Settling In

Brendan Donnelly was just going through another one of the transfers Kodak assigns him every 2 1/2 years.

Debra Donnelly was working on selling the old house and had to start looking for one in Tokyo, Japan.

B.J. Donnelly was getting ready to start his senior year of college at West Point.

And Joe Donnelly was driving from Boston College to Syracuse to Penn State.

"It was a crazy summer," Debra said. "Finally, I just told Joe to pick one."

After living in England; Rochester; Portland, Ore.; and Raleigh, N.C., Joe Donnelly finally ended up at Syracuse. But the Syracuse tight end's life has made more stops than just those.

Like most Division I athletes, it was clear Donnelly had talent early. He played unorganized football with his brother. At first he was a pest to B.J., just the younger brother who wanted to tag along. But then, he began bashing with his 4-years-elder brother and his friends.

"Soon, it got to the point," B.J. said, "that he was bruising us."

Donnelly started high school as a basketball and football star. He played quarterback as a freshman.

Then, toward the end of his freshman year just after coaches promoted him to varsity, Donnelly was floored by a linebacker in practice. The hit hurt Donnelly's right shoulder. He never played quarterback again.

Instead, after rehabbing, Donnelly moved to tight end, and played just as well. After his sophomore year, The Kent School in Kent, Conn., recruited Donnelly to play football.

Soon, colleges began calling. Within a week, Donnelly received interest from Boston College, Penn State and Syracuse.

Because the family was going through so much, Donnelly was forced to make a decision. Ultimately, though, it was easy.

Donnelly grew up as an SU fan. He owned posters. He watched games on television. His parents, Rochester natives, noticed him following SU basketball-especially his favorite player, John Wallace.

Syracuse also offered something better than PSU or BC: academics.

"It was an easy decision," Debra said. "Coach (Paul Pasqualoni) had the best information on education in his football program, hands down. He spoke for an hour and a half on how important academics are for his students.

"He said that he doesn't just hire tutors, he hires master tutors. People from community colleges. If a student needs five tutors, he'll get them five tutors."

Donnelly also met defensive end Christian Ferrara at a Syracuse camp and the two kept in touch over that summer. When both told each other their college choice was Syracuse, the two decided to become roommates.

This year was supposed to be Donnelly's year to shine. He was a pass-catching tight end, and coaches expected him to start.

But on Aug. 26, Joe Donnelly laid in a hospital bed, hours removed from emergency surgery. One freak accident in practice put him in severe pain. He wore a sling on his left shoulder, which he separated the previous day. Doctors told him maybe he'd be back after seven games.

"I was down," Donnelly said. "There was a 48-hour period after the surgery when I thought my college career was over. I was close to packing it in, starting to try and deal with the fact that I may just be watching the team all season."

He felt hopeless Sept. 6, when the Orangemen faced North Carolina in the season-opener. He was so distraught over not playing, so troubled to even be in the city of Syracuse, that he had his girlfriend drive him home to Rochester to listen to the game. He needed support. He needed a clutch.

"It was the worst possible thing ever," said Donnelly, who had never missed a college game because of injury prior to this year. "I just came out of surgery and I couldn't be in North Carolina with my teammates. I really could not believe it. Literally I couldn't believe they were there without me. It was the worst, especially hearing us struggle on third down and knowing the tight end has a big part on third downs."

One week after the surgery, Donnelly itched to return. He was eager to keep on the 20 pounds of muscle he gained over the summer through daily 6 a.m. running sessions followed by two hour weight-lifting sessions.

He started fiddling with the sling. He took his arm out whenever he was alone so not to get yelled at. After three weeks, the sling was off.

Still, he wasn't on the field, and watching practices from the sideline tore Donnelly apart. He had trouble dealing with it.

He needed something to help him cope. The weight room became his sanctuary. He could rehab, train and keep in shape.

For the first hour and 15 minutes of football practice, Donnelly would lift. He had Syracuse personnel open the weight room at unusual hours so he could sneak in and lift almost uncontrollably.

"Mentally, it's the only thing you can do," Donnelly said. "All you want to do when you're in that position is feel like you're doing something productive."

Said Debra: "Joe worked very hard. He had his eyes set on the Virginia Tech game, and he made it. I had my doubts. But I talked to the trainer, and he reassured me. He said, "I don't think Joe's ready. I know he is."

Since Donnelley's return, he caught one ball for 13 yards against BC. He's also added another aspect to the Syracuse offense.

"He adds a whole other dimension Kowalewski said. "He's fast, athletic. He runs great pass patterns. He brings energy to the unit. And he's a true leader."

Now that Donnelly has finally settled down. He can take a sigh of relief.

Cuse Nation Top Stories