Just a few weeks ago, the United States experienced one of the worst tragedies since 9/11 in New York. Several parts of Long Island, such as the Village of Bayville were demolished by a horrendous hurricane named Sandy. The Village of Bayville, especially the northern tip was man handled by the Hurricane, causing several deaths and millions of dollars in damage. Many houses were without electric, and many families lost their homes. It was so atrocious, that the re-elected President of the United States Barack Obama and his wife Michelle visited the area, and vowed to do whatever was possible to help fix the small Village. The first lady actually went to college about 2 hours away from Long Island, at Princeton University. Our next Diamond in the Rough has something in common; he grew up in the Village of Bayville, and currently attends Princeton University.
When I say the little Village of Bayville, I want you to picture this place. There are only 7,135 residents, 2,566 households, and 1,906 families residing in the Village. Bayville is a very quiet place, which is the home of actress Kim Novak who starred in the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock movie “Vertigo”, and the very prominent Head Basketball Coach of #2 ranked Louisville Cardinals Rick Pitino.
The Village of Bayville is where Big Mike Catapano and his lovely wife Barbara decided to raise their family. On August 17th, 1990 they were blessed with a son who they gave the name “Mike”. Even though most of his life he would be known as “Little Mike”, he is no longer a little kid. Little Mike now stands 6’4 and weighs 270 pounds, and is a standout defensive end for Princeton University.
Mike Catapano did not always weigh 270 pounds and throw people around; actually it was the other way around for him as a child growing up.
“I really wasn’t too big of a social butterfly and loved school. I was picked on and bullied, because I liked school, so my mom signed me up for football.” – Mike Catapano
Barbara might have made one of the smartest decisions in her life by putting her baby in football. At eight years old, Mike’s first head football coach taught him to stick up for himself, and not take crap from anybody. Mike would quickly learn to love the game of football, where he would continue to play all the way through high school. Mike has always been taller than every player on the team, even when he was a child, but that would actually work to his advantage. Mike would letter all four years in football and two years in lacrosse. He was a very aggressive big back and ranked 15th nationally among fullbacks by Scout.com for Chaminade High School.
“I was always taller than everyone, but when I was little I was always faster than everyone, so they just gave me the ball and I would run straight.” – Mike Catapano
Mike led the Chaminade football team to two undefeated seasons, and would be named to the New York all-star team, where he earned all-league honors and was named captain as a senior. His senior season was a rough one for the back that was drawing tons of interest from big programs such as Boston College and University of Virginia. After injuring his shoulder his senior year and only playing in 3 games, several of the big schools began to take a more conservative approach with Mike. That was all but one team, Princeton University.
“Several teams were showing interest, but after my injury the schools that seemed to be showing the most interest were the Ivy League teams. At that point, I began to think about my future more than football. I would have loved to play for Boston College, but after the injury I thought to myself that I would be stupid to turn down a degree from a school like Princeton.” – Mike Catapano
The Ivy League Schools came bombarding the Chaminade prospect, but all of them had different ideas for the 6’4, 220 pound fullback.
“Harvard wanted me to play tight end, Princeton wanted me on defense and all the other schools wanted me to play running back. I didn’t care what position I played, I just wanted to play. When I went to Princeton for a visit, it was a great feeling. They were smart guys, and we shared the same objective, we wanted to win.” – Mike Catapano
The Tigers were the only school that recruited Catapano as a defensive lineman, and as a result, his freshman year was difficult. Mike took a lot of hard hits and got knocked around a lot as he tried to learn a position going up against the first team offensive tackles. Little Mike knew that at 6’4, 220 pounds he was not going to be able to play this game if he didn’t learn the position better. Because the Ivy League schools cannot red shirt a player, Mike would eventually have to apply to the NCAA to ask for a medical clearance for the year he lost. Since Mike never played in a game he was granted his the medical clearance.
“Not playing defense at all to playing defensive lineman at 220 pounds, my freshman year was pretty tough. I got thrown around, I got beat up, I was out for the entire year. I knew I would have to learn the position and study film if I wanted to compete.” – Mike Catapano
Mike first action came in 2009, where he recorded 22 tackles, including eight solo stops, as a member of the defensive line rotation. He was able to get to the quarterback and record a half sack against Cornell. Mike would continue to work extremely hard in the offseason, and it showed his sophomore season. He would earn Honorable Mention All-Ivy League after registering 37 tackles, 1.5 sacks, causing one forced fumble and recovering two fumbles. Mike was beginning to understand the game, and began turning into a student of the game. The weight room and film room became a second home to Mike.
“ I gained 50 pounds between freshman and sophomore year. I was eating every two hours and eating everything in sight. I really wanted to play; I didn’t want to be on the sideline. I also began watching a lot of film, diagnosing plays, defenses and techniques. You have your classes at Princeton and football becomes like a class, and you have to study it. I think that’s what really changed me on the field, just getting in and becoming a scholar of the sport.” – Mike Catapano
As a junior Mike earned second team all – Ivy League honors after recording 49 tackles, including 20 solo tackles. Mike had a career high 10 tackles for loss and five sacks. He was named Captain of his football team and was beginning to turn into a leader on the field.
“After my junior season, a few NFL personnel began talking to me telling me they liked my size and technique after my junior pro day. I knew when they were talking to me; I had to attack my dream at full force. – Mike Catapano
Full Force is right! Mike Catapano took over the entire Ivy-League this year as a defensive pass rush specialist. Little Mike trained in the offseason harder than ever. He trained with former Pro Bowl NFL Defensive End Chuck Smith over the offseason, and even took up MMA fighting to learn how to better use his hands. Mike gained tons of confidence his senior year and had another huge increase in stats his senior year. Mike finished this year with 41 tackles, where 12 of them were sacks. Mike led the entire conference in sacks, sack yards and fumble recoveries, and finished top 10 in the FCS in sacks. Mike found out this week that he was named first team All-Ivy League with his stunning performance.
While Mike may have been bullied back in high school, he will no longer have to listen to those kids picking on him. Mike has grown into a intellectual, physical freak on and off the football field. If football doesn’t work out for the Ivy League grad-to-be, he can always take up litigation, and become a prominent lawyer in Bayville area. He will probably be the only attorney in the Village with a degree from Princeton. Mike has always wanted to do the best for the people around him, whether it is his teammates, or family. So while there are several families without light in his village from Hurricane Sandy, one of the 7,135 residents is trying to bring the light back to his hometown. That shining star is Mike Catapano, remember the name because on Draft day he will have a very good chance to hear his name called, and give Bayville area something to smile about.