Not everyone can be a star quarterback.
Caden Campolieti learned that early during his Saint Ignatius career. Staring up at a stacked depth chart, Campolieti switched a new position.
As Campolieti found, star linebacker isn’t a bad gig. It landed him a preferred walk-on spot at a Division I football program.
Campolieti announced his commitment to Ohio University on Saturday evening on Twitter. The young man popularly known as “Feast” will be a Bobcat.
“I would like to thank God and my family for helping me with this long and difficult process. I would also like to thank my teammates for pushing me on and off the field, molding me into the player I am today,” Campolieti wrote.
Campolieti’s journey to Division I football did not begin with success. Rather, his career began with a setback.
Campolieti came to Saint Ignatius as a bright young player. The St. Paschal Baylon grad entered as a quarterback, determined to land the starting spot. Amidst a crowded field of signalcallers who starred at local grade schools across the area, Campolieti worked hard, but could not win the job.
“During freshmen tryouts, I was one of 15 quarterbacks to start off. All of them but four didn’t make it. I was in a battle, and ended up losing it,” Campolieti said. “I wasn’t very happy about it, because I had never sat in my life. I just kept learning at quarterback. Every game, I was eager to get in there at quarterback. I wanted to be in there for every play.”
Campolieti also failed to win the gig during his sophomore year, spending his JV season as a backup. In the offseason, Campolieti and the coaching staff agreed on a change.
“I had a meeting with Coach [Nick] Restifo at Denny’s in Highland Heights,” Campolieti said. “We talked about quarterback, and he told me it would be smart to make a switch – I would be valuable at linebacker. I listened to him.”
Campolieti took the advice to heart and threw himself wholeheartedly into the switch. The Richmond Heights became an understudy to two star Wildcats linebackers – Logan Joyce and Tommy Eichenberg.
Joyce and Eichenberg mentored Campolieti, welcoming him into the Linebacker Legion. Campolieti learned plenty of the dominant duo.
“While watching Logan and Tommy play with so much passion and heart, you could tell they loved the game,” Campolieti said. “They hit so hard, and they knew what they were doing. I wanted to be that guy. They were the guys making all of the plays and leading the team in tackles. I wanted to be like that. To have those two guys in front of me during junior year was great. I studied behind them and watched them play and worked it into my game during my senior year.”
Ryan Franzinger ’02, linebackers coach and defensive coordinator, taught Campolieti the in’s and out’s of the position. Under the veteran coach’s tutelage, Campolieti gradually grasped the X’s and O’s, along with the right techniques. Head Coach Chuck Kyle ’69 watched as his young ‘backer worked hard in practice and improved.
“He had to learn a whole new position. That was a lot,” Kyle said. “You have coverages, blitzes, and reads, and all of that. He was patient and realized he was in a learning stage. He worked very hard.”
By the start of his senior year, Campolieti stood at 6’1, 218 pounds. Campolieti put in the hours in the weight room, the practice field, and the film room in the offseason and in preseason camp to improve. His size and improved skills won him a starting spot.
“When I was announced to be the starter, I was filled with joy,” Campolieti said. “I had never started at Saint Ignatius. For my senior year to start, after working so hard in the offseason to get to that point was great. I talked to Tommy about playing in games, what I needed to know. He was a mentor who really helped me. The first game was surreal. To be on the field with my teammates against Akron Hoban, even though we lost, I had butterflies. It was really cool.”
Campolieti became an anchor at outside linebacker. Eichenberg led the team in tackles, but Campolieti followed in second. Campolieti developed into a playmaker in defending both the run and the pass, performing all of his responsibilities adeptly. Campolieti finished the season with 26 solo tackles and 19 assists, 5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 pass breakups, and 1 interception.
The talented outside ‘backer helped the Wildcats to shut down opposing run games all season, helping the Football Cats tear off an 8-game winning streak amidst a strong 8-3 campaign.
“He did a fine job,” Kyle said. “Several colleges wanted him as a preferred walk-on. As long as they treat him right, he’ll contribute. He’s excited about the idea of Division I football. He’ll be in some big games and big scenarios. He’s worked very hard to get it. It’s a credit to him.”
Following a strong senior season, Campolieti did not draw scholarship offers, but a wide range of schools wanted Campolieti as a preferred walk-on.
In the end, the Ohio coaching staff made the difference.
“At the end of the journey, it was mainly between Akron, Bowling Green, and OU. I felt OU was going to give me a better opportunity to play,” Campolieti said. “I want to go to college and play. OU has been telling me that I have the ability to be a scholarship player right off the bat. That’s where I want to be – I want to be a scholarship player. I want to play. I was impressed with the coaching staff. In talking to them, I felt wanted. I almost felt like I was needed. That was important to me in picking a school.”
Campolieti cemented his decision with a visit to the beautiful Athens campus on Friday. Campolieti plans to major in business at Ohio University, focusing on entrepreneurship.
Besides the great academics and campus, having familiar faces with him at OU made the decision easier. Jett Elad and Nigel Drummond will also be Bobcats, joining James Leyden ’17.
“Jett really helped me in this process. Jett was always telling me about OU,” said Campolieti. “Learning about Nigel committing makes me feel at home. To have guys I’ve played with there and having the chance to play with them again at OU, and a guy like James Leyden, is pretty cool.”
Just like the other Wildcat-Bobcats, Campolieti has a bright future ahead. On behalf of Saint Ignatius athletics, Congratulations, Caden!