Golden, 3 others sign letters of intent
In its wake, several top recruits backed out of their commitments to Happy Valley. Newington’s Malik Golden wavered but in the end still felt it was the place for him.
Golden was one of four Cheshire Academy football players to sign letters of intent on Wednesday. Mike Villapiano signed a letter of intent to attend Brown, A.J. Zuttah signed to go to Dartmouth and Connor Caponegro signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Rhode Island. Coach Dan O’Dea led the Cats to an undefeated season and the New England Prep School Class B championship.
“You can’t pick a school solely because of the coach,” Golden said. “On any given day he can leave any ways. We lost some four and five-star recruits but we’ve still got a lot of talent coming in.
“When I went to Penn State, I saw the guys hanging out together. You could tell it was a family there. That’s what I want. I also wanted to be closer to home. That’s why I came to Cheshire Academy. My mother developed cancer and I wanted to be close to her.”
Golden never imagined being caught up in the Penn State drama.
“It actually was weird,” Golden said. “(Penn State assistant coach Kermit Buggs) came to see me play on Senior Night. He left the game early and no one knew why. But the scandal broke out on that day and he had just heard about it. At halftime the guys asked me if I had heard what happened.
“I said, ‘What are you talking about?’”
Golden starred on both sides of the ball at Cheshire Academy. He will play wide receiver at Penn State but said there is still a chance he’ll see action at defensive back.
Golden grew fond of Paterno in his short relationship with the legendary coach who died on Jan. 22.
“I have a lot of respect for Coach Paterno,” Golden said. “What he did at Penn State. He’s a genuine guy and I just think that he went out the wrong way. He still has my respect.”
Zuttah’s brother Jeremy currently plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even though he also has NFL aspirations he yearned for the academics of Ivy League.
"I think I'll be able to make an impact right away," Zuttah said. "I've been working hard the past couple of years. This year I've been with a personal trainer.
I think I'll make a smooth transition even to an Ivy League after being at Cheshire Academy the past two years. It's prepared me for what college life is going to be like."
Villapiano is the son of former Oakland Raider all-pro linebacker Phil Villapiano and will play quarterback at Brown.
"Their quarterback graduated so it will be an open competition and that's all you can ask for. This was a great year. I put on a lot of weight and I've gotten better. Cheshire Academy gave me a lot of benefits that I couldn't have succeeded without."
Villapiano was a big part of the Cats' offense that blew out most of the teams on its schedule this year.
"It was a killer season," he said. "We were clicking. We had so many good players it worked out and it was so much fun."
Villapiano said he got a late start on the recruiting process last year and that led to his decision to play at Cheshire.
"My dad always told me to just play and everything will work out. By the time people were recruiting me most of the scholarships were already taken. Coach O'Dea contacted and offered me a chance to play here and it opened more doors."
Caponegro expects to play H-back at Rhode Island. He is hitting machine according to O'Dea.
"I like my size," Caponegro said. "I feel like I'm where I want to be. Before I came to Cheshire Academy I only had offers as a walk-on. Now I've got a full ride and I'm excited.
"I've played fullback and linebacker and I don't care where I play. I got to run the ball a few times here. Before this I didn't get to touch it a lot and then I'm catching the ball and everything.
"It was great. I loved the coaching staff and campus at Rhode Island."