on a team-high 10 returns while Quayvon Skanes has 75 yards on three returns.
"It is pretty exciting but last game I didn't get much because I was fair catching the ball a lot (on punt returns) but it is pretty exciting to make plays," Skanes said.
Skanes returned one punt for six yards, had a 23-yard kickoff return and also caught three passes including a 6-yard touchdown pass.
A redshirt freshman from Chicago, Skanes is second on the Huskies with 278 all-purpose yards. He's also second on the team with 19 receptions. He is on the verge of joining some select company. With his next reception, he will become the eighth UConn player with 20 catches as a freshman. Former Ansonia High star Glenn Antrum was the first to accomplish the feat in 1985. In 2002, Terry Caulley (25), Jason Williams (23) and Brandon Young (22) all topped the 20-reception mark as freshmen. Six years later Kashif Moore set the program record for catches by a freshman with 27, the following year current Houston Texans tight end Ryan Griffin had 23 catches and in 2015 current UConn receiver Tyraiq Beals had 24 catches.
Skanes could have some company as classmates Keyion Dixon and Mason Donaldson have 17 and 13 catches respectively with Dixon's 211 receiving yards already 10 in program history for a freshman. There will be more on the freshmen receivers in the preview package set to appear in Saturday's paper.
With Hergy Mayala back after missing two games with an ankle injury, the opportunities for the talented freshmen might be limited more than when the dynamic Mayala was sidelined. However, with so much competition at the position, all the receivers know they need to be on their game at practice or their snaps could go to somebody else.
"Practice is always tough, we are always competing for a job no matter what," Skanes said. "The receivers it is a lot of young guys so you never know when you shot is going to be handed to you so you have to keep on (working)."
UConn coach Randy Edsall mentioned how coachable Skanes is. Starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs addressed something else about Skanes that is noteworthy.
"Extremely shifty, great hands, great guy in the locker room" was Shirreffs' scouting report on Skanes. But there was more.
"Something you might not know about him, he is probably the funniest person on the team. He is hilarious, really funny. He is great to be around, a hard worker and he knows when to be funny and when to be serious, it means a lot to him. I am really proud of him."
So is Skanes the resident stand-up comedian or the guy ready for a witty retort at the perfect time?
"He just knows the time to say certain jokes and can impersonate people well," Shirreffs said. "He will say funny things when you wouldn't expect it and it catches you off guard, you won't know who is saying it and you will look over and it is him.
"We sat on the bus after the game, long bus ride. The bus would hit bumps and I would look at him and the first couple of times I didn't realize he was beign sarcastic, I thought he was being serious and really drastically bouncing up in his seat but he was so serious. I kept looking out of the corner of my eye and he kept doing it every single time and by the end of the ride, I was laughing at him."
One can only imagine the jokes to come out of Skanes' mouth if he were able to return a kickoff for a touchdown against Tulsa on Saturday. That is something that hasn't happened since Robby Frey accomplished the feat in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl. The Huskies have returned 254 kickoffs in a row without bring one all the way back only Akron, Army, Indiana, UNLV and Wake Forest have longer active streaks about FBS teams.
"I feel like, I think this game is a great opportunity to get one," Skanes said. "We want to do it in every game but unfortunately we aren't going to do it every game but I feel like it is going to come."