Vernaglia Bouncing Back From Injury

Safety Anthony Vernaglia's freshman season never really got underway. The Anaheim Hill, Calif. native reported to Notre Dame with an injury, and the 6-3, 222-pound Vernaglia had to sit on the sidelines for the entire season. Vernaglia says he's had enough of sitting, and he's looking forward to spring practice to show the new coaches what he can do on the field.

When Anthony Vernaglia reported to Notre Dame in the fall of 2004, many Irish fans thought it wouldn't be long before seeing Vernaglia roaming the field from an outside linebacker position. However, the athletic freshman continues to line up at safety, and that's a testament to how well Vernaglia must run.

"I'm excited playing safety," Vernaglia said after Wednesday's practice. "I'd love to play linebacker, whatever, I'm just trying to get on the field. But I'm kind of glad I'm staying at safety. I kind of like playing more in space.

"I love contact and just hitting people, but safety is great because you get to play out in space and I get to use my speed. I'm a big safety so I'm going to be down in the box more so I get to hit people. I look at it like I have the best of both worlds."

Vernaglia says he hasn't been assigned a specific position yet, whether it be a free or strong safety position, but he said he feels he'll likely play closer to the line of scrimmage when all is said and done.

"Right now, in the beginning, it's just left and right safeties, but I'm working at both right now," he said. "Later on they'll say we'll find some boundaries at safety. I have no preference really. I'll probably be rolling down to the box more, but it's up to the coaches to decide ultimately."

Vernaglia's football career got sidetracked with an injury shortly before he reported to Notre Dame, and Vernaglia said the waiting was very difficult for him to handle.

"It was horrible," Vernaglia said of his injury. "I was feeling in top condition two weeks before I reported to summer camp. It was the best I ever felt--fastest, strongest. I was weighing around 223, and then I went down with my pulled meniscus, and I was just heartbroken.

"I went into the doctor for a checkup, and the guy was like ‘oh, by the way, you need to have knee surgery.'

"I've never really experienced sitting on the sidelines. I've never really experienced not being with the first group so I was freaked out. I didn't know how to act. I felt like I was worthless."

The former two-way high school star said he was just working out with his teammates when he injured his knee.

"I was running with my high school team to stay in shape--running routes, covering receivers," he said. "I took a spill, but I got up fine. I felt great. The doctor said that might've set it off, but it was just the years of pounding."

With the injury behind him, Vernaglia says he feels he finally has something to look forward to each day of spring practice.

"I feel so excited coming out on spring ball. I actually have a reason to practice," Vernaglia said.

"I got started so late last year that everything was set and I didn't have a chance to break in or anything.

'Now it's like I'm practicing with a purpose, practicing with a reason. I've got some fire behind me. It's a lot easier to practice when you know you can carry your play over on Saturday if you practice well enough instead of sitting over on the sidelines."

Learning a new playbook also hasn't been a problem for Vernaglia.

"It's a lot different, but it's a lot the same, too," he said of the new system on defense. "A lot of it is just different names. There's only so much defense you can play. It's mostly just getting the new position straight and working on running backwards a lot more, and taking on fullbacks."

Vernaglia continues to surprise most by staying at safety. It's obvious that Vernaglia is a very gifted athlete and likely has a bright future ahead of him. That future is now according to the freshman hopeful.


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