Paulone ready for big senior season at Waynesburg
On the eve of the 2013 football season, Thomas Paulone knows this is it.
The Jeannette native is a senior running back at Waynesburg University, meaning this will be his final season playing organized football.
At one point or another, the season will include Paulone's last opening kickoff. His last halftime speech. His last play from scrimmage.
Paulone wants to prolong those “lasts” as long as possible.
“This is my 15th year playing football,” he said. “I just want to make this season last and go as far as we can, knowing that at the end of the season, I'm never going to put on the shoulder pads again. My goal is to live every day, enjoy every moment of my senior season and make it as memorable as possible.”
And it appears Waynesburg could be a team primed to put together a memorable, long-lasting season as the squad enters the year ranked No. 22 in all of NCAA Division III.
Last year, the Yellow Jackets went 10-1 overall — the program's first 10 win season since 1966 — and finished tied for the Presidents Athletic Conference (PAC) crown. Waynesburg, which went on to win the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference South West Bowl, was just one win short of an outright PAC title and spot in the Division III playoffs.
“There's definitely an ‘unfinished business' vibe,” said Paulone. “After a 10-1 season, we were definitely pleased with a lot of it. But, that loss to W&J is still very sour in our mouths. We're definitely hungry to complete the job and take the conference.
“We don't like the fact we had to share the conference title last year. We have a chip on our shoulder. We have unfinished business, we're hungry, and we're angry.”
Head coach Rick Shepas said Paulone will be a key to the team having a big season in his role as a team leader.
“He's really done a great job from a leadership standpoint, the on-field example he brings to the table,” said the coach.
In fact, Paulone's leadership extends beyond just the team. This off-season, he was named the vice president of the PAC's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), a position making him a liaison between student athletes, the conference and the NCAA.
And more recently, he received another honor, being named one of 151 nominees for the 2013 Allstate American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Good Works team, an award that recognizes players for their contributions in the community.
“I think that's a reflection of him and coming from a good family,” said Shepas. “We want our players to be more than just players on the field, to break those stereotypes. He's involved in a number of activities and leads in all of those.
“He's my go-to guy on a lot of things and I rely on him for a lot of those things. My relationship within him extends far beyond football aspects.”
Paulone is well-aware that he's viewed as a leader on the team and around campus, and that's a role he embraces.
“I know I'm a leader on the team, and that's a role I take very seriously,” he said.
The role Paulone has played as team leader at Waynesburg is unquestioned and he's been a contributor on the field as well. This year, however, he hopes to make a bigger on-field impact.
A standout dual-threat quarterback at Jeannette, Paulone came to Waynesburg as a signal caller. He spent his freshman and sophomore years as a backup quarterback, not taking any snaps in games.
Last year, however, he was moved to running back as a way to take advantage of his athleticism. He had two carries and also played significantly on special teams. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Paulone spent spring practice at back at quarterback before being shifted back to running back for good.
Waynesburg graduated its top for rushers from last year, giving Paulone ample opportunity to grab playing time.
“I'm rotating with the first team right now,” he said. “Traditionally at Waynesburg, we like to run at least three running backs. That's one of my personal goals. I would like to be more of a contributing factor in the run game and be one of those three backs.”
Shepas said he expects Paulone to play a larger role in the running game and beyond.
“He'll play a number of roles from the running back position,” said Shepas. “We'll extend him out in the formation to receiver and, given his experience at quarterback, he's always a possible throwing threat from a (trick play). He's always been a guy that finds a way to get it done. I definitely see him playing a bigger role on offense.”
Waynesburg opens the season on Sept. 7, in a home game against Muskingum. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.
Brian Knavish is a contributing writer.