Friday, February 12, 2016

Hard work is rewarded for UConn's home-grown talent

About 10 years ago Sean Marinan and Nick Vitale were youth football teammates on the Cromwell Lions, brought together by a love for football and a quest to win a district championship.

Little did they know that their future endeavors would include taking the field for a UConn team which would play in the program's first bowl game since the 2011 Fiesta Bowl. Then, just a couple months after their junior seasons ended with a loss to Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl, they would two of four Connecticut products to earn scholarships

Marinan, a defensive lineman who had nine tackles as a redshirt junior, was the first to make the move from former walk-on when it was announced to the team on Jan. 18 by UConn coach Bob Diaco that he had received a scholarship.

"We had a conversation around the bowl time but nothing was set in stone, it was all up there," Marinan said. "We came to our first meeting, he had all of this stuff and at the end he gave me this really nice introduction and he said that. He started talking about me as a person, as a teammate and then he said my name and said 'we will be putting him on full scholarship.'

"It is amazing reward, I can't thank him enough."

Marinan, who has been honored for attaining a 4.0 grade-point average during a semester at UConn, has already earned his undergraduate degree in management information systems. He will have his graduate school paid for now that he is a scholarship athlete.

"It is a little bigger than that," Marinan said. "The money for school, it is great but my parents have
been helping me out so I can't thank them enough. It is a symbol to me that I am trusted by the coaches and that means the most."

On Monday Vitale, quarterback/kicker Will Rishell and running back Jason Thompson received the same reward for their team-first attitude and relentless work ethic when they also were given full scholarships.

"At the end of our winter conditioning, he explained the whole situation and said 'I am going to put all three of these guys on full scholly,'" said Vitale, a former Hand High star who originally went to Stony Brook. "The team went crazy. It means more to me and them because obviously we are from Connecticut, we love what we do and we love our state. We have such a small state, we take a lot of pride being from here.

It was pretty cool to experience it. They all lost it, they were all hugging me. I got the long hair so they were all rubbing it in and getting it all messy but it was great, definitely a great memory.
It was definitely a hard mountain to climb seeing how I went from full scholarship at Stony Brook University and I walked away from it, I came here and I knew I was going to have an uphill battle when I came here my sophomore year. Every single day I came here, I worked hard and didn't say a word the last four years and the hard work paid off."

Being to share that moment with Rishell, a Hebron native, and Thompson, a former Shelton High star running back, made things all the more special for Vitale, who took over as UConn's primary punt returner when Brian Lemelle was injured.

"They are just like me, they come every day and work hard, they don't say  a word and it really shows in the work ethic," Vitale said. "What really stood out to me was how they went about it after they received (the scholarship), it is just like any other day. They still came the next day, went to work and didn't say a word and to me that says a lot because I am that way as well."

I am working on a story that will appear on the Register's site later on today and will likely run in the paper on Monday.

One aspect of this story that will play out at a further date is that the addition of Marinan, Rishell, Thompson and Vitale puts UConn (according to my computations) at 88 scholarship players so I would expect there to be some attrition since the Huskies need to be at 85 players on scholarship by the time fall/summer camp starts in August.

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