Jeannette's Paulone ends college football career
Waynesburg University head football coach Rick Shepas remembers the day vividly.
“Tommy Paulone came into my office as a freshman recruit wearing a suit,” said Shepas. “He came dressed to impress. And, believe me, that he did. Tommy made quite an impact for us during his time at Waynesburg.”
When the final buzzer sounded in Waynesburg's 19-12 loss to The College at Brockport in the East Coast Athletic Conference North West Bowl on Nov. 24, it did more than end the season for Paulone, a senior running back. It ended his college football career.
But, as Shepas said, what a career it was. Paulone was a quality football player to be sure, but he made even bigger impact off of the field during his time at Waynesburg, said his coach. Athletes frequently get tagged with the “leadership” label, but few exemplify that characteristic to the degree of Paulone.
“He's an absolutely outstanding leader, and he's meant a lot to our program,” said Shepas.
Paulone holds “ambassador” roles for the football program, the Criminal Justice Department and Waynesburg University overall. In these roles, he helps to promote Waynesburg to prospective students and the community at large.
His leadership positions extended beyond Waynesburg's campus, as Paulone was also was vice president of the NCAA Division III Presidents' Athletic Conference Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).
In fact, that leadership quality is one of the things that initially caught the eye of Shepas and his coaching staff.
“We knew, right away, that he was a guy who was here for a reason,” said the coach. “He showed signs of maturity … he knows what he wants, and he's willing to go out and get what he wants.”
Paulone said the fact that his football playing days are over is still sinking in, but he emphasized that he loved every minute of it.
“Playing college football was the best four years of my life,” said Paulone. “I would definitely do it again. I'd probably play 15 more years if they'd let me.”
Paulone came out of Jeannette as a skilled, but very undersized quarterback. At that time, not even 160 pounds, Paulone received very little recruiting interest.
He came to Waynesburg and was a reserve quarterback as a freshman and sophomore, never taking any snaps in varsity action.
Last year, he was moved to running back where he was a backup and key special teams player. This season – now up to 5-foot-11, 200-pounds — Paulone earned even more playing time at running back and, when injuries struck the Yellow Jackets late in the season, he even emerged as the feature back during the home stretch.
Paulone finished the season second on the team with 315 yards rushing to go along with four receptions for 31 yards.
“That was definitely like a dream come true,” he said. “I worked so hard to put myself in the position to be ready to contribute when my opportunity came.”
He was even more dynamic on special teams throughout his career, twice earning PAC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
While his playing days are done, his involvement with sports — even at Waynesburg — are not. Shepas said he's still counting on Paulone to be a part of the program the remainder of the school year.
“We don't want his career to end just yet. I told him we could still use him as a leader and in the weight room,” said the coach. “He can make sure to transition that good, solid leadership to our young players.”
Paulone will also once again play golf for Waynesburg this spring. Then, after graduation, he hopes to begin a career as a federal agent or perhaps a state policeman. And, when the time is right, he wants to get back into football as a coach.
“I definitely want to be involved in coaching right away, but that might not be a realistic given my career path,” he said. “But it's been a dream of mine to be a coach. That's something I want to do.”
In the meantime, he'll reflect on his football career, proud of his contributions.
“Football is something that is more than just a game for me. It's the reason I became who I am,” he said. “The lessons learned in football have definitely made me who I am today.”
Big Ten matchup set
When Ohio State and Michigan State battle in the Big Ten championship game this Saturday, there will be plenty on the line for both teams, and each squad features a Jeannette product.
After beating bitter rival Michigan in dramatic nail-biter 42-41, Ohio State finished the season 12-0 overall and 8-0 in the Big Ten.
Jeannette grad Jordan Hall, a senior running back, had one carry for four yards in the win.
Thanks to the Alabama's loss to Auburn last weekend, the Buckeyes are now ranked No. 2 in the country in both the Associated Press and Bowl Championship Series pools.
A victory against Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game this week could put the Buckeyes in line to play for the national championship, likely against Florida State of the ACC.
However, a victory doesn't guarantee that as a one-loss team from the stronger SEC, such as Alabama, could unseat even an undefeated Buckeyes team for the spot in the national title game. In that event, an undefeated Ohio State would play in the Rose Bowl.
Michigan State, meanwhile, beat Minnesota 14-3 on Saturday; Jeannette grad Demetrious Cox is a redshirt freshman reserve safety and special teams player with the Spartans. Michigan State is now 11-1 overall, 8-0 in the Big Ten and ranked No. 10 in both pools.
A win over Ohio State in the conference title game would guarantee Michigan State its first appearance in the Rose Bowl since 1988. But if the Spartans lose and Ohio State plays for the national title, Michigan State could end up still representing the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl.
The matchup features one of the top offenses in NCAA Division I in Ohio State against one of the top defenses in the land in Michigan State, which is giving up just 11.8 points per game.
The Big Ten championship game will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind., this Saturday starting at 8:17 p.m. The game will be televised on FOX.
Mahoney, Mount Union win again
Pat Mahoney and the Mount Union football team bowled through the second round of the Division III playoffs by downing Wittenburg 56-21 on Saturday.
Mahoney, a Jeannette native and Greensburg Central Catholic graduate, is a starting guard for the Purple Raiders, who are now 12-0 overall and ranked No. 1 in Division III.
Mount Union plays Wesley College (Del.) in the NCAA quarterfinals at home this Saturday. Wesley is 10-2 overall and ranked No. 15 in the country after beating Ithaca 23-15 in the second round of the playoffs last week.
Kickoff is set for noon and the game will be broadcast at athletics.mountunion.edu.
Brian Knavish is a contributing writer.