ATHENS — In his first few meetings with recruits in Georgia, the Bulldogs’ newest coach didn’t have to pass out copies of his résumé for players to be familiar with his accomplishments.
Defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos, who was officially hired last Monday and spent his first few days on the recruiting trail last week, already had a few fans in the state after his Connecticut team thumped South Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl on Jan. 2.
“I didn’t get called out on my accent at all,” said Lakatos, a New Jersey native who spent his entire career in the Northeast. “They were interested in UConn, and some of the guys down here, they know about our program. They saw our bowl game, and they were very receptive.”
Of course, while the big bowl performance may have turned a few heads in SEC country, it was hardly the most memorable part of the Huskies’ season. Unfortunately, the defining memories of 2009 were all about what UConn lost.
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Junior cornerback Jasper Howard was stabbed to death in mid-October, leaving Lakatos and the rest of the Connecticut coaching staff to rally their team in the face of tragedy.
“We got that phone call at 3:30 in the morning, and that certainly wasn’t easy to deal with,” Lakatos said. “We had to get our team together. We had great kids at UConn. Somehow we managed to pull through that thing and get turned around and get the season back on track. But it was difficult.”
The Huskies lost three straight games in the immediate aftermath of Howard’s death, but as the initial shock wore off, the legacy of their fallen friend helped turn the season around.
“One of the things that Jasper was is, Jasper was a guy who showed up every day and worked,” Lakatos said. “He loved football, and his teammates knew that about him. They took it upon themselves that, ‘We’re going to approach this thing like he did. Let’s get ourselves ready every day and work.’”
The result was a four-game winning streak to wrap up an eight-win season — including that bowl victory over South Carolina.
On the recruiting trail, Lakatos said he hasn’t heard much so far about the tragedy he helped his team overcome last season, but that doesn’t mean players weren’t paying attention. In fact, while Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin said he didn’t know a lot about Lakatos when his hiring was announced, the way Connecticut responded to tragedy spoke volumes about the Bulldogs’ newest hire.
“When I saw he was from UConn, that was the first thing I thought of, the guy getting killed,” Boykin said. “Just the way his team responded and getting to go to a good bowl game and actually win despite all that adversity that happened. The defense played well in that game against South Carolina, which was a great team that put up plenty of points against us. I knew that, and I liked that about him.”