Running down a dream: Danbury’s Calitro to make NFL debut Sunday
The excitement in Austin Calitro’s voice was unmistakable, even over the phone from 3,000 miles away.
The dream he had been chasing all his life — from when he first played organized football as an 8-year-old, through his gridiron exploits at Danbury High School and Villanova University — had come true.
Calitro, a 240-pound bulldozer of a linebacker, made the 53-man roster for the Seattle Seahawks. He will be in action wearing jersey No. 58 Sunday when the Seahawks visit the Denver Broncos to open the regular season (kickoff set for 4:25 p.m. Connecticut time). After bouncing around the National Football League last year, from one practice squad to the next as an undrafted rookie free agent, this will be Calitro’s first experience in a game that counts in the standings.
He did it.
And yet, while the excitement in Calitro’s voice was certainly palpable, so, too, was the humility. So many kids grow up fantasizing about being a professional athlete. He is one of the chosen few who will live out that fantasy.
“My main thing is, if you have a dream, go get it,” he said. “I was cut three or four times in the first year of my career. If you look at the statistics and everything like that, everything told me to stop. I knew deep down inside that I could make it this far, and I’m glad everything is paying off.
“It’s a dream come true,” he added. “I’m just excited to get out there and play the game I love.”
In footage of a press conference posted on Seahawks.com on Monday, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll told reporters how impressed he was with Calitro, who had spent the first three weeks of last season on the Seahawks practice squad, then signed a contract with the team on June 13.
“He had a good preseason,” Carroll said. “I mean, you guys were here watching him. He had a good preseason on the field in games. He made the plays. He’s been great on the practice field, he’s been great in the meeting room, he’s a classy kid all the way.”
Calitro played in all four of the Seahawks’ preseason games and made 14 tackles.
“The longer he went into the preseason, the more hits he made and the more physical he became and the more confident he became,” Carroll continued. “It just became clear, that’s a really classy kid. He just made the team, and put a real statement on it the last couple weeks. We’re really happy to have him, and we feel very comfortable about him going in the game.”
Calitro is listed on the depth chart as the second-string middle linebacker behind Bobby Wagner, a Pro Bowl selection in 2014, and is slated to start on special teams. Wagner actually called Calitro to deliver the news that he had made the team.
“I just want to prove myself on special teams, and go in from there at linebacker on defense,” Calitro said.
Calitro is quite familiar with this type of scenario. After red-shirting his first year at Villanova, the former All-Stater at Danbury High had to first make his mark on special teams with the Wildcats. By his senior year, he was a team captain. He finished off an impressive college career by playing in the prestigious East-West Shrine Bowl alongside many of the top players in the country.
There was some speculation that Calitro could be selected in the 2017 NFL draft. Rather than give up on pro football when that didn’t happen, he followed the road less traveled and became a rookie free agent. With little more than a fire in his belly and a dream in his heart, Calitro crisscrossed the country last year hoping for a chance to show what he could do. He made stops in Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Cleveland and Philadelphia — and he apparently made quite an impression during his three-week stay with the Seahawks, because they brought him back in June.
This whole experience has been a whirlwind for Calitro’s family, including his parents, Rich and Sharon. He had grown up on the football field as they watched from the sidelines, going from a young boy playing for the late Steve Kaplanis and the Danbury Trojans, to playing on television in front of millions of fans all across America.
Rich told a funny story about his son’s freshman year at Danbury High, when the late Rick Davis was the Hatters’ head coach.
“When Coach Davis took them to the Southern camp before his freshman year, and the first night, as Sharon and I were waiting for him to get off the bus, Coach Davis looked at us and pointed at Austin and said ‘He’s going to be fine,’” Rich recalled.
Coach, you were absolutely right. He’s done fine, just fine indeed.