Football

Grandsons of former Syracuse national champion lead Central Connecticut State

Courtesy of Steve McLaughlin

CCSU 6-foot-6 sophomore quarterback Jacob Dolegala leads the Blue Devils into the Carrier Dome on Friday night at 7 p.m. in what's a homecoming for him and his brother.

To understand why the Dolegala family’s passion is football, go back to the late-1950s when Al Bemiller walked onto Syracuse’s campus as a wrestler and left as an All-American center on the 1959 National Championship team.

Bemiller was drafted by the Buffalo Bills, played for nine years, and had four children. One of his three daughters, Tia, married a college football player. Greg Dolegala played at Buffalo in the 1980s, and together they raised three boys as Syracuse fans and eventually football players.

Jake and Jarrett, the two eldest Dolegala brothers, will carry their family’s history back into the Carrier Dome on Friday night as the starting quarterback and tight end, respectively, of the visiting Central Connecticut State Blue Devils. In what’s shaping up as a homecoming for the brothers, around 30 family friends will pile into the Dome and wave flags with their numbers. Neither brother envisioned playing at CCSU, but their injury-filled roads paved with similarities and self-doubt brought them there together.

“(Football) is in their blood,” Greg said. “(Syracuse) is a home game for us.”

Greg noticed his children’s talent at an early age and worked to give them the best chance to become the next generation of Dolegalas to reach one of the highest levels of the sport. That meant enrolling both boys in Saint Francis (New York) High School, a private school whose alumni includes former NFL players and general managers. Tia and Greg indefinitely postponed vacations to pay the $10,620-per-year tuition.

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Courtesy of Greg and Tia Dolegala

A nose for the ball made Jarrett a middle linebacker and a varsity starter in ninth grade. Schools such as SU and Albany scouted Jarrett before two labral tears — one in each shoulder — hurt his careers prospects. Potential offers remained potential.

“We were pulling our hair out,” Greg said. “We didn’t know where he was going to go to college.”

Jarrett worked his way into a starting linebacker position at Mercyhurst before he suffered two more labral tears. Displeased with his current coaching staff and upset with his own body, Jarrett listened to his dad’s advice and asked Jake if there was a spot for him at CCSU as a tight end or fullback.

“I felt bad he had to leave his old school but it just wasn’t going to work out,” Jake said. “I’m not going to say no to my brother.”

Jake’s path to CCSU mirrored Jarrett’s. Jake tore his right labrum — the one in his throwing shoulder — while diving to make a tackle after throwing an interception. It was the third game of his senior season and he threw his last pass in high school at the age of 16. The few Patriot League schools that were interested in Jake went silent. John Scibetta, their assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at St. Francis, recalled visiting Jake around Christmas and having his quarterback ask him if he would ever play again.

Scibetta recommended Jake to Milford Academy, a prep school in New Berlin, New York. The school allows college-caliber players to raise their grades before moving onto Division I. Jake wasn’t there to bolster his grades but to prove he belonged. Tuition plus room and board can run upward of $20,000. They took a gamble on their son and an arm that could barely make 15-yard throws at the time of enrollment.

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Courtesy of Steve McLaughlin

“We had nowhere to go,” Greg added. “We didn’t know what to do. He was devastated. We took a loan out because it’s something he wanted to do. It was his dream.”

After winning the starting job, Jake led his teammates to victory on the field and tutored them off it. CCSU was the only school that offered Jake a scholarship. With a chip on his shoulder above the scar that put it there, he’s led the high-powered offense since his freshman year, throwing 19 touchdowns in 22 games. Last year, he watched the Philadelphia Eagles select Carson Wentz as the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Jake texted Scibetta, “OK, maybe someday that’s me.”

“Everybody that I’ve talked to thinks that (Jake) has the NFL throws,” Bill Chaplick, the head coach at Milford, said. “He just has to finish strong at Central for his sake and for his teammate’s sake. He can start by having a big day against Syracuse. If you want to be a 1A guy, you’ve got beat the 1A guys.”

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