Sio Moore remembers looking around Connecticut's final Fiesta Bowl practice and realizing it was the end of an era.
Linebackers Scott Lutrus, Lawrence Wilson and Greg Lloyd were wrapping up their long and highly productive careers, leaving Moore as the keeper of the flame at the position.
"I thought, 'These guys are actually leaving,'" Moore said. "I'd always kind of been in the back, and those are the guys I emulated and looked up to. What they did to help me and mold me into the player I am becoming today, now I've got to do the same for these young guys."
UConn's linebacker spots have been in great hands the past four years, and Moore looks likes the next in a successful line. He actually supplanted Lloyd in the starting lineup early last season as a sophomore and ended up second on the team with 110 tackles, including 11.5 for loss. He was named Big East defensive player of the week twice, first for his 16-tackle effort against Buffalo and later in a tour de force against West Virginia that included 17 stops and two forced fumbles. He was the named the national defensive player of the week by two outlets following that performance.
You could say the 6-foot-1, 232-pounder experienced his breakout year in 2010. But Moore disagrees.
"I want to make my name a staple," he says. "I want to be a great linebacker in this conference and in this country. That's my goal. So my breakout year is yet to come."
He had good teachers to get to this point, especially in Lutrus and Wilson, who combined to make 91 starts. Moore said he learned something different from all three departed seniors, which he sums up thusly:
Lloyd: "How to play downhill and get your face into things, and when you get to the ball carrier, punish him. If they put $10,000 on the goal line on fourth-and-1, I'd put my money on Greg Lloyd."
Lutrus: "How to learn the game. How to be savvy and know what's coming, to be able to use my mind more than my athleticism. Scott was a very smart guy who always knew the schemes, tactics and other teams' formations and what their tendencies were."
Wilson: "How to be comfortable playing with instincts and using my athleticism to the best of my ability. Me and 'Bama' are kind of small guys compared to G-Lloyd and Scott, who were like 240 and 250 pounds. He definitely taught me how to use my hands and athleticism to cover guys, get around tackles and get sacks."
Moore is now becoming a mentor to the inexperienced linebackers surrounding him. He says he has a big-brother relationship with Yawin Smallwood that is similar to the one he had with Wilson. And he can't wait to apply his quickness in new defensive coordinator Don Brown's scheme.
"He's always telling us to solve the problem with aggression," Moore said. "We've got guys pinning their ears back and running like their hair's on fire to the quarterback. We're not sitting back; we're going to go after it. We blitzed and everything last year, but this year is different. We're definitely going to be more aggressive."
Moore spent his first year of high school in West Haven, Conn., before moving to North Carolina. He came up to visit his mother, who still lives in West Haven, after his junior year and attended Randy Edsall's camp. The Huskies offered him a scholarship then, and he committed on the spot.
"Now when I go back home to North Carolina, I can get me a nice slab of barbecue, and when I'm here, I can get a homecooked meal from my mom," he said. "I've got the best of both worlds."
The Huskies hope Moore has taken the best of each of his mentors and will use that to become the next great UConn linebacker.