Category Archives: Football

Central Struck Down

by Sean Begin

Heavy lightning flashed Saturday night at Arute Field but it didn’t come from the offense of the Blue Devil football team.

“We did a poor job preparing our players this week,” said head coach Pete Rossomando, after his team was shut out by the University of Albany 19-0 in a game delayed nearly two hours due to lightning.

“We didn’t do a good job helping them overcome a big victory and get focused and grounded. I knew it would be a problem,” he added.

Central came into the game having upset #7 Towson on the road last week, thanks in large part to a highly efficient performance from junior quarterback Nick SanGiacomo and a huge offensive game from senior running back Rob Hollomon.

Neither they nor the rest of the Blue Devil offense found any rhythm on Saturday night.

“The way we went out there and started the game and how we finished in it, that’s not Blue Devil football right there,” said SanGiacomo after the game. “We just weren’t clicking as a unit. We just couldn’t get it going. Can’t tell you why right now.”

Central (1-1) managed to keep the Great Danes (2-0) close for most of the first half, allowing only a field goal half way through the first quarter. But with 3:29 remaining in the second quarter, Albany broke through with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Will Fiacchi to Cole King.

The two connected again just over three minutes later on a 27-yard score with seven seconds left to play in the half giving Albany a 17-0 lead going into halftime: a halftime that almost never saw a restart.

As both teams were heading onto the field to start the second half, Arute Field’s lightning detection system tripped, prompting school officials to clear the stadium and delay the game indefinitely until the storm had passed.

“[The system] detects the potential for lightning in the area,” said athletic director Paul Schlickmann. “So even though you can’t really see it, it won’t give the all clear until it’s a safe distance away.

“It’s frustrating because you don’t necessarily see anything,” he added. “But you have to trust the integrity of this system and that’s why you have it.”

Officials gave themselves two hours to see if things would clear before making a decision whether to resume play or not. Doctors from both teams had warned of the danger to the athletes to resume playing after such a lengthy delay.

But at 9:23 officials were given the all clear from the system to resume play, an hour and 50 minutes after the delay started and right at the edge of their self-imposed deadline.

“We were about five minute away from [calling it off],” said Rossomando. “It was good to go out and finish it because our players need that.”

Neither offense managed any second half points with the only score coming on a safety after a high snap on a punt forced Central punter Ed Groth to boot the ball out of bounds in the end zone, avoiding a Great Dane defensive touchdown.

“I think it’s good the rain didn’t let us off the hook because you have to learn from something like this,” said Rossomando.

“You’re either going to go one of two ways. You’re either going to learn from it and go in a positive direction or you’re going to say, ‘It wasn’t my fault, it was somebody else’s fault,’ and you’re going to go in the other direction. So we’ll find out very quickly what our team is all about.”

“This is adversity at its finest right now,” said SanGiacomo. “We gotta see how we’re going to come back tomorrow. Hopefully it’s positive. It’s a tough one after today, especially not performing the way we did.”

“You’re going to have these types of games but you’ve got to be able to overcome them,” added Rossomando. “Just like coming back from a great victory you’ve got to come back from a crushing defeat. Hopefully, we can right the ship.”

Central will have that opportunity next Saturday on the road when they face Holy Cross.

Fantasy Reigns on Sunday

by Sean Begin

What were you doing Sunday?

Maybe you were nursing that hangover from Saturday’s party or waking up for your crappy early morning weekend shift.

There’s a good chance, though, you were one of the millions Americans who plopped down on their couch (or in my case, a desk chair) to watch the first full Sunday of the NFL season.

Yet a month ago if you had asked me if I was looking forward to upcoming season I would have laughed, probably sworn and said NOPE.

In 2010, the NFL changed the draft from a single, all-day meeting of owners to a three-day television event hosted in New York City and broadcast on the NFL’s bed partner, ESPN.

