Sunday, September 20, 2015

UConn commit Nino Leone impresses in season debut

If Nino Leone needed any extra motivation for the first game of his senior season at the Pingree School, his trusty phone took care of that.

No, there were no inspiration tunes that he used to get his competitive juices flowing. Instead, it was the images from yesterday's UConn/Missouri game courtesy of the Watch ESPN app on his phone that got Leone all fired up.

"I was watching on the bus ride here, they are always exciting to watch," Leone said. "A lot of people said it was going to be a blowout and they kept it (close) all the way through the game and fought to the end, I loved it."

The 6-foot-5, 335-pound Leone is the only lineman among the eight current commitments in the Class of 2016. He is still focused on his senior season at Pingree but the opportunity to continue his football career at UConn is something special for Leone.

"Oh my God, I have no words," Leone said. "That is something I have always looked forward to. It was always a question of mine when I going into high school but now that it is actually happening, I just know it is the next step higher so I have to work harder and harder.

"They came recruiting hard for me and every player loves to see that. I see what they are doing, they are rebuilding the program, the new coach and the way they set up their offense and that is something I really want to be a part of."

Starting offensive tackles Andreas Knappe and Richard Levy will be seniors when Leone gets to UConn and starting offensive guard Tyler Samra will be gone. Leone could join a group of promising offensive line prospects including Matt Peart, Trey Rutherford and Steve Hashemi when he gets to UConn.

"Any kid going in as a freshman is excited, you just want to make sure you have the right step to take," Leone said. "You don't want to go in too early, I want to be prepared going into that position."

Leone's Pingree team opened the season with a tough 34-20 loss at Hamden Hall last night. He started at defensive tackle and on the first play of the game he displayed his speed and tenacity by chasing down a Hamden Hall runner down the line. He also started at left offensive tackle helping quarterback Griffin Beal run for 199 yards and pass for another 176. I had Leone with six tackles including three tackles for loss.

The Hamden Hall/Pingree series has developed into one of the most action-packed ones in New England. In 2013 and 2014 the outcome was not decided until the final play of the game. Pingree won 53-48 at Hamden Hall in 2013 and Hamden Hall won 24-19 last season in South Hamilton, Mass.

"This is the kind of game that I look forward to," Leone said. "Our first game coming here was actually that home game and I would say that was the most memorable game I've ever played. It came down to the last three seconds around the goal line and these guys always come out to play. I know personally some players on the team so it is always great competition, I love talking to the guys."

Pingree raced out to a 13-0 lead as senior receiver Justin Assad caught a 28-yard touchdown pass and recovered a fumble in the end zone. Hamden Hall junior receiver Corey Millhouse (who is starting to hear from some powerhouse college programs) returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown, had a 63-yard touchdown reception and returned an interception 67 yards for a score to lead Hamden Hall to the win.

"I give them so much credit, they really fought back," Leone said. "We came out really strong, we were feeling confident and they didn't let down. That is the greatest thing about those guys, they keep it going and they don't slow down."



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