By Matt Smith, Delaware County Daily Times
NEWTOWN SQUARE, PA – Before Anthony Paoletti made it official on Twitter that he would attend the University of Delaware beginning in 2018, Delaware County’s top college prospect had given careful consideration to a slew of Division I offers.
“I’ve been going to colleges that have shown a lot of interest in me, or have offered me, so I’m kind of being loyal to the people who have shown the most interest in me,” Paoletti said while taking a breather from his weight training at Marple Newtown last week. “I’ve had a lot of people that have come out to see me throw this spring. I feel pretty good about everything, about where I am now.”
As Delaware County’s single-season passing yardage champion, a record he eclipsed in his final game last fall, Paoletti knew it would be wise to get the decision out of the way before the Tigers head to the Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando for an Aug. 25 kickoff to the 2017 season against Florida High School, a subsidiary prep of Florida State University.
“I would like to do it before the season so I can worry about my senior season and focus entirely on the team,” Paoletti said. “Then again, I want everything to be right. I want to be 100 percent on board with the school I decide to go to.”
Paoletti had picked up offers from Eastern Michigan, Bucknell and Miami (Ohio), among others. In the end, the Blue Hens were the best fit.
Paoletti will play for new head coach Danny Rocco, who was hired by Delaware in December. Rocco led the University of Richmond to back-to-back 10-win seasons and three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Rocco is a veteran coach with a history of success, characteristics that appealed to Paoletti late in the recruiting process.
“What I’ve been realizing lately, college coaches who have been around for a long time, they like me more than the younger guys. The older guys like that leadership in the huddle and the stature of a quarterback, so they’ve been telling me that they love my size and love my arm strength and love my composure and how I lead myself and my teammates on the field,” said Paoletti, who claims he can throw 70-75 yards “on a good day.”
“That’s the most feedback I’ve been getting. It’s very positive. The older coaches want a guy who can keep a huddle and who can be trusted in the fourth quarter with two minutes left.”
The 6-2, 210-pound Paoletti feels he is the type of player that can fulfill those challenges. But it wasn’t always that way, he said. Never did he imagine that one day he’d quarterback a Division I team. As recent as his sophomore season, he pondered whether he had the size and talent to keep going.
He was never supposed to be a quarterback, either. That happened by pure luck. In youth ball, Carmen Christiana, one of Paoletti’s former wide receivers at MN, was the best youth QB in town.
“I was kind of like the running back who blocked for him,” Paoletti said. “Carmen was ridiculous. I’m talking crazy.”
An injury to Christiana left a vacancy on his youth team.
“He got hurt, and my dad (Anthony Sr.) was a coach, and he said since we have no one else, you’re gonna have to try it out,” Paoletti said. “I stuck with it and I really couldn’t see myself any other way.
It took time to convince himself that he could become a special player. Paoletti showed flashes of his immense potential in his sophomore campaign, then had an All-Delco campaign to remember as a junior.
In 2016, Paoletti became the county’s single-season passing leader by breaking Ridley grad Dennis Decker’s record of 2,737 yards. Paoletti threw for 2,793 yards and 25 touchdowns en route to leading the Tigers to a share of the Central League title for the first time since 1977 and a berth in the District 1 Class 5A semifinals.
“This is a bit of a cultural shock to me because, under no circumstances, did I think before last season that I would even be considered for Division I colleges,” he said. “I just thought I was going to go to school as a good student.”
All Paoletti is focused on is winning football games at Marple Newtown. College will come later. With 4,681 career passing yards, he’ll begin the season a mere 1,216 yards short of tying Marple Newtown head coach Chris Gicking’s school and Delco record of 5,897. His attempt at surpassing his coach’s record will make for one of the top stories in the county this season, but if you ask Paoletti, he doesn’t think about it.
Don’t mistake his attitude about records for not caring about them. He indeed does, but being Delco’s all-time greatest quarterback is not one of his top priorities.
“I just want to win games with this team,” he said. “I’ll look back on everything else later in life.”
And it’s going to battle with his boys that Paoletti cherishes, above all the personal accolades. He talks about grabbing pizza with senior lineman Mike Shelly and senior wide receiver Dash Dulgerian. As many as four times a week, the three of them are scarfing down slices at Italian Delite in Broomall on Sproul Rd.
“Spicy sweet chicken chili, every single time,” he said, laughing. “They should know me by now and have it ready when I walk in.”
Paoletti is cool and confident, but he’s also his biggest critic and is never satisfied. He reviews the 2016 season with his dad, Anthony Sr., who is an assistant coach at Marple, and winces at some of the decisions he made. Paoletti recalls the Ridley game late in the season. He took a hit and suffered a high ankle sprain, which limited his mobility the rest of the season. But Paoletti never missed a start, and guided the team to its best run, the district semifinals, in program history.
Now he’s ready to take the next step. And he’ll never, ever stop working to achieve his goals.
“This has been a ride, but I’m not complaining,” he said. “I’m just working my hardest and it has taken me me pretty far, so far. It’s been a blessing. That’s all I could say.”