STORRS >> There’s not a player on the UConn football team who was more disappointed to see Saturday’s American Athletic Conference opener against South Florida called off than senior linebacker Vontae Diggs.

Diggs had worked diligently to return to the field quicker than originally anticipated after injuring his knee during preseason camp. After missing the season-opening win over Holy Cross, Diggs was set to return to the field against the Bulls.

“Last week I am cool, Thursday I am ready to rock,” Diggs said. “Practice went well, my knee feels good and we get the text (reporting that the game was cancelled) and I can’t say what (he was thinking). It was one of those things and I’m going through the process again. I am really an emotional guy, a hyper guy and I am ready to rock right now. We could play today, tomorrow, the next day and I am going to be ready to go. It is going to be exciting playing at an ACC school, it is going to be loud, the louder the better for me personally. I am ready to go and hit somebody other than my own team.”

Diggs, who was second on the team with 84 tackles as a junior, will be in the starting lineup when the Huskies play at Virginia on Saturday (noon, ESPN2).

When Diggs was injured, he was determined not to miss any games. The medical staff, however, had to help the senior from Downers Grove, Illinois set a more realistic time line.

Diggs was quick to credit the work of the athletic training staff to put him on course to return to the field so quickly after knee surgery.

Diggs, along with senior defensive end Luke Carrezola, are probably the two most naturally vocal players among the veterans on the defense, so his return to practice has been felt with not only the speed he plays at but also the leadership he provides.

“He is a real energetic guy,” said sophomore safety Marshe’ Terry, who could make his first career start against Virginia. “He brings a lot of energy, a lot of attitude, a lot of grit to the defense, that is the type of guy you need on the defense. Vontae, he is one of a kind guy there with all the energy he brings.”

UConn coach Randy Edsall has seen Diggs display that leadership and maturity since arriving for his second stint as the UConn head coach.

“I think he is well-respected among his teammates,” Edsall said. “I see a guy who has really matured and taken ahold of the leadership role that he has, I see a guy that is a tremendous worker, playing football and getting a degree is very important to him, winning is very important to him and he is going to try to do everything that he can to help his teammates and this program be successful. He is not afraid, in my opinion, to ruffle feathers if he needs to. I think you need guys like that on your team. He is not afraid to help other guys become better at his position. He is one of those guys who want the program to be successful. When he wasn’t out there, he was coaching up the younger guys at his position so they could get better. I am happy for him that he is going to have the opportunity to be able to get back out there this weekend and start playing because I know how important it is to him. You see the effort he put in to get himself back out there, those are the guys you root for, those are the kinds of guys you want to do well because of what they put into their program, what they put into their teammates.”

Diggs admits that he has matured since arriving in Storrs as a very confident defensive playmaker. He still recalls being put in his place in his first practice at UConn in full pads when former teammate Jalen Stevens planted him with a hit on a kickoff coverage drill.

“I came in rough around the edges,” Diggs said. “I am a big fish in a little pond like in high school, getting here I have the same mentality, I am the man.

“That (kickoff drill) was my first experience of I am no longer the best player here. From that to where I am not, I am more humble, I know who I am, I know what I can do and lets use that to my advantage. I am not as hot-headed, everybody who knows me knows I am very emotional, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I let my emotions get the better of me when I got here and now I can hold back, I can control myself. Sitting with (former UConn) Coach (Bob) Diaco for hours on end and having him teach me the game, how to take notes, how to look at film, how to read a key instead of just flying around. Especially in this defense when you have to ready your keys, have to be on point, if you are out of place it is the Bad News Bears for us. Coming from Coach Diaco to what his staff taught me to this staff, it is a great thing.”