Then, in 2014, the league moved the draft from April to May (reportedly because the venue — Radio City Music Hall — was booked for an Easter show) with plans to keep it there.

This gave the league an “event” every month: the Super Bowl in February, the combine in April, draft in May, OTA’s in June followed by preseason, with free agency weaving in between it all.

After fighting for years to add two games to the schedule, Commissioner Roger Goodell had succeeded in turning the league with the shortest playing schedule into a year round story.

So by August, I had football fatigue. I was tired of seeing football plaster every major sports news site all the time. Then I got a text from my fantasy football league manager: “Draft aug 30.”

Oh crap. I’m looking forward to football again.

Fantasy football is an interesting phenomenon in American culture. Fantasy sports have been around since the 1950s, when people would pick golfers and receive a score based on their rounds. Winner was the fantasy player with the lowest combined score.

The 1960s saw a couple early baseball leagues pop up that used the previous season’s stats to pick teams. The first fantasy football league – the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators – drafted in 1963.

Modern “rotisserie” leagues (roto for short, hence sites like rotoworld.com and rotowire.com), which most fantasy leagues are based off of, emerged in the early 1980s.

The internet, though, helped launch fantasy into the economic stratosphere. Before leagues had been maintained by snail mail and hand calculations. As technology grew, it became easier to host a league and keep track of scores.

Fantasy football exploded soon after. With games generally only once a week, casual fans could draft a team and be involved without having to check on it every day.

In August 2013, Forbes published an article entitled “The $70 Billion Fantasy Football Market.” It’s a lot of postulation on the value of the time people put into their fantasy teams. But the article does state that fantasy football has exceeded to NFL in annual revenue.

So on August 30 I drafted my fantasy team once again. And on Sunday I sat down to watch nearly twelve hours of football. And I’m reminded of something Lewis Black once said.

“I’ve watched every Super Bowl because I have no religion. And I think it’s important for a man to have a ritual. And the Super Bowl is on once a year, on Sunday… so at least I’m trying.”

Let the season begin.

NFL Draft Prospect Comes Out

by Sean Begin

On Monday, former Missouri defensive end and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam came out publicly as an openly gay athlete. Needless to say, the news created a firestorm of conversation on social media sites.

Sam is projected to be a mid-round draft pick in the NFL draft in May, which if drafted would make him the first openly gay athlete to play a major American sport.

The announcement was met heavily with praise and celebration; from NFL owners to the SEC commissioner to fellow athletes both in the NFL and other sports.

Without a doubt, the outpouring of support for Sam has been a pleasure to see, as most news of this type is met by barbed tongues of anonymous Internet moral police.

But one group of individuals decided to make their voice heard, anonymously, through various NFL writers: the general managers and player personnel executives of the professional football teams, who make the decision regarding which players to draft.

“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” said an NFL player personnel assistant in an interview with Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated.

“In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”

Chemically imbalance a locker room? Really?

Maybe that player personnel assistant missed reading the fact that Sam came out to his entire Mizzou team in August, before the college football season started.

Maybe he missed the fact that an entire team of young adults, ranging in age from 18 to 24, managed to keep Sam’s admission quiet from the media so he could come out on his own terms.

Or maybe that assistant just happened to miss the fact that the entire team was supportive of Sam when he told them the truth of who he was.

“I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down [in the draft],” said a veteran NFL scout in the same story. “There’s no question about it. It’s human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote ‘break that barrier?'”

Maybe this scout is still stuck in the 1950s where being openly bigoted to anyone who wasn’t a straight white male was the norm.

“I am sorry to say where we are at this point in time, I think it’s going to affect most locker rooms. A lot of guys will be uncomfortable,”  said an anonymous GM in an article by Peter King on SI’s Monday Morning Quarterback NFL blog.

Well, too bad, I say, to those players “uncomfortable” with an openly gay player in the locker room. There are lots of players uncomfortable with amount of concussions and head trauma that lead to suicides in former players, but that’s not a “distraction” to a locker room.

The NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith summed up the anonymous reactions of these executives best.

“[W]hen you contrast a group of anonymous G.M.’s against a 24-year-old college player, it seems like only one of them had the guts to put his name behind his message,” Smith said in an interview with CSN Washington.

“So my first reaction has nothing to do with Michael Sam.  My reaction is to call those G.M.’s for what they are: They’re gutless. And if a young man has the courage to stand up and put his name and his face to talk about what he thinks is important, I would expect that a grown man can do exactly the same thing.  But apparently they can’t.”

The good thing is, plenty of high ranking NFL people (mostly owners and head coaches) came out in support of Sam.

New England Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft, Broncos executive vice president John Elway and Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, among others, came out in support of Sam as a potential member of their team, more importantly concerned with winning than the sexual orientation of one of their players.

In the hyper masculine world of the NFL, it’s not surprising a gay teammate could invoke some intense responses. But for executives to hide behind anonymity shows that if anyone isn’t ready for an openly gay NFL player, its them, not the players they sign to their teams’ rosters.

 

Football Signs 11 Recruits, More to Come

by Sean Begin

Last Wednesday, high school football players around the country signed their National Letter of Intent, committing themselves to programs around the country for at least the next three years.

Central Connecticut signed nine players on Wednesday, then penned in two more on Thursday, with more to follow sometime this week, according to head football Coach Pete Rossomando.

So far, the team has committed seven defensive players and four offensive players to the 2014 roster. Rossomando said the concentration of defense was a conscious decision on the part of him and assistant coach Alberto Cordero.

“We were really low on numbers at the corner position. We knew just from a sheer numbers point that we needed some guys at that position,” said Rossomando. “And then D-line was a huge point of emphasis for us, getting a couple really big guys in there that can help us defend the run.”

Defense was a weak point for the team season, ranking last in the Northeast Conference in total defense by allowing 396.9 total yards per game as well as 203.6 rushing yards per game. The team also struggled to force turnovers, with only 19 all season.

Of the seven defensive players committed to the Blue Devils, four will play in the secondary, adding depth to that position.

Derrick Stone Jr. is a six foot cornerback from Roxbury, MA who played at Loomis Chaffee High School. Khendell Puryear, William Hodge III and Johnathan Stackhouse are a trio of defensive backs from around New York state.

“We wanted to get a little bit more speed there,” said Rossomando of his aims in improving the secondary. “There are really three guys that play there right now. All three of those guys are pretty fast so we wanted to match their speed and get a little better. And we think we did that with those guys.”

The defensive line gets bigger with the addition of Douglas, a 6-foot-3-inch 310 pound defensive tackle from New Rochelle, N.Y. and Landon Reecher, a 6-foot-2-inch 280 pound tackle from Arnold, Md.

“[We wanted to add] not just big guys, but athletic guys that are going to move the line of scrimmage but are also going to get off and make plays. We think we found that,” said Rossomando.

Randall LaGuerre rounds out the defensive additions added to the team so far. LaGuerre is a 6-foot-2, 215 pound inside linebacker from Union, N.J., who should become a productive member of the defense.

“I think [he] is going to be exceptional,” said Rossomando of LaGuerre. “He probably needs to redshirt but I think he is eventually going to a great player.”

On offense, Rossomando added one player to each offensive skill position with no offensive lineman being signed as of now.

K.J. Smith, a local kid from Bristol, Conn., comes in as a tight end for the Blue Devils. Another Connecticut recruit, Kyle Jordan of Norwalk, adds some depth to the running back position behind last season’s NCAA FCS all-purpose leader Rob Hollomon. Wide receiver Joey Fields Jr. of Toms River, N.J. adds some speed to the Blue Devils and should be able to have an impact on the return game as well.

Quarterback Tavion “Tazz” Pauldo is Central’s most distant recruit geographically, hailing from Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Pauldo is a dual threat quarterback capable of complementing sophomore quarterback Nick SanGiacomo.

