By VINCE PELUSO — email@example.com
While many players from Ashtabula County go on to play college football, not all last for four seasons.
Like many areas of the state of Ohio, players who shine in high school don’t always shine at the next level when playing on a field with 21 other players who also shined in their respective areas. Not to mention, the demands of getting a college education in addition to the extra demands that college athletics place on 18-year-old kids.
With that in mind, one of the best examples of an Ashtabula County football player going on to success in college is former Lakeside offensive lineman Anthony Colucci.
A 2010 graduate of Lakeside, Colucci has started 20-consecutive games on the offensive line at Capital University in Columbus.
“It’s been going great, it’s been a fun experience so far,” Colucci said. “I’m a junior going into my senior year starting 20-straight games. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Capital, part of one of the toughest small college conferences in the country — the Ohio Athletic Conference which features teams such as Mount Union, John Carroll and Baldwin Wallace — is going through a difficult stretch as team, coming off a 2-8 season and will welcome a new coach this season, Craig Candeto, a former standout at the Naval Academy.
The 2-8 season is Capital’s first losing season in 12 years so the change is something exciting for Colucci.
“We definitely needed some change,” he said. “We’ve been the worst we’ve been in a long time. So Coach Candeto is from the Citadel, he played at the Naval Academy, it’ll be exciting for me.”
When Capital was in search for a new coach, Colucci went to the administration and requested that the players be given an opportunity to talk to potential coaching candidates.
Showing the level of trust Capital has in the lineman, Colucci’s request was granted.
“When we made the transformation to a new coach I wanted to see if I could get involved in the process and talk to the coaches,” he said. “It was a pretty interesting. I got to meet the top three candidates and it was a really cool experience. I made the suggestion that we be allowed to meet them and they allowed us to come to talk to them.
“I felt that I definitely wanted to make sure the team had a little bit of input in the decision.”
Coaching changes are nothing new to Colucci, he went through it three times while at Lakeside.
While a coaching change leading into a senior year can often be difficult, it worked well for the former two-time Ashtabula County Lineman of the Year when he was at Lakeside and coach Bill Lipps was given the job in July of his senior season.
“I think it’s going to be good, I went though it three times in high school and then when I was a senior with Coach Lipps,” he said. “He ended up being an extreme influence on me and really helped me when he took over my senior year at kind of the last second. He stepped in and I appreciated it and we really built a relationship.”
That coaching change actually helped Colucci get ready for what was waiting for him at Capital.
“Coach Lipps really prepared me for it because college is a whole different playing field,” he said. “Everyone is out there giving 100 percent all the time to the maximum ability. No one is out there just to be a part of the team. We’re all out there to get playing time and win.”
Playing in the difficult Premier Athletic conference also helped Colucci for what awaited him in the OAC.
“I think that kind of level of competition week in and week out, it translates to college,” he said. “You have to bring you A game and the PAC is a lot like the OAC. A lot of people call the OAC one of the toughest conferences in college.
“Every year, there’s no game that you can look at on the schedule and say, ‘that’s a win.’ Every single game you have to fight as hard as you can.”
With the winds of change blowing into Capital in the form of a new coach, it also will bring along another challenge for Colucci — a new offense.
The Crusaders will be switching from the pass heavy spread offense to the run-dominant, triple-option, which Candeto is quite familiar with from his time at Navy.
“We’re going to that triple-option, I’ve never run the triple-option, so it should be interesting,” he said. “I’m interested to see how it works. In the past, it’s been a lot of pass blocking, now it’s going to be 80-85 percent run so that’s a big transition for me.”
Last year, Colucci transitioned from right guard back to left guard, where he played in high school. Colucci said that was his preferred side and hopes that being back to his more comfortable side will make the offensive change easier.
“I played left all through high school so that was good,” he said. “I’m not really sure what to expect from the offense, though. I’m going to watch Navy in their bowl game to see what I see because I really don’t know what to expect. I’ll be prepared for it though.”
As far as his roots are concerned, Colucci hasn’t been able to come back to the county for a game because he’s always playing on Saturdays, but he still keeps tabs on his hometown.
He said he’s disappointed he doesn’t see more Ashtabula County players going on to having successful college careers, though.
“It’s a shame that not many have gotten to where I’m at as far as being a starter in college,” he said. “College is just a whole other world. You can be the top player on the team and you can win some awards, but your freshman yearm you’re almost a nobody because everyone else won the same award or went to a better school. It’s kind of a shock, honestly.
“You just have to fight through that your freshman year and train yourself to be on that same level. A lot of it is mental training, really. But for me, I think I kind of expected it because Coach Lipps did a good job preparing me for it.”
The nursing major said in addition to Lipps, his parents Tony and Wendy, have been an incredibly strong and helpful influence on him during his time at Capital.
“My parents have been great, they’re at every game, every function,” he said. “Being down in Columbus, it’s a three-hour drive, and they make it every Saturday. They come to away games. My mom is always bring me back food and stuff. I couldn’t be as successful without their support.”
As he looks to help the Crusaders get back to their winning ways, Colucci, who said he is interested in getting into coaching after his playing days are done, said he’ll be working to improve his speed and strength this offseason.
“I’m be working to get faster and stronger, especially playing the schedule we do,” he said. “Being able to be physically strong is a big key. On top of that, I’ll hopefully be building a relationship with the coach and the new assistant coaches. I’m excited to get things rolling.”