By Martin Cleary
Like many Canadian youth, Luca Farinaccio had visions of growing up to be a hockey player.
He was well into the process, skating with a variety of Nepean Minor Hockey Association teams and patrolling the blueline.
But at age 13, he decided to hang up his competitive skates and stick and head for the warm gymnasiums to play basketball with St. Mother Teresa High School and the Nepean Blue Devils as a guard.
An all-around athlete with the Titans and in the community, Farinaccio’s father Frank wanted his son to take a look at football. It was only natural, as coaching football at the university and junior levels was second nature for the elder Farinaccio.
“My dad used to play football and is a coach (running backs) at Carleton University. He brought me to my first football practice. It was great. That’s what I wanted to do,” said Luca, sounding like he had discovered his key to athletic success.
“I could hit people. I’m yours.”
Luca Farinaccio has gone a long way hitting people from his defensive linebacker position and he hopes his style of all-out play will earn him a university football scholarship for the 2024 NCAA Division 1 season.
After a defensive award-winning career in the Myers Riders’ organization, one midget-level season with the Nepean Broncos and the 2019 season with the Ottawa Sooners junior team, he felt he needed to attend an American prep school to sharpen and develop his football skills.
Farinaccio, 18, enrolled last August at Episcopal High School, which is a private co-ed boarding school in Alexandria, Virginia. Several Ottawa football players have attended Episcopal in the past, including Penn State defensive back Jonathan Sutherland, defensive end Luiji Vilain, who is on the roster of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and offensive lineman Chris Fournier, who played at Lehigh University before being selected by the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes.
In his first year at Episcopal, Farinaccio has been a smashing hit, whether on the football field or in the classroom, where he has adjusted to the heavier workload and carries a 94-per-cent average.
As a linebacker, he helped Episcopal to a 5-0 record and its first Interstate Athletic Conference league championship since 2016. The team finished with a 7-2 record overall.
Individually, Farinaccio produced impressive defensive stats that earned him selection to the IAC first all-star team as well as the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association first all-star team. And he did that as a first-year junior, while making the transition to American football from the Canadian game.
“If you had told me at the beginning that I’d be an all-star, I would have told you I had no shot,” the polite and well-spoken Farinaccio said in a phone interview this week. “It’s very hard, especially in my first year.”
In his nine games, Farinaccio registered 82 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, two interceptions (including one for a touchdown), and two sacks. At Episcopal’s fall sports awards banquet, he was one of five honoured football players, winning the Winniett Peters Award.
“I arrived here in early August for the pre-season and school was a bit of an adjustment. There was a larger workload, but I’ve got my grades up,” said Farinaccio, who prefers to take his compulsory two-hour study hall sessions in one of the school’s libraries.
“When I got here, I had to adjust (also as a football player). The American football players are a lot faster and better competitively. I definitely had to adjust. But game-by-game, I could see improvements in my play … getting used to the smaller field.”
Farinaccio felt he has greatly benefited from the teaching of defensive coach Craig Wilkins, who signed with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks in 2013 and played in three pre-season games.
“He’s a genius,” praised Farinaccio, who continues to train in the off-season at Victor Tedondo’s Gridiron Academy. “He worked with me on my technique, helped me understand the fundamentals and how everything flows together.”
Farinaccio elected to attend Episcopal because of the dedicated approach by Kadeem Rodgers, the Episcopal football head coach and assistant athletic director.
“Everyone I knew who wanted to go to an (NCAA) Division 1 school headed to a prep school,” Farinaccio explained. “For me, I got active on Twitter and I posted my (football) highlights package. Coach Rodgers saw my film, reached out to me and asked me to apply.”
Farinaccio quickly developed a strong relationship with Rodgers.
“He would call me on a weekly basis to see how school was going and my football training was going,” he said.
At the end of this season at Episcopal, Farinaccio had improved so much the all-star team selectors couldn’t resist putting him on their lists.
“I play hard, fast and aggressive every single play,” he firmly stated. “I leave my heart and soul out there. You only play football for a short time.”
Farinaccio has been contacted by a few notable American universities and hopes to continue the process of earning an athletic scholarship over the next year.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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