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For Joe Vellano, starring at Maryland means carrying on family tradition
ALBANY, N.Y. — A full understanding of Maryland defensive end Joe Vellano does not stem from his quickness and savvy, though it is a defining trait for his success.
It is not rooted in a modest personality unlikely to draw much attention, though it is remarkable a defensive lineman has become the on-field face of the Terrapins without boasting a boisterous image.
It does come from family, just not entirely because his father, Paul, was an All-America defensive lineman at Maryland. Just take a peek at Vellano Bros., Inc., and its corporate offices just down the road from an airport.
There are no pretenses in the functional building, nor is there with a business now in its fourth generation of Vellanos. Originally a construction company, Vellano Bros. provides sewer supplies to municipalities in the Northeast and beyond. He is down to earth (“undergrounded,” in the words of his uncle Joseph) in part because of the booming family business.
“It’s something you need, but you never even think about,” fellow defensive lineman A.J. Francis said. “If you told me tomorrow that your sewer lines were going to go bad, that’s the worst thing that can possibly happen. But if you never mention it to me, I’d never even think about that.
“That’s kind of the guy Joe is. He’s blue collar. That’s how his family is, and that’s the reason he is the way he is.”
Sure enough, Vellano doesn’t entirely look the part of a defensive tackle, which he played the past two years. He is not tiny at 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds, but he does not immediately stand out, at least until he endlessly scampers from whistle to whistle.
But he did have one demand, encapsulated in an old image of eight Terp defenders converging on a ball carrier that sat on the desk of ex-Maryland assistant George Foussekis.
“One of the things I tried to ingrain in these children from Pop Warner, and it was ingrained in me, is don’t stop,” Paul Vellano said in a wood-paneled conference room at his family’s business. “Pursue. Pursue. Coach Foussekis used to say, ‘Happiness is pursuit.’ That’s one of the things that he’s done. That’s why you see him all over the freaking place.”
Last fall, Joe Vellano popped up nearly everywhere. He turned a fortuitous bounce on a fumble into a touchdown in the season opener. He made an eye-popping 20 tackles in a loss at Georgia Tech. He led all ACC defensive linemen in tackles with 94.
“He’s not your prototype defensive lineman in any physical way,” Terps defensive line coach Greg Gattuso said. “He’s big enough, but he’s not a big, tall guy. He’s strong enough, but he’s not the strongest guy. He’s quick, but he’s not the quickest, not the fastest. But what he is, when you put it all together, is a hell of a football player.”
Good enough to earn second-team All-America plaudits, which placed his in some select (and, in one case, familiar) company in College Park.
References to all of Maryland’s All-America football players adorn the Byrd Stadium facade. To the left of midfield sits “VELLANO DG 1973.” The latest addition, located over the end zone closest to the team house, is “VELLANO DL 2011.”
“Just going in the locker room before we lift or going out to practice, you go out that way and look up and just kind of laugh,” said Vellano, who will play end in Maryland’s 3-4 scheme when it opens the season Saturday against William & Mary. “I think it’s more or less funny, two guys from upstate New York.”
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About the Author
Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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