As Tahj Herring, one of four in-state prospects to sign with UConn on national signing day, posed for a series photos the number of people from various stages of his life made their way to the front of the room.
Somehow that seemed rather fitting that the Hartford native would share a moment he called "one of the proudest in my life" with those who made it all possible.
Before I headed into the room used for all the national letter of intent signings inside the College Counseling Building at Suffield Academy, I heard from so many of his supporters and it had little to do with his ability as a shut-down cornerback. Stories were being tossed around about Herring's growth of the last five years, how he embraced all facets of life at Suffield Academy and last by not least, how he has an unforgettable smile.
Having already caught up with fellow Connecticut products Tyler Coyle, Keyion Dixon and Jasen Rose as the Walter Camp Foundation's Breakfast of Champions, I decided to make the drive up to Suffield to catch up with Herring and I am glad that I did.
Herring spoke about so many topics including the pride he feels in making the jump to college which is something that not every kid with his circumstances have managed to accomplish.
"There aren't that many kids who do more than just sell drugs, not finish school and just get into a lot of trouble," Herring said. "I know it is not like that, not every kid is the same so for me to make it out and see so many other kids make it out of Hartford, to go out and do big things shows that we are not a city of violence."
Herring also spoke with great pride about every recruit expected to sign with UConn did just that. If you go on social media today, there are so many posts about a committed recruit flipping to another school. Sure, lineman Mike Lonsdorf decommitted from UConn and signed with Rutgers today but the Huskies were able to hold onto the rest of its pledges even though many of them had offers from teams in Power 5 conferences.
"It is a beautiful thing because a lot of times you hear about kids flipping their commitments three or four times," Herring said. "For us to be able to keep just about everyone shows that they believe in the same thng I believe in.
"You always have a lot of colleges contacting you trying to make you change your decision but I think with the coaching staff, them continuously showing me love and contacting me it just made me feel like they cared. I think that was key is that they showed that I was important to them and not that I was just another number, another commit."
Herring, who was in attendance at the Villanova and East Carolina games at Rentschler Field, had chances to head to the SEC or ACC but never wavered on his desire to play at UConn. Coming off a trip to the St. Petersburg Bowl, Herring is pretty fired up about UConn's potential moving forward.
"We are headed in a great direction coming off a season where we made a bowl game," Herring said. "The prior season we went 2-10 so it is all about progress. For us to be able to win four more games than we won the previous year under a second-year head coach, I think it is phenomenal and I only see us going forward.
"I feel like everything that he (UConn coach Bob Diaco) said to me was genuine. I believe he is going to be the same way when he was recruiting me to when I am there and that is what is important. A lot of coaches, they switch up a little bit. They try to make everything seem a lot easier and better when they are recruiting you but then they are very different when you are at the school."
When I spoke to Rose he mentioned how valuable the group chats with all the recruits have been in keeping the class together throughout the process. Herring feels like he already has formed a bond with the rest of the incoming freshman.
"When we went on our official there wasn't a dull moment," Herring said. "We knew enough about each other that we could talk about anything and not feel awkward. It felt like we all knew each other already and that is just amazing because a lot of kids, they never speak before they see each other at fall camp. It is more important to build a connection beyond just football, become friends with each other.
"There have been times when I have been on visits and you can just tell that some of the kids didn't like each other. It seems like nobody had a problem with each other and everybody loved each other. I think building a bond like a family with your teammates is very important."
Herring has an added advantage as his former Suffield Academy teammate Brice McAllister is a defensive back with the Huskies.
"He didn't really try to sway me to go to UConn," Herring said. "He was there for me and when I went up to visit I usually stayed with him, him being one of my best friends just made it that much easier to be comfortable. He didn't try to rush me with my decision, it was more of 'take your time, make sure it is place you want to go to and it is the best fit for you.' I feel like UConn was that."
Herring weighed 145 pounds when he first arrived in Suffield five years ago but his potential was evident even back then. Herring has shown remarkable growth as a player but also as a person.
"He is not an in your face type kid, he is a little more laid back and quiet but you saw his confidence grow in the time that he was here," Suffield Academy coach Drew Gamere said. "You saw the people kind of gravitate towards him as they do for any leader so that to me was the biggest growth. He was always a great kid, an outstanding family that was very involved from the start and normally that leads to great character
"For him what is special is he is a Hartford kid and he really had his mind set on UConn from the start so for him, this is kind of fulfilling a dream. He has worked really hard and earned everything that he has got."
Gamere has dealt with plenty of college recruiters in recent years and he said he is as impressed with how Diaco and his staff handles things as any other program.
"I am really impressed with their staff, very professional," Gamere said. "I know they are headed in the right direction and I think this year really showed it. We have Brice McAllister there now who is contributing, wants to do a little bit more but is contributing on special teams. He is extremely happy and confident in the coaches and direction of the program. Certainly my interaction with them have been all positive and I have been really impressed with them."
Speaking of Suffield Academy and recruiting, I had to ask Gamere about the reaction when Christian Wilkins not only made an impact as a freshman at Clemson, but had a huge catch on a fake punt in the national semifinal victory over Oklahoma. When it was revealed that the play call was titled "UConn" because Wilkins played in Connecticut it might have provided the most positive press from the national media than anything else football related in recent memory.
"My phone about blew up, it kept going and going," Gamere said. "We had watched Christian or kept an eye on him and knew he was doing a great job. Leading into that game, there was a lot of build up, a lot of people watching. It was certainly an exciting play. It didn't surprise any of us because it had been four years of doing some really remarkable things. I think I would have been surprised if he had dropped it but it was exciting."
I will have more on the recruiting class after the press conference with Diaco later on today at Rentschler Field. However, I figured I would provide links to blogs I wrote about Keyion Dixon
and Nino Leone
when I covered games that they played in during the season.
While 16 players signed with UConn, the class will be larger than that thanks to preferred walk-ons including Avon's Teddy Allmendinger and Valley Regional's Jack Giaconia.
Here are the players who signed with the Huskies this morning
Noel Brouse, defensive end
Tyler Coyle, safety
Keyion Dixon, receiver
Cam DeGeorge, offensive line
AJ Garson, linebacker
Ryan Gimartin, linebacker
Brett Graham, punter
Eddie Hahn, safety
Tahj Herring, cornerback
Nate Hopkins, running back
Nino Leone, offensive line
Jasen Rose, quarterback
Quayvon Skanes, receiver
Ja'Kevious Vickers, running back
Donovan Williams, quarterback
Nick Zecchino, long snapper