The Cream of the Crop

Christmas may have come and gone, but for Navy fans, the gifts just keep on coming. After a 10-4 finish in 2009, coach Niumatalolo and company are already building for the program's future, bringing in what many are calling the most star-studded recruiting classes in recent memory. On Tuesday, Navy added another star to the line-up, when MLB Vinnie Mauro pledged to attend the Naval Academy

"It feels really, really good," said Mauro when asked how he felt about becoming a future Midshipman. "Especially after my crazy recruiting process…my decision was unbelievably hard and I'm just glad that I figured it all out."

Mauro, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs in at 215-pounds, is widely believed to be one of the highest rated prospects to commit to play for Navy in the modern era. As's 26th rated Middle Linebacker prospect, he led Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas to two state titles and even a National Championship. With scholarship offers from schools like Wisconsin, Rutgers and Vanderbilt (as well as late interest from the University of Miami) Mauro could have taken his game anywhere in the country, but chose Navy for its strong academic programs and commitment to excellence – both on and off the field.

"I really did love Wisconsin but I knew Navy was the place for me when I got a chance to be around some of the guys and I really saw that I fit in there," Mauro said in an exclusive interview with "I spent a lot time with Tyler Simmons, Billy Yarborough, Kyle Delahooke, Shane Brothel, and Bobby Doyle… just being around them made me realize that Navy was the place for me."

Mauro had previously narrowed his college choices to the University of Wisconsin and the Naval Academy. He made the trek to Annapolis in November to watch Navy defeat Delaware, and returned again this past weekend to make one final visit before making his decision. He was particularly impressed with the attitudes of Navy's players, whom he praised for their strong character and work ethic.

"It's hard enough just to play Division 1 football but to add on all the other stuff that these guys handle day in and day out, it makes these guys the cream of the crop and that's what stood out the most to me."

It is this commitment to excellence – both in the classroom, on the field, and in life – which Mauro said ultimately set Navy apart from Wisconsin. The decision was not easy for the talented linebacker, but now that it is said and done he is glad to be a part of a truly special institution.

"If I went to UW I'm sure I'd have a great football career, would get a good education and I definitely would be around some great people. But at the Naval Academy, not only will I be able to have all of that, but I will be tested like never before. If I succeed I don't think there is anything I won't be able to do in my future."

While Navy's 10-4 finish to the 2009 season (capped off by a 35-13 trouncing of Missouri in the Texas Bowl) has been cited as a major attraction for many high school recruits of the class of 2010, Mauro maintained that Navy's on-field success over the last decade had little to do with his decision. Led by an unquenchable desire to stand amongst those he considers to be "the cream of the crop," Mauro explained that attending the Naval Academy has always been one of his dreams.

"The Naval Academy has just been a dream of mine for awhile," said Mauro, who led Aquinas to the state semi-finals while totaling 76.5 tackles (16.5 tfl) in 2009.
"My dad always told me about [the Academy], and since I was like two I wanted to fly F-14 fighter jets (I can't do that now but F-18s will do). Also, My best friend Clint Ramsden is a junior there now, so it's definitely been something I've wanted to do for awhile and football made [going to the Academy] a reality. Their season had a little to do with it, because the Naval Academy is much more than just football.

Not that Mauro isn't intent on helping to build upon Navy's recent run of success. In fact, he's already planning on adding to the still widening gap Navy has extended over rivals Army and Air Force.

"I'm ready to get after it and help them get even better. The golden age of Navy football is just beginning," said Mauro.

While a gifted athlete who displays outstanding read and recognition ability from his linebacker position, Mauro's greatest on-field asset may be his desire to compete and lead his team to victory. Much like his future head coach, Ken Niumatalolo, Mauro hates the very prospect of losing, and took Aquinas' upset loss in the state semifinals especially hard. Coupled with his recent commitment to Navy, the loss has given him all the more motivation to devote his offseason to preparing for the next level.

"I'm hitting the weights real hard," Mauro said. "I'm going to come in and be ready to compete; I can promise you that. If I'm not starting once I get there then I definitely will be running around on special teams…my goal is to get up to about 230-pounds and be looking mean and ready to get rolling."

Navy graduates both of their starting inside linebackers this season, as three-year starters Ross Pospisil and Tony Haberer move on. And while Mauro maintained that Navy's coaches have made no promises to him in terms of playing time as a plebe, he said that he is prepared to do anything and everything to help the team accomplish its goals in 2010.

[The coaches] have said that [the linebacker position] will be wide open and I'll have an opportunity to compete, but I'll do anything I can to help the team next year…I love how the run around. Toughness and heart is how they do it on defense and that's all me."

As if playing in his first season on the gridiron wasn't enough, Mauro has set his athletic goals at the Academy even farther. A gifted baseball player who hit over .300 for Aquinas last season, Mauro said he has been in contact with the Navy baseball staff and intends to explore the prospect of being a two-sport varsity athlete at the Academy.

"I'm playing baseball right now for school and it is a real possibility that I will play at Navy too," he said.

Firmly committed to the mission statement of the Naval Academy, Vinnie Mauro is ready to take his game (and life) to the next level. Upbeat and enthusiastic about a future amongst the young men he called "the cream of the crop" of America, his only request upon being interviewed was for a familiar, if not always poignant, phrase to be echoed.

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