Diaspora

How Canadian receiver Kevens Clercius learned English and hit stride with UConn football program – Torrington Register Citizen

UConn redshirt sophomore receiver Kevens Clercius had 20 receptions for 260 yards and three touchdowns last season.
UConn redshirt sophomore receiver Kevens Clercius had 20 receptions for 260 yards and three touchdowns last season.
STORRS — Between the time Kevens Clercius arrived at UConn and actually played football for the Huskies, he learned a new language, put two-plus years of coursework toward a sociology degree and hustled countless teammates on the players’ lounge pool table.
Clercius is a wide receiver out of École Secondaire Henri-Bourassa à Montréal-Nord, as many back home might say — or Henri-Bourassa High in Montreal North, where he was raised in a French-speaking household by Haitian immigrant parents in a diverse borough of Canada’s second-largest city.
Clercius redshirted the 2019 season and UConn canceled the 2020 season due to the pandemic. He debuted in 2021 and had 20 receptions for 260 yards and three touchdowns, one of a few young bright spots at his position as the Huskies finished 1-11.
“It’s a fresh start,” Clercius said Thursday after practice. “We don’t think about what happened last year. We focus on the future. With the mindset the team has right now, I think we can have a good team.”
Clercius’ student-athlete experience has hit full stride.
“When I first got here, I had the language barrier,” said Clercius, who has been fluent in French and Creole since he was a child. “I had to learn English and the new terms, football-wise. I used to never talk to people. Now I’m just comfortable. Even if I’m not perfect, I’m comfortable to ask my teammates, what does this mean? I’m good to ask them what they know.”
There is plenty for coach Jim Mora to sort out between spring practice, which concludes with the Blue/White game April 21 at Morrone Stadium, and the season opener Aug. 27 at Utah State. It isn’t clear who will be quarterback and it isn’t clear who will be the top targets, either. But there is an intriguing group of receivers who have already become familiar names despite being eligible to play well into the future.
Keelan Marion, a sophomore who was sidelined Thursday with a left leg injury, had 28 receptions for a team-high 474 yards and five touchdowns last season. Aaron Turner, also a sophomore, had 232 yards on a team-high 33 receptions last year.
Matt Drayton, a redshirt sophomore from Jacksonville, Fla., had 21 receptions for 278 yards and two touchdowns in 2019 and hasn’t played since, missing last season with a knee injury. Cam Ross, a redshirt sophomore from Newark, Del., had eight catches for 60 yards in just two games last season, missing the final 10 with a broken foot. He led UConn with 60 catches and 723 receiving yards in 2019.
Nigel Fitzgerald, a graduate transfer from Old Dominion who has battled injuries throughout his college career, has at least two years of eligibility remaining with the possibility for a third with an NCAA waiver. At 6 feet, 3 inches, and 218 pounds, Fitzgerald is the biggest player in the group. Clercius (6-2, 208) is next.
“I started with basketball and did track a little bit,” Clercius said. “But at one point, I joined a flag football team and I was really good. Then it was time to go to high school. My first year, I got blindsided for the first time and I got a concussion and I stopped. I was done with it.”
After about a year away, Clercius rededicated himself to football in 2014. That same year, when he was 14, his mother, Iclea, died unexpectedly.
“I pay tribute to my mom,” Clercius said. “Everything I’m doing now is kind of for her. She knew that I was playing football but she never saw me play. I know right now she is up there and she is seeing. … She wanted me to go to school and get a degree. And that’s what I did. I’m the first one in my family to be in college. So I’m proud of myself, and that’s why I think she’s proud of me.”
Coach Jim Mora did not meet the media Thursday because he lost his voice in practice, during which Clercius stood out on the first team.
“We’re gelling great as a group,” said Ross, who remains sidelined but will be fully cleared for preseason practice. “No egos, no pride. And skill-wise, this might be the best group we’ve had since I’ve been here. We’ve got to go show it, of course, but seeing what I’m seeing right now, we have pieces for everything.”
Clercius was part of Canada’s 2018 International Federation of American Football U-19 world championship team. Shortly after returning from the championship game victory over host Mexico, he attended a UConn camp and was offered a scholarship.
“I know the competition up there is not like it is down here and the fact that he’s making the plays that he is down here, I’m impressed,” Ross said. “He’s adjusted. He’s adjusted quickly. He’s adjusted great. As long as he keeps going, he’s going to be a big piece for us.”
Clercius’ mother met his father, Emile, in their native Haiti. He has two older brothers and a younger sister. Clercius has a car on campus and gets home three or four times a year to Montreal North, where his father works in a factory.
The neighborhood, Clercius said, is heavily Haitian, Hispanic and Arabic. He loves the diversity, and proximity. Downtown is a bus or train away and there is food everywhere: Haitian, poutine and Greek being his favorites.
Clercius took a level-one English class in high school but knew only a few phrases when he arrived at UConn in the summer of 2019. He spent that summer studying the language, in and out of the classroom — in the player’s lounge, even.
Who is the best pool player on the UConn football team?
“I would say me, of course,” he said laughing, “I also like to play Ping-Pong.”
Is Clercius, an avid pick-up basketball player, the best Ping-Pong player on the Huskies, too?
“I would say second-best,” he said.
Redshirt junior Steven Krajewski is better, Clercius said.
“That’s my guy,” Ross said of Clercius. “Relatively quiet dude. He doesn’t talk a lot. He just works. He’s made a lot of improvements since he got here, just growing as a player and as a person, as a friend.”
mike.anthony@hearstmediact.com; @ManthonyHearst
Mike focuses on feature writing for Hearst Connecticut Media with a concentration on UConn and college sports. He joined Hearst in Feb. 2021 after 21 years at the Hartford Courant, including three as the lead sports columnist. He has covered all three major UConn sports beats: men’s basketball (2005-11), women’s basketball (2017-18) and football (2016-18).

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