Top Gun

The United States Naval Academy seldom goes toe-to-toe with schools like Wisconsin, Rutgers, and Stanford when it comes to football recruiting. It's even rarer that prep prospects choose Navy over multiple BCS conference scholarship offers, with many 17 and 18 year olds proving all too ready to pursue dreams of future NFL stardom rather than a life as a Midshipman.

St. Thomas Aquinas linebacker (FL) Vinnie Mauro is not one of those players. A high impact defender who at 6-foot-2, 215-pounds runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds, Mauro recently returned to the Sunshine State from the Naval Academy high school football camp. With scholarship offers from Navy and five other FBS programs already in hand, Mauro's trip to Annapolis was less about trying to get noticed and more about getting a sense for whether or not Navy would be a good fit for him both on the field and in the classroom. Fortunately for Navy's coaching staff, Mauro's left impressed.

"The Navy camp was good," reported Mauro. "I only went to the morning session, but I spent some time with [Navy linebacker coach Steve Johns] and coach Niumatalolo and it was real cool. They showed me around and everything and the camp was good."

Mauro - who also holds offers from Wisconsin, Stanford, and Rutgers (among others) – said that part of his camp experience was spent going over what his role would be in Navy's 3-4 defensive scheme should he decide to commit. The Florida linebacker plays in a similar defensive scheme for the Raiders, and finished last season with 53 solo tackles, including 12.5 tackles for a loss. Mauro was impressed with what he saw on film from Johns and the Navy defense, but said the most enjoyable part of his visit was the personal discussion he had with head coach Ken Niumatalolo.

"With coach Niumatalolo, he sat down with my family and we talked about everything that goes with making my decision," Mauro said. "Coach Niumat is really an awesome guy. He and the Naval Academy aren't putting any pressure on me to commit or anything and they are letting me make my decision. I think that's really special because a lot of the schools I am talking to want early commitments and they pressure me, but with coach Niumat he is very cool about the way he is letting me make my decision and letting me make the right decision. It's kind of special to me, just the way he is handling my recruitment."

Mauro spent only half of his weekend in Annapolis, with the Florida defender moving on from Navy on Saturday and heading to Piscataway, New Jersey for a one-day camp at Rutgers on Sunday. Recalling that the Rutgers camp was "awesome," Mauro nevertheless said he favors Navy over the Scarlet Knights at this point in his recruitment.

"Navy was obviously amazing, and Rutgers is nice too, but I think Navy is a little more of what I am looking for in a school."

Added Mauro: "My top three is probably Navy, Vanderbilt, and Wisconsin."

Mauro's interest in the Academy stems from a long and distinguished family history of service in various branches of the United States armed forces. Not only was Mauro's Father an officer in the United States Coast Guard, but much of his extended family has been involved in the military as well.

"My dad was actually in the United States Coast Guard, and my uncle is a commander in the Navy and works out of Norfolk, Virginia," explained Mauro. "My grandfather was in the Air Force and my other grandfather was a fighter pilot in World War Two, so I've got some background there."

The Florida linebacker said that the Academy's prestigious academic standing would play a major role in his final decision, which he hopes to make by mid-season. Noting that all the schools which have offered him scholarships have highly acclaimed academic programs, Mauro said that academics would play "one of" the most important roles in his decision about where to attend college.

"Football is great and it can take you a lot of places, but eventually it is going to end and then you need something to fall back on. The Naval Academy, Vanderbilt, Stanford, Wisconsin…anyplace like that would be perfect for me because of the academics. I am really blessed that half of those schools are interested in me because going to the NFL would be awesome, but it's not my ultimate goal. If it's possible that would be great but I want to look at school for more than just football and I want to start my life off right."

Mauro went on to say that Navy not only offers the opportunity to earn a degree with meaning, but also the guarantee of immediate post-graduate employment. That the kinds of jobs the Navy offers are among "the coolest" jobs offered anywhere in the world just happen to be an added bonus.

"What I think is most special is the fact that Navy is a job opportunity in itself. I can fall back on a great education and do some of the coolest work in the word."

Mauro said that he is already looking forward to a naval career, and mentioned the opportunity of becoming a Naval Aviator as an ideal scenario for himself after graduation.

"If I could be a pilot that would be a dream come true and that would be incredible. I think that is the coolest job anybody do, and to think that I could do that and play football? I don't think there could be any place better for me than the Naval Academy."

While Mauro clearly favors the Academy at this point, the one remaining wildcard in his recruitment figures to be the role of the Stanford Cardinal. Mauro is very high on Stanford, which currently has the fifth ranked recruiting class in the FBS according to While Stanford has yet to offer Mauro, the Florida linebacker speculated that an impending offer would likely throw a wrench into his top schools list.

"Stanford hasn't offered yet, but if they do then they'll be in my top three. If they don't offer I will understand, but if they do then it will defiantly throw a curveball into my decision because they are an awesome school and it would be an awesome opportunity to go to Stanford."

Even if Stanford offers, it will be hard for the Cardinal to usurp the Midshipmen for Mauro's future services. Aside from his family's military background and the draw of Navy's academic programs, Mauro said that the chance to join a distinguished linebacker tradition will be hard to pass up.

"[Navy] has that guy Ross Pospisil, and also Tony Haberer," said Mauro in reference to Navy's starting inside linebackers. "I have been following those guys and it would just be amazing to be mentioned with those guys. It's really big-time football. People often tell me ‘why do you want to go to Navy' and all of that kind of stuff, but it is a better football school than people think and I realize that.

Added Mauro: "These guys right now are just brining it to a completely different level and I hope to be a part of that and prove a lot of people wrong."

With offers from Florida International and Marshall to go along with his offer from Navy and the four BCS conference schools, Mauro expects his recruitment to heat up as the summer continues. He already has a visit to Vanderbilt scheduled for later this summer, and still hopes to visit Stanford before going back to school in August.

For now though, Mauro continues to favor Navy. And with the opportunity to live out his dream of becoming a naval aviator no longer just a vision in the clouds, Mauro is one highly touted prep prospect who Navy fans could be hearing a lot more from in the coming months.

Stay tuned to this summer for all the latest news on the recruitment of Florida linebacker Vinnie Mauro. Adam Nettina can be contacted at AdamNettina[at] Top Stories