October 24, 2013

Acevedo returns to Utica, redeems himself

More news about: Utica
Anthony Acevedo's return, and his 127 receiving yards per game, have helped stabilize a Utica offense which lost its all-time leading passer.
Utica athletics photo

Anthony Acevedo's head was full of thoughts and he couldn't escape them.

As he drove that Saturday night, he flipped on the radio, hoping to drown them out with music, sports talk, whatever was on.

Instead, he found the live broadcast from the one place he wished he was -- the Utica football team's home opener against St. Lawrence. But Acevedo, even if still a Pioneer at heart, but was no longer a Pioneer on paper. On Sept. 1, 2012, as he listened to his teammates for the previous two years take the field at Charles A. Gaetano Stadium, it hit him how much he had let everyone down, himself included.

"Hearing all my friends' names on the radio without me being out there," Acevedo said, "it disturbed me, I'm not going to lie. That night I went down in the weight room, while the game was still going on actually, and that's when I started lifting, and I didn't stop lifting until I was back on the field."

This story has a happy ending. Acevedo did make it back on the field for the Pioneers this season, and is having one of the finest campaigns of any receiver in the country. But it was long, often painful road for Acevedo.

"Everyone's path is different," Utica coach Blaise Faggiano said. "Sometimes people have to learn a hard lesson."

Acevedo took a year off from school -- the spring and fall semesters in 2012 -- because of academic problems. The grades were too low, the class absences were too high and, come last spring, Acevedo was no longer eligible to play football.

Acevedo soon found himself back at home in New Hartford, N.Y., working for a landscaping company, instead of gaining knowledge in college classes and catching passes from then-senior quarterback Andrew Benkwitt on Saturdays in the fall.

"It really made me sit back and evaluate what was important, not just only on the football field, but in the classroom and what I wanted to do after school is over," Acevedo said.

All the while, Acevedo remained in contact with Faggiano. The two have had a strong relationship ever since Faggiano paid a personal visit to Acevedo during his high school recruitment. Acevedo was convinced Faggiano truly cared about him then, and that sentiment only grew as Faggiano kept tabs on him during his time away from Utica.

Of course, it wasn't Faggiano that Acevedo had to convince he could succeed at Utica -- it was the school's administration. Acevedo wrote a number of emails to the necessary administrators last winter, explaining why he deserved a second chance. Instead of enrolling in a local community college, Acevedo held out for Utica, stressing to the school's academic brass that the private school of 2,100 undergraduates was the perfect spot for him.

He was eventually re-admitted to the school for the spring semester in 2013. Acevedo also took a required class this past summer.

Acevedo, a public relations major with a concentration in sports communications, now finds himself in good academic standing, though he still wishes he handled the adversity differently.

"When I was going through this particular stage in my life, I didn't really come and talk to the coaches and let them know what exactly was going on," Acevedo said. "I kind of avoided them, I kind of avoided all types of adversity, and that's something I would tell a younger brother or someone going through this, to use your resources."

On the football field, the 6-2, 215-pound Acevedo came back more refined as a blocker and added 15 pounds of muscle. Faggiano said he's developed into the Pioneers' best blocking wide receiver, and his work in the weight room and as a team leader has been exemplary.

"We fully expected that he'd have a big impact on the offense," Faggiano said. "It's no surprise to us. ... Anthony always had skills [but] now he's becoming a talented player."

Acevedo's individual statistics are impressive, if not spectacular. He ranks sixth nationally in receiving yards (762), seventh in receiving yards per game (127) and seventh in receptions per game (8.8). Acevedo also already ranks second in program history in receiving yards (2,291) and receiving touchdowns (15), and third in receptions (158). He figures to easily break all three records held by Jeremy Meier before he finishes his career.

And yet, the individual accolades don't thrill Acevedo like the team success. He'd still rather have an Empire 8 title or Stagg Bowl trophy instead of an All-America honor. 

Acevedo said he wouldn't change anything about his journey, and hopes he can serve as a cautionary tale for other student-athletes facing similar problems. There's no arguing that Acevedo has made the most out of his second chance. 

"It's a we-over-me mindset," Acevedo said. "I'm doing everything in my power to help my team out, not doing things for myself."

Salisbury takes control of Empire 8

No team can clinch its conference title in the third week of October. But Salisbury certainly has to like its chances of a third straight Empire 8 crown after its 42-35 win against St. John Fisher.

The win wasn't easy. Both Salisbury and St. John Fisher traded scores for four quarters, putting together the heavyweight battle that most expected. But Joey Jones' 15-yard touchdown run -- his fourth of the game -- with 1:15 left in regulation clinched the win for the Sea Gulls.

Salisbury had a nice showing on the ground, an area where it’s struggled to find consistency this season. The Sea Gulls rushed for 451 yards on 66 attempts for an average of nearly seven yards per carry. All six of the team's touchdowns came on the ground.

St. John Fisher was nearly as successful through the air. Tyler Fenti passed for 311 yards and four TDs -- all four to Kevin Francis -- though he was intercepted twice by Salisbury.

The win helps Salisbury more than it hurts St. John Fisher. After losing its first two games of the season, Salisbury has rattled off four straight wins, including three straight in the Empire 8. If Salisbury wins out, it will win the Empire 8, regardless of what any other team does.

The loss was the first for Fisher, which fell to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in conference. If St. John Fisher wins out, it will almost certainly earn a Pool C bid. Even an 8-2 season with the strong wins Fisher has might be enough to get them in.

