Sports

Connecticut Dream For California Teammates

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Johnny McEntee, DJ Shoemate (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

Johnny McEntee, DJ Shoemate (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

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By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press

STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ D.J. Shoemate and Johnny McEntee have
crossed the United States to fulfill the football dream they shared
when they were children in Southern California.

The two will get a chance to play in college together this
season as teammates at Connecticut, eight years after meeting on an
eighth-grade visit to check out the football program at Servite
High School in Anaheim.

“I came there and I had about a 13-inch Afro,” said Shoemate,
rubbing his now-shaved head. “I was playing around kicking … and
I kicked a 50-yard punt or PAT or something and caught the eye of
Johnny and his father.

“And ever since then, we’ve become really, really close.”

Shoemate became a wide receiver and running back at Servite and
McEntee became his quarterback. By their senior year, they were
starters, dreaming of one day playing together in a bowl game.

But Shoemate was an All-American, and McEntee didn’t get much
attention from big-time college football programs.

“He went to USC and I was like, OK I could never go there, I’ll
be lucky if I play in college,” McEntee said this week. “And
then, how we ended up here is just kind of a little miracle.”

McEntee arrived first, accepting Randy Edsall’s offer in 2008 to
become a walk-on. Shoemate, meanwhile, spent two years at Southern
California as a backup fullback and receiver. But he never got the
chance to compete for the job he really wanted– tailback.

When the NCAA brought sanctions against the Trojans and allowed
players to transfer without sitting out a year, McEntee gave his
friend a call and convinced him to come east.

Shoemate had already seen UConn play. He had traveled with
McEntee’s family during a USC bye week in 2009 and watched the
Huskies beat Notre Dame, perhaps the biggest win in the program’s
history.

Edsall sealed the deal by promising to give Shoemate a chance to
play tailback in 2010. But in the season opener at Michigan,
Shoemate turned the ball over near the goal line and landed in the
coach’s doghouse.

He spent the rest of the season behind Jordan Todman and Robby
Frey, carrying the ball just 28 times for 115 yards.

McEntee, meanwhile, became more famous for posting a trick-shot
video on YouTube then for throwing passes on the field. He was well
down on the depth chart, and played in just one game, getting some
mop-up duty against Temple.

Their opportunity came after Edsall left for Maryland in
January. Paul Pasqualoni took over as UConn’s coach and opened up
the competition at both positions.

Shoemate was quick to impress.

“My first impression when I saw him was that he passed the look
test,” Pasqualoni said. “We had some discussions in the spring
and I thought that D.J. went through the spring and had a very
focused spring on the details that are required to play the
position. And the number-one detail is taking care of the
football.”

He slid into the tailback void left when Todman entered the NFL
draft after his junior year, and will start when the Huskies open
the season.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while. I’ve sacrificed
a lot to get to where I am at this point,” Shoemate said, “and
I’m giving it my all.”

McEntee also made the most of the competition at quarterback.

He’s one of three players being considered for a starting role and
the coaches have said they are impressed with his poise and
accuracy.

“He’s never really got a chance to prove that he can play or
not,” said George DeLeone, UConn’s new offensive coordinator. “In
our situation, he’s been given a tremendous amount of opportunity
to play, and he’s done some good things.”

McEntee said an opportunity is all he or Shoemate ever wanted,
they just never expected it to come in Connecticut. Now, the talk
of playing together in a bowl game doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

“It’s a big possibility,” he said. “I’ve just got to really
establish myself as a person who can play on this team and stay in
the running.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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