Attending the University of Maryland was the easiest decision Joe Vellano of Rexford ever made.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I went to all the football camps, and I always wore the T-shirts and sweatshirts with the Maryland logo. If I had an opportunity to go anywhere, it would be Maryland,” said the fifth-year senior defensive lineman, who is following in his father Paul’s huge footsteps in more ways than one.
Paul Vellano, a former Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons standout and member of the Capital District Football Hall of Fame, was a two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection (1972-73) at Maryland, where he played on the same defensive line as future NFL Hall of Famer Randy White. The elder Vellano was a first-team Kodak AFCA All-American, as well as a second-team All-American by both the UPI and The Associated Press in 1973.
When Joe Vellano was named both an All-American and a consensus first-team All-ACC pick last year, the Vellanos became the first father-son All-America combo at the same school in ACC history.
“It’s crazy to think that I became an All-American last year,” said the 6-foot-2, 285-pound Vellano, who was a three-year letterman at Christian Brothers Academy and the Section II Player of the Year as a senior. “I would have never thought that would happen. It’s just the way things worked out. I ended up starting and making some big plays. Day by day and step by step, I got a little better, and I got the opportunity to show what I could do. To earn that honor was completely unexpected, but it certainly was something special for me.”
“Joe certainly has the heart, the intensity and the athletic ability to be an All-American. He loves the game,” said his father, who runs the 15-branch Vellano Brothers water hydrant, drain and sewage supply company. “I always knew Joe could play football, but all I wanted him to do was to have a chance to play for Maryland, and hopefully, eventually start. For him to be an All-American was just fantastic.”
Joe Vellano vaulted into the national spotlight with a sensational game against Georgia Tech last year by making 20 tackles.
“I guess that would have to be my best game ever, but numbers aren’t a big deal for me,” he said. “Without a doubt, winning is the key. There is nothing like winning and coming back to the football complex after a win. We are all so psyched after a win. You can’t believe it.”
Vellano ended up starting all 12 games and led the Football Bowl Subdivision in tackles by a lineman with 7.8 per game. He was 12th in the ACC and 92nd in the nation in total tackles, and ranked tied for fifth in the ACC and tied for 68th nationally in fumble recoveries per game (0.17).
Vellano, known for his quick first step and excellent overall speed for a big man, recorded four double-digit tackle games. He recovered a pair of fumbles against Miami, including one that he returned for a 30-yard touchdown.
Vellano is in his second season as one of the Terrapins’ captains. He has started the last 29 games for Maryland, which is best on the team.
So far this season, he is second on the team with 12 tackles, all solo, and he has an interception.
Maryland head coach Randy Edsall is a big fan of his big man up front.
“Joe Vellano is a football player that every coach loves, because he gives it to you all the time. He’s a coach on the field,” said Edsall.
“He can come off the field, tell you exactly what’s going on, some things that can work and all that. The guy just loves to complete, loves to play. He’s going to make plays. He’s a leader out there.”
But it all started with his father’s coaching in Pop Warner junior football and continued under the tutelage of the CBA coaching staff.
“My dad got me started, and then Coach [Jim] Smith and the other coaches at CBA continued what he started. My dad would come over and try to help sometimes. All of them were great guys, mentors and teachers for me. Their coaching, and all the stuff I learned from the football camps really helped me and my brother, Paul, when we played together,” Vellano said.
Vellano’s older brother was a senior at CBA when Joe was a sophomore. Paul Vellano Jr. played at Rhode Island for three years (2006-09) and has been a player-coach for the Parma Panthers of the Italian Football League.
“Certainly all the camps I took Joe and Paul to as youngsters paid off,” said Paul Vellano Sr. “They were able to learn the correct techniques, and they were able to gauge their ability. Then guys like Jim Smith, Matt Gormley and Carm Audino really honed their games.”
Joe Vellano, a member of the National Honor Society, said that physical prowess alone doesn’t guarantee success, especially in Division I football.
“The right technique can definitely save you. You can get beat by great technique, or you can use it to your advantage,” he said. “It’s one of those things where when you’re playing really fast, it has to become second-nature to you. Technique definitely comes into play every game. Remember that every play is different, and there is a different scheme on offense against a different scheme on defense. There is rarely the same set play on offense against the same set play on defense on any individual play.”
Vellano noted that the difference between high school football and major college football is like night and day.
“The athletes are bigger and stronger, and they are more experienced at this level,” he said. “Everybody here was the best player on their team in high school. Plus, there is no off-season at this level. It’s a slow process every day.
“I had spring football with workouts every Monday through Friday, and then some lifting and running. All summer, I worked out every day. I think the only real time off you have is that we had a month right after the season. After that, it was right back to work.”
An avid Giants fan, Vellano attended Giants camp at the University at Albany last summer, and he got a chance to see some old friends, like his coaches back at CBA, as well as Union head coach John Audino and his brother, Carm, who used to coach Vellano when he was younger.
“I want to say hello to all of those guys, because they all helped me out. A lot of the CBA coaches came to see one of my games last year, too. So many people from back in the Capital Region have followed my career, especially my grandmother, Atoinette, who still lives in Rotterdam.”
Although the season isn’t half over yet, Vellano knows he’s lucky to be feeling so healthy.
“Every Saturday is a war. You get beat up, but it’s a relative situation on both sides of the ball. The offensive linemen take their hits, too. Everybody is on the same level. You just have to get back up and take care of yourself,” he said.
Vellano, whose 2-2 Terrapins are idle this week, is trying to keep his mind on his final collegiate season, but he can’t deny his professional aspirations. He is ranked among the top defensive linemen for next spring’s NFL draft.
“Hopefully, I’ll get a shot at the pros. I’d love to get the chance,” he said. “I’ll definitely pursue the professional ranks, if I get drafted, but right now, I just want to take it one day at a time. Hopefully, if I get through December, I’ll talk to the scouts if they are interested. Until then, my mind is completely on our team and our season.”
“I think he’ll get a chance at the pros,” said his father. “He’s developed into a complete football player, and I think the fact that he’s now playing a 3-4 defense at Maryland will also help him land a spot in the NFL with a team that uses a similar defense.”