At this point, Salisbury is still the class of the Empire 8, but St. John Fisher showed it’s not too far behind.

Rowan upsets ranked Wesley

It hasn't been easy to figure out Rowan this season. The Profs have solid wins (see Framingham State) and disappointing losses (see Morrisville State).

But the high point, without question, came this past Saturday, when Rowan knocked off then-No. 11 Wesley, one of the premier Division III programs in the country.

Bill McCarty connected with Frankie Goris on the go-ahead, 71-yard touchdown with just over three minutes remaining in regulation. Anthony Verilli's interception in the end zone with 14 seconds remaining ended Rowan's last drive and sealed the win.

Rowan leaned heavily on sophomore Withler Marcelin, who rushed for 163 yards on 24 carries. Defensively, Rowan hounded Wesley quarterback Joe Callahan all game, forcing four interceptions, including two by Dominic Caruso.

The impressive win comes just one week after Rowan suffered a 41-21 loss to Morrisville State, a team it defeated 47-0 in 2012. Times change, obviously, and Morrisville State is on the upswing, but the loss was surprising for an established contender like Rowan. A win over Wesley certainly swings momentum back in the Profs' favor.

Rowan remains in the thick of the crowded NJAC race, and still figures to be one of the teams vying for the conference title at the end of the season.

Good luck figuring out the MAC

With only four weeks left in the regular season, just one game separates the MAC's top team from the No. 6 team. A lot can change in a month, but it's safe to bet on the MAC race coming down to the final week.

Delaware Valley, Lebanon Valley, Lycoming and Widener all sit at 4-1 in the conference, while Albright and King's sit one game back at 3-2. Del Val, Widener and Albright all posted double-digit victories over FDU-Florham, Misericordia and Wilkes, respectively, this past weekend.

Each of these top six teams in the conference still has at least two games left against the other five teams. Delaware Valley is, arguably, in the best shape -- it faces Lebanon Valley and Widener both at home.

Lycoming, which defeated Delaware Valley and Widener but lost to Lebanon Valley, has the easiest remaining schedule. Widener has to go on the road to play Albright and Delaware Valley, but it already has a win in hand against Lebanon Valley.

The simple truth is this -- the MAC is really, really close. And it will make for an entertaining -- or stressful, if you're personally invested -- final month of action.

Quick hits

Tom Dempsey connected with Jared Prugar on a three-yard touchdown -- his third TD toss in the game -- in the final minutes to help Ithaca defeat Utica, 26-21, in a key Empire 8 game. Mike Vulcano had two of Ithaca's four interceptions of Utica quarterback Connor Butkiewicz. ... Chris Spellman passed for 190 yards and three touchdowns as TCNJ edged Morrisville State, 21-20. Nick Bricker finished with a game-high 19 tackles for TCNJ, which improved to 3-0 in NJAC play. ... Tyler Johnson passed for 283 yards and three touchdowns, Austin Dwyer rushed for 85 yards and two TDs, and Alfred's defense forced four turnovers in a 49-28 win over Hartwick. John Garcia tossed four touchdown passes in the loss for the Hawks. ... Wayne Bonsell passed for 315 yards and five touchdowns, and despite four interceptions, led Brockport State to a 49-32 victory against Cortland State. ... Myles Allen rushed for 135 yards and Dean Kennedy added 112 yards and two TDs on the ground in Rochester's 37-31 victory over RPI. ... Ryan Gresik passed for 182 yards and three touchdowns as William Paterson defeated Kean, 21-20. The Cougars dropped to a disappointing 1-5 overall. ... Casey Kacz passed for 203 yards, rushed for 43 yards and accounted for seven total touchdowns in Buffalo State's 60-28 rout of Frostburg State. Antonio Wood caught six passes for 133 yards and two of Kacz's TDs, as the Bengals piled up 505 total yards of offense. ... King's forced three turnovers, including a 20-yard fumble return for a TD by Ron Garrett, in its 31-24 win over Stevenson. ... Darnel Thomas rushed for 165 yards and three scores in Union's 33-30 loss to Western New England in overtime.

Top 25: Salisbury breaks into rankings

Salisbury came in at No. 24 in this week's D3football.com top 25 poll, its first appearance in the top 25 since the preseason poll.

St. John Fisher slipped from No. 19 to No. 25, while idle Hobart held steady at No. 6.

Rowan, Delaware Valley, Lebanon Valley and Ithaca each received votes.

Looking ahead

No. 25 St. John Fisher (5-1, 2-1) at Ithaca (5-1, 3-1), 1 p.m., Saturday: St. John Fisher is coming off a close loss to Salisbury, but it faces a team it has dominated in recent years. Ithaca hasn't beaten Fisher since 2005.

TCNJ (4-2, 3-0) at Cortland State (3-3, 3-1), 1 p.m., Saturday: TCNJ leads the NJAC in late October, a surprise considering preseason expectations. Still, the Lions face a tough task in this road game against Cortland State.

Merchant Marine (3-1, 0-1) at WPI (2-4, 0-1), 3 p.m., Saturday: This game is less about the records, and more about the meaning. After nearly a month off because the government shutdown, Merchant Marine finally returns to the field.

Other games of note: Union (2-4, 2-1) at Rochester (4-2, 2-1), 12:05 p.m., Saturday; Albright (4-2, 3-2) at Lycoming (4-2, 4-1), 1:30 p.m., Saturday; No. 24 Salisbury (4-2, 3-0) at Hartwick (4-2, 1-2), 2 p.m., Saturday

Contact me

I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me by email at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com and follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell).

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