Reyes leading UConn defensive charge

Jordan Todman is getting a lot of attention during Connecticut's current surge, but don't forget the defense.

The Huskies have more takeaways than any other team in Big East play. Remember those four lost fumbles by West Virginia, or the costly mistakes by Pittsburgh, or last week's five turnovers by Cincinnati? Some of those were just plain gaffes by the offense, but give UConn's defense credit for being aggressive enough to take advantage.

The defense is playing really well up front, led by junior Kendall Reyes. He has bounced between defensive end and defensive tackle and lately has made his influence known.

“Kendall has really stepped it up and is playing very, very well,” head coach Randy Edsall said. “He’s playing well and he’s being a tremendous leader. He’s creating havoc there in the middle.”

Just ask Syracuse, against whom Reyes had an interception, a forced fumble and a sack. Or Cincinnati, against whom Reyes had 2.5 tackles for loss and an interception that he returned 84 yards for an apparent touchdown that was called back to the Bearcats' 15 for an illegal block.

Reyes has seemed to be more effective inside than outside.

"It probably helps me [playing tackle] because I'm not the swiftest guy," he said.

But he's no lumberer, either, at 6-foot-4 and 298 pounds. He showed his athleticism on the interception return, and it brought him back to his high school days when he played receiver, safety and even returned kicks. Of course, he weight 210 pounds then. Asked how he put on nearly 90 pounds since signing with the Huskies, Reyes said it was simple.

"Eating a lot," he said. "I had the body type where I could put on weight more easily than other people."

The New Hampshire native didn't have any other FBS scholarship offers, but that's nothing new for the Huskies, who thrive on finding underrated players. Reyes said he didn't want to go to college far from home anyway, and was thrilled to come to UConn.

Reyes has started since the end of his redshirt freshman year but is maybe playing his best right now. The front four was young coming into this season -- Reyes and tackle Twyon Martin are the graybeards as juniors, while the defensive end position is loaded with sophomores -- and it has come along as the year as gone on.

"I've seen a lot of growth," Reyes said. "We're a very close group. We're always the last to leave the dining hall together."

South Florida offensive coordinator Todd Fitch says the Huskies front is "a physical group that's fundamentally sound and likes to play at full speed." During this current winning streak, Reyes and his teammates have found another gear.