HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – The University of Connecticut isn’t known as an NFL feeder school.

While the men’s basketball team boasts 14 first-round NBA selections, the Huskies have never had a football player chosen before the third round in the NFL draft.

That is expected to change on Saturday.

Three Huskies – running back Donald Brown, cornerback Darius Butler and offensive tackle Will Beatty- are among the nation’s top prospects. Any or all of them could go in the first round.

“It’s definitely a possibility,” said Brown. “That many, that soon? I’d be a little skeptical, but it’s a testament to Coach (Randy) Edsall and his staff and the good recruits they’re starting to bring in.”

Brown’s stock has risen quickly. A year ago, he was splitting time at tailback with Andre Dixon. But his offseason work ethic and an injury to Dixon last summer thrust Brown back to the top of the depth chart.

“Before the season started I said, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m going to work my tail off, I’m going to play my tail off and I’m going to put myself in the situation to have the option to forgo my senior year or to come back,” Brown said this week in a conference call with reporters.

A career-best 261 yards performance in the International Bowl capped a season that saw him lead the nation in rushing with 2,083 yards. He has been moving up draft boards ever since.

Butler played both corner and wide receiver his senior season, but missed the final three regular-season games after suffering a knee injury. Any questions about his health were erased when he ran the 40 in 4.46 seconds at the NFL combine, and in an unofficial time of 4.38 seconds at a workout for pro scouts at Connecticut last month.

That event was attended by officials from 21 NFL teams, including New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who said he was impressed by what he saw.

“What’s the highest they’ve ever had picked there? Third round?” Belichick said during a pre-draft news conference on Tuesday. “I’d say that one’s probably going to get shattered here this weekend. In the past, you haven’t gone to Connecticut looking for first-round, second-round type talent, and clearly there’s a couple guys that fall into that category there.”

Beatty, a 307-pound offensive tackle, is more likely to go in the second round than the first. But coming out of high school, he wasn’t even considered a Division I prospect by most schools.

During his pro-day workout he bench pressed 225 pounds 30 times. Beatty credits Edsall with transforming him into an NFL prospect.

“He takes kids and works with them from start to finish,” Beatty said that day. “He’s done a lot for me and because of some of the things I learned from him and the coaching staff, I’m going to be a lot better off in the future.”

A fourth Husky, defensive end Cody Brown, could go as high as the late second or early third round.

That would give UConn four players drafted higher than former Husky linebacker Alfred Fincher, who set the school mark by being taken in the third round in 2005.

“This is going to be the icing on the cake after being here 10 years knowing that we’re going to have guys taken on that first day, hopefully the first round,” Edsall said. “That’s something a lot of young kids look at, so now we can be a big player in that arena as well.”

AP-ES-04-24-09 1522EDT


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