“Nick is going to be a little bit more limited running the football, but a little more in depth at throwing the football,” said Rossomando. “Whereas I think Tazz will be the opposite. He’ll start off being a really strong runner with the potential to be a very thrower.”

“He’s a lefty so it’s a little unorthodox, but he has the potential to be very good,” added Rossomando of  Pauldo.

Rossomando was extremely limited in the amount of time he had to recruit players and have them come visit campus, having been hired on Jan. 22, just two weeks before signing day.

“I got hired on a Wednesday. So we had had a recruiting meeting, Coach Cordero and myself on Saturday and we said we’re going to invite all these guys up on a Thursday and if we couldn’t get them Thursday we’d bring them up Friday,” said Rossomando.

Rossomando hosted two groups of players for overnight visits on both Thursday and Friday the following week after being recruited.

Rossomando had his time and experience at the University of New Haven going for him during this condensed recruiting period, having brought in several guys who he had made contact while coaching at UNH.

“Most of them were just guys we had looked at at New Haven and were told it’s not going to happen, this guys a Division I recruit,” explained Rossomando. “So when I got here I was like ‘Well, I’m at a Division I school so I’m going to go after the guy.’”

Several of the players recruited, including Douglas and Jordan, indicated that the hiring of Rossomando, as well as the new direction of Central football, convinced them to commit to the Blue Devils. Other players were convinced by their visit to campus.

In only two weeks, making contact with players and bringing them to campus for visits, Rossomando fields a well-rounded 2014 recruiting class that should add depth to several positions on both sides of the ball, with more late-signing recruits to come some time later this week.

NFL Executive Gives Back to Central Through Scholarship

By Sean Begin

Scott Pioli, former Central Connecticut student and current NFL executive, has long been involved with giving back to the alma mater that made him a first generation college student. Most recent is the scholarship he endowed the school with in his name in 2011.

“I absolutely love Central Connecticut ,” says Pioli by phone. “It was five of the best growing years and most enjoyable years of my life. I’ve always given back to the university and always will because I got so much from it and the people there.”

The scholarship is awarded through a $100,000 endowed fund  donated to Central by Pioli and is given in partnership with the nonprofit organization College for Every Student. Any CFES student who seeks to attend CCSU can apply for the scholarship.

CFES is, according to their website, “committed to raising the academic aspirations and performance of underserved youth.” They work closely with students who seek to become the first in their family to graduate from college, a mission that resonated with Pioli.

“Their [CFES] primary focus is with low income kids that are generally in tough socio-economic situations and first generation college students, so it spoke to me very personally,” says Pioli. “I was a first generation college student.”

“Part of the fabric of Central that I love is it’s a state school,” he adds. “And when I was there, there was a lot of first generation college students. For a lot of people it was their only shot, and it was affordable, relatively speaking.”

Pioli has long been involved with CFES, having served on their board of directors since 2004. As a board member, Pioli was primarily responsible for establishing the relationship between Central Connecticut, New Britain High School, and CFES, all while working to build four separate CFES schools in Kansas City and serving as general manager for the Chiefs.

“Certain high schools are designated CFES schools which then feed into the universities. The one school we work with is New Britain High School,” says Chris Galligan, Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Central Connecticut.

“We have a faculty member in the school of education that works very closely with that program. And then they feed into CCSU, into a lot of universities. But that’s how Scott envisioned it when he set it up.”

Galligan has direct oversight of not only the Scott Pioli Scholarship but all of the 200-300 privately administered scholarships that exist in the school’s scholarship foundation. Galligan ensures that the connection between the CFES students of New Britain High School and CCSU stays healthy.

“My primary role[with the scholarship] is to work with Scott on his fund and let him know how that’s going. He has some input and can then make some recommendations,” says Galligan.

While the scholarship is meant to serve CFES students first, if there are no applicants from CFES the scholarship reverts to the department of communications for students majoring in that area, the same degree Pioli received from Central.

