By Ben Enos
Thursday, September 22nd, 2011 at 5:25 pm in East Bay Football.
Alright, I’m finally sitting down to the blog after a day chock-full of football goodness. Cranked out tomorrow’s preview for the print edition, and it’s only about 8 p.m. on the East Coast as I start this.
Having spent a good portion of Tuesday evening at De La Salle, I figured today would be my day to spend some time at St. Thomas Aquinas. It’s in Fort Lauderdale, and this being my first time to Florida, I was reminded of where I was when I was covered in sweat not five minutes into standing out near the football field.
Humidity aside, I had a chance to meet and talk to Aquinas athletic director George Smith and head coach Rocco Casullo. Before you enter Smith’s office, there’s an athletic center (the George Smith Athletic Center) that houses the various trophies and awards that Aquinas has won. Needless to say, the room is full. There’s a really cool collection of news clips on display, spanning everything from last year’s mythical national title run to the exploits of Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin, an Aquinas grad. And, they have the stump from the very first light pole installed at Brian Piccolo Stadium in 1975. Also very cool.
What you might not know about Aquinas is that the Raiders aren’t just a good football school. They’ve won numerous girls soccer titles, and they’ve been the top athletic program in South Florida for pretty much all of recent history.
Both Smith and Casullo are fascinating football men. Smith coached the Raiders for 34 years, won 360 games, two mythical national titles and a bunch of state championships. His office wall has a signed photo from Joe Paterno. He was on his way to meet the DLS guys, so we didn’t talk for long.
I had the chance to sit down and talk to Casullo for quite a while. Together with Maxpreps football guru Mitch Stephens (that’s right, he’s a guru), we chatted about De La Salle, about Aquinas and about his history. I’m going to try and get some quotes up in a separate post, but he was engaging, very articulate and knowledgable about the Spartans. You could tell why he got a job of this magnitude.
Trivia about Coach Casullo. His dad, Bob, was a longtime coach who even coached special teams for the Raiders in the early 2000s. I believe he was on the Super Bowl staff.
Went out to watch a little of the beginning of practice and yes, the Raiders are huge. I met defensive end Jelani Hamilton (Miami commit) in the office earlier in the day and just had to look up as I said hello. The dude is massive. There was no shortage of athletes on the field. And, as we were walking away, walking towards us on his way to coach his receivers was Cris Carter, the potential Hall of Famer who you see every weekend on ESPN’s NFL coverage.
As an aside, I passed through the Aquinas locker room and man, it looked like a college. The lockers all had name plates, all made of wood. It was really quite something. For those wondering about the stadium, it’s not overly big but it sure is nice. They’re gonna have it tricked out tomorrow night with banners and what not too. Should look good on TV.
I’ll try and get some quotes from Casullo up here shortly, but as a means of wrapping this thing up, I just wanted to say how impressed I was with the Aquinas operation in general. Everyone was so accomodating and welcoming of us West Coast media folk that it really made it an enjoyable day of pre-game work. Thanks to them for letting us in for a day.
So, tomorrow is the big game. I’ll have more from the De La Salle side (now that I’ve made it to the hotel) in the hours leading up to the game. You can catch that on Twitter, @Ben_Enos. You can also follow my tweets on the blog tomorrow night, as we’ll have a chat window up for people to chime in on the game. I won’t be able to live blog the game because I’ll be on the field, but we’ll be using the hashtag #DLSxSTA if you want to sound off. And, a new feature we’ll have is if you want to text your thoughts to us, text 510-516-2264 and we’ll get the best comments up on the blog.
We’ll also have the first Pigskin Geek episode up tomorrow, direct from the Sunshine State. It’s a good one, so don’t miss it.
And, I’ll try to work on my tan for my fans.