Gorman: For Ventrone brothers, nothing is impossible
Ross Ventrone still carries the driver's license, the one that lists his height at 5-foot-2, as a reminder that anything is possible. Or, better yet, that nothing is impossible.
Not that he's ever needed a memento to prove it.
All he has to do is look at his big brother.
Raymond Ventrone, deemed too small for Division I-A schools, starred at Villanova and made it to the NFL as a special-teams demon. After spending one year on the New England Patriots' practice squad, another on injured reserve and getting cut twice, Raymond played for the Patriots in 2007 and made the biggest hit of Super Bowl XLII on a kickoff return.
It was Raymond who convinced Ross, then a walk-on at Pitt in 2007, that he was good enough to play college football. Not just be a college football player. Ross sent out a highlight tape from spring drills. When Villanova offered a scholarship, Ross jumped at it.
"For me, I do want to be my own player," Ross said, "but living in my brother's shadow, it's a great shadow to live in. He's been through so much. His road in college and the NFL was crazy, and my road has been so crazy so far."
The craziness for the Chartiers Valley graduate hit a crescendo Thursday, when Ross helped lead I-AA Villanova to a 27-24 victory over Temple in the inaugural Mayor's Cup. Now a 5-foot-8, 190-pound free safety who Villanova coach Andy Talley calls the glue to the defense, Ross had a team-high nine tackles, an interception and scored on a 59-yard fumble recovery.
Sometimes, even he can't believe his success.
"He's definitely come a long way since high school," Raymond said, recalling that Ross wrestled at 103 pounds as a high school sophomore. "A couple of my buddies called and said he was easily the best player on the field."
Meantime, Raymond was playing for the Patriots in the preseason finale. A safety, he doubled as a receiver to improve his chances and had two receptions for 15 yards in the 38-27 victory.
Imagine the enviable dilemma of Ray and Denise Ventrone, of Scott. They had to choose between watching one son play at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and another at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. They went to see Ross, knowing that it was the biggest game of his college career, not knowing that it might be the last game of Raymond's NFL career.
Raymond was poked in the eye in the fourth quarter against the Giants, and had to be rushed to the hospital. The eye is fine, but the Patriots released him Saturday when they made final cuts.
"First of all, watching them both play on that level is pretty surreal, especially when they are the players they are," said the elder Ray, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local 154. "It's gut-wrenching. It's nerve-racking. When you play this sport, you know there's going to be a lot of ups and downs. The boys understand that and we, as parents, know it after being around the game for so long."
Raymond understands he was caught in a numbers game, but that doesn't help the uncertainty. Not when he has a new house to pay for and a 7-week-old daughter to provide for.
"I'm confident teams that need a guy like me will call and want me to be part of their team," Raymond said. "Teams saw I could play, whether it's receiver, defensive back, special teams or whatever.
"That doesn't go unnoticed. The film tells the tale."
Except for when it doesn't.
What the Ventrones have learned is that you can measure a man's size and speed, but not his desire. Sometimes, your future college and NFL players aren't those with the most stars but rather those with the most heart. Sometimes, they carry around proof.
"I got a new license," Ross said with a laugh, "but I still have that first one and when I show people, they can't believe it's me."
Anything is possible. Nothing is impossible.
All you have to do is look in the mirror.