Admission via scholarship to the highest level of college football remains all about measurables.
Height, weight, strength and speed are the reason undersized high school players with plenty of heart like St. Edward’s Mike Castoro are considered for Division II or III instead of the big time. When a recruiter can find someone with measurables who plays with heart, the restricted club’s doors swing open.
They opened Wednesday for South Elgin linebacker Nate Marotta, who at 6-3, 230 pounds, with athletic ability and leadership qualities, became a Dayton Flyer on national signing day.
Long ago Michigan State received a commitment from the Elgin area’s top Division I player, St. Charles North’s 6-6, 280-pound tackle Chase Gianacakos. And a handful of others inked their college papers, Wednesday, as well.
“I had a few other opportunities but found Dayton had a great campus and my visit with players and coaches with some awesome guys couldn’t have been better,” said Marotta, who committed in mid-January although he had been on Dayton’s radar since last year when former coach Dale Schabert helped establish a connection.
“[Storm first-year] Coach [Pat] Pistorio helped continue keeping in contact with them,” Marotta said. “It’s going to be great playing at the next level.”
Dayton is Division I, Football Championship Series, formerly Division I-AA. Coach Rick Chamberlin’s team is coming off a 7-4 season and has led the Pioneer League in scoring defense nine of the last 11 years.
Even with measurables, colleges have to project. Although Marotta was a linebacker who had 51 1/2 tackles, defensive coordinator Landon Fox and D-line coach Kevin McCoy slated him for defensive end.
“They’re going to get me into their weight room and I’m going to add some weight,” said Marotta, who was runner-up in the Upstate Eight Valley for defensive player of the year. “Coach McCoy said having my hand on the ground, with my speed, is going to open up new opportunities as a pass rusher.”
Marotta was a team captain who helped with the study table for younger Storm players.
“It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he’s also a captain in a few years at Dayton — he’s always been a leader on the field and in the classroom,” Pistorio said.
St. Charles East 6-5, 205-pound Brannon Barry (Illinois State), Huntley 6-2, 235-pound defensive lineman Brandon Dranka (North Dakota) and Jacobs quarterback Bret Mooney (Colgate) were the other area FCS recruits signing Wednesday.
Gianacakos’ teammate, 6-5, 245-pound tight end Garrrett Johnson (Ball State), was the only other area player signing with a Football Bowl Series school.
For Gianacakos, being a very big man on campus at East Lansing for coach Mark Dantonio’s 13-1 team probably won’t translate into immediate playing time.
“I think I’m going to redshirt,” said Gianacakos, who also considered Missouri, Illinois and Minnesota. “We’ll see, but I’m going to go in and work my butt off.
“I’m very blessed. Not everyone gets the opportunity to play at a top Division I school.”
Even when plans appear in place, the NCAA coaching carousel movement can cause possible Division I players to fall through the cracks. It might have happened to Huntley’s Dranka after he had been recruited by Southern Illinois, but defensive coordinator Kyle Schweigert left SIU to become head coach at North Dakota after last season.
“The first call the coaching staff made was to us to see if Brandon was interested in North Dakota.” Huntley coach John Hart said. “I think what really excites them as a staff is Brandon is really explosive off the ball.”