TAMPA — He’s coming home.
University of Miami junior defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo, the former Alonso High School standout, is excited about Saturday afternoon’s game, when the No. 15-ranked Hurricanes (3-0) face the University of South Florida Bulls (0-3) at Raymond James Stadium.
“Just seeing a lot of people I haven’t seen in a while,’’ Chickillo said by telephone. “I need as many tickets as I can get. It’s always great to be home.’’
Truthfully, for the past three seasons, Chickillo has been home at UM.
He liked USF and had a great relationship with Kevin Patrick, a former Bulls assistant and UM All-American. But there was never a question. Chickillo always was going to become a Hurricane.
After all, his grandfather, Nick, was a two-way All-America lineman at UM and a member of the school’s athletic hall of fame. His father, Tony, was a Hurricane nose tackle who later played for the Bucs. On his football pants at Alonso, he wrote “3G,’’ for third generation.
Chickillo remembers playing youth football in Tampa, then hustling down Interstate 75 and across Alligator Alley with his family to watch UM games. He wept in 2007 when UM played its final game at the Orange Bowl. What else would you expect from a kid who, as a baby, sucked on a pacifier adorned with the UM logo?
“It has been everything I dreamed about,’’ Chickillo said. “I feel blessed.’’
Even while dealing with an NCAA nightmare.
Shortly into Chickillo’s first UM training camp, Yahoo! Sports reported that UM booster Nevin Shapiro (ironically, a former USF student) had provided money, gifts, jewelry and prostitutes for Hurricane athletes and recruits over an eight-year period.
The NCAA opened an investigation. Shapiro is serving a 20-year sentence in federal prison for his involvement in a Ponzi scheme. And the future of UM football remains in limbo.
More than two years later, the NCAA investigation is still ongoing, even after UM suspended eight players, reduced scholarships and served a self-imposed postseason ban for Chickillo’s previous two years. After winning its division, UM declined to play in last season’s ACC championship game.
“Missing the ACC game and not playing in a bowl game, that really stunk,’’ said Chickillo, who has increased his weight from 238 to 274 pounds while at UM. “But that wasn’t our decision and we’re all sticking together. That’s one thing we have — a unified team.’’
Chickillo has been at the center of that.
His role shifted gradually. Most of the time, he opens at defensive end. On third-down plays, he shifts inside to the three-technique spot, generating a push up the middle and opening spots for UM’s young speed pass rushers, such as sophomore Tyriq McCord (Jefferson) and freshman Al Quadin Muhammad.
“Anything to help the team,’’ said Chickillo, who has 12 tackles and two sacks this season. “Don’t get too high or two low. We beat Florida (21-16 on Sept. 7) and that was big. But we’re past that now. We’re playing USF. It’s the only thing that matters.’’
That attitude has endeared Chickillo to his coaching staff.
“At the end of the day, the problem with Chick is everybody wants to see his sack production,” Hurricanes defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said. “That’s at the bottom of my list. I want him to play hard. I want him to play his gap. I want to see him do his job.
“If he just lives up to our standard, he’ll be fine. That’s all he has done since he has been here. … He’s smart. He gets after the quarterback. He has gotten hits on the quarterback and he has gotten sacks. He gets stuff because of his technique and he knows what he’s doing. The stats will come.’’
Chickillo is most proud of one statistic. Saturday will be his 25th game — and 25th start.
“It has gone by so fast,’’ Chickillo said. “I was working really hard coming out of high school. I knew I was good enough to play, but I didn’t know how much I would play.
“To be part of this, it’s something I’ve worked my whole life for. I want it to be a special season and being able to come home is a great part of that.’’