Pioli has long given back to Central Connecticut in other ways before establishing this scholarship. According to Galligan, Pioli has guest lectured on campus and has given back to the football program that paid for his education by evaluating and trying out players as well as giving back monetarily.

“I was fortunate that football paid for my education. I’ve given money to the football program was well. But this was something I wanted to do outside of football,” Pioli says of his scholarship fund.

“He’s very passionate about this scholarship,’ says Galligan, “and very passionate about helping students regardless of whether they’re athletes or not. I don’t think that really factors into his thinking,”

Pioli ultimately believes the scholarship offers an opportunity to have an impact on all students, not just student-athletes, who need assistance and guidance to find the path to college. It is an opportunity to have a long lasting impact on the school and community that gave him his opportunity.

“This [scholarship] is something I’ve dreamed about doing and wanted to do, but I also wanted to do it in a significant way,” says Pioli. “I wanted to establish an endowed fund that was pretty significant; that would have staying power, hopefully over generations.”

Peyton Manning

Rooting for Manning is Easy but Justifiable

By: Sean Begin

On Sunday, the Denver Broncos will face the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII (that’s 48 for the Roman numeral challenged like me). The game is taking place at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, a decision that hasn’t exactly been met with much enthusiasm.

If you’re interested even a little in the Super Bowl, you know a cold weather game is basically a dumb idea. Let’s be honest, no one wants to play football in the freezing cold and snow. Just ask the Packers and Niners after their NFC Division game from Lambeau Field that had temperatures in the double digit negatives.

But that’s not what this column is about. The Super Bowl-is-going-to-be-cold story has been beaten to death. This column is about why I want the Broncos to win.

Sports writers are taught not pick sides in a game. We need to remain impartial and objective in our analysis of sport. But really, that’s a load. Sports is all about picking sides and rooting for someone. So since I’m not covering the game and don’t need to be impartial, I’m rooting for Denver.

Or, more specifically, I’m rooting for Peyton Manning.

Now, on the surface, this seems like an obvious and cliché decision. But when you consider again how he ended up in Denver combined with the season he had, it’s tough to want to root against him.

Following Manning’s lost 2011 season due to multiple neck surgeries, the Colts unceremoniously dumped him to the waiver wire to avoid having to pay him a $28 million signing bonus for 2012 and elected instead to draft Andrew Luck number one overall in the 2012 draft.

Thus began Manning’s westward odyssey to Colorado and the welcoming embrace of John Elway, who won two Super Bowls with the Broncos in the twilight of his career: a twilight that Manning is now intimately familiar with.

So there’s a nice bit of symmetry in Manning winning another Super Bowl in Denver at the tail end of a Hall of Fame career, just like the last guy who won a Super Bowl for Denver, who now serves as an executive in that same front office.

It’s a storyteller’s dream, essentially writing itself but no less amazing and no less worth respecting.

Then there’s the fact that Manning has struggled so mightily in the post season throughout his illustrious career. A clear Hall of Famer once he retires, Manning finally moved back to a .500 record in the postseason with his two victories this year, sitting at 11-11 headed into the Super Bowl.

The disparity between his regular season success and his postseason success is striking. But it makes this Super Bowl so much more meaningful, especially considering the record breaking season he had with that highly prolific offense, breaking Tom Brady’s single season touchdown record with 55 TDs.

It only seems appropriate that Manning cap off his best season as a quarterback with his second Super Bowl victory.

Not to mention, there’s only a couple more years of Manning the quarterback left before he becomes Manning the coach or Manning the broadcaster or whatever future in football Manning sees for himself once he hangs up his pads for good.

Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman and the Seahawks are a mightily good team, and will remain at the top of the NFL for some years to come. It’s not inconceivable that they see another Super Bowl run, maybe as soon as next season.

But this year, it’s hard to root against the legend of Peyton Manning.