DeFilippo Embraces Adversity

Every season BCI likes to write an article about a player that decided to take the toughest road in college athletics, that of being a walk-on. This year Bearcat Insider focuses on junior Nick DeFilippo.

Being offered a college scholarship has to be an exciting moment for any high school athlete, but what happens when the head coach offering the scholarship gets fired?  Nick DeFilippo, hardly a recognizable name for many UC football fans, can talk first hand about that situation since it happened to him.  "Coach Rick Minter recruited me to come here, and I was actually offered a scholarship.  He ended up leaving, and the scholarship was taken away.  I had already applied here and was accepted so I decided to come here anyway since I was somewhat promised that I could earn my scholarship."


The London High School all-state performer had other options but wanted to play at a high profile school.  "Almost all the MAC schools recruited me, and I had some IAA offers.  I also went on visits to Louisville and West Virginia although neither offered, but some of the MAC schools did make offers.  I really wanted something bigger and better than that, and I have no regrets because that's where we're headed at Cincinnati."


All scholarships are actually one year deals that are almost always renewed for the length of a player's career at the school, but that is not the case for walk-ons as Nick states.  "I did earn a scholarship, but it was taken away this spring.  But I can earn it again if I prove myself to this coaching staff."  DeFilippo certainly has no problem proving himself.  He proved himself to Coach Minter, earned a scholarship from Coach Dantonio, and is well on his way to earning a scholarship from Coach Kelly this summer.


Nick freely admits that his college career has been full of adversity, but few 21-year-olds have his mature outlook on life.  "Losing the scholarships has been disappointing, but life is full of adversity, and this is just college football.  I didn't get too down about it and decided if I could fight through this, I could fight through anything in life.  So far I think things are working out."


Coach Minter recruited Nick as a linebacker, which was no surprise since DeFilippo recorded 250 tackles in his high school career.  He's also played some defensive end for Coach Dantonio, but the redshirt junior won't be playing on defense when practice begins next Thursday.  Coach Kelly and his staff moved Nick to tight end last spring, and Nick is excited.  "I like the move.  My freshman year here they moved me from linebacker to tight end, and I played there my entire junior year of high school so it's not new.  But it was tough in the spring trying to learn the entire system in two weeks.  This summer has helped because we've been running our plays in 7 on 7 workouts."  No coaches can be present for summer workouts so players conduct the practices themselves. 


Despite all the position moves and coaching changes, DeFilippo is optimistic about the future of the program and believes it has never been in better hands.  "Since the arrival of Coach Kelly, I've seen the biggest improvement in me and the team in the last six months.  Nothing against the old coaching staff and Coach Dantonio, but the things we're doing now are helping us improve so much more."


One guy that gets a lot of credit for the offseason improvement is strength and conditioning coach, Paul Longo.  "I originally came here at 225 pounds and got up to 245 pounds when I moved to defensive end.  Right now I'm at 240, my body fat is the lowest it's ever been and I feel the strongest I've ever felt.  My strength has increased more in the past six months than the rest of the time I've been here."


Nick always brings a great deal of enthusiasm to practice and on special teams.  He explained the reason for his great motor and even made a prediction.  "I love playing football, and it's always been a dream of mine to play on the Division I level no matter where I went.  I also love playing with my friends in front of nationally televised audiences against powers like Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers.  Next is us."


As far as Nick's concerned, circumstances took away his scholarship more than any other factor.  "I had a one year (scholarship) promise from Coach Dantonio, and it was up to Coach Kelly to decide to use it for recruiting or for me.  He didn't know me very well, but I think it would be safe to say that if he knew me then like he knows me now, I'd still have it."  Although nothing is official at this time, Nick has put himself in a good position with the new staff to regain his scholarship when school starts in September.


In past games, Nick has contributed entirely on special teams, but he's not limiting himself to that this season.  "Camp starts in a week, and I have high expectations.  We have Connor (Barwin) and Ernie (Jackson) and Doug Jones, but I've gotten 100% better since spring, and I think the coaches are going to be surprised by what I can do.  I'm not expecting to start right away, but that's a goal.  I do what to be on the 2 deep (depth chart) when we break camp, and I think I can do that."


Not surprising, Nick presently lives with several football players and most were once walk-ons.  "I live with Evan Sparks (walk-on), Ryan Manalac (walk-on), Kevin McCullough (walk-on), Kevin Huber (walk-on), Jon Tobin, Jon Newton and Haruki Nakamura.  Manalac and Huber are now scholarship players, and Sparks will likely be awarded a scholarship with Nick before fall quarter.  Of course, McCullough has graduated after being the poster child for walk-ons at UC after being named 1-st team All-Big East last season.  There are eight bedrooms and two refrigerators with few, if any, rules.  "Both refrigerators are packed full of food, and we don't put our name on anything.  If we did, it'd be gone anyway."


DeFilippo is used to things disappearing, and over the years at UC, he's lost a lot more than just a little food.  But oh, he's gained so much more.  He's gained the respect of his teammates and three coaching staffs.  He's developed a champion's attitude about life, and to a much lesser degree, he's won the admiration of one writer at Bearcat Insider.       

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