WALLINGFORD >> On the first day of all-star practice, Team Nutmeg coach John Ferrazzi asked his players how many would continue their football careers in college.
Almost the entire group put a hand up. Sal Esposito was not one of them.
The Notre Dame-West Haven standout will instead focus on academics at Fairfield University, which does not offer football. Esposito received an academic scholarship and will major in business.
“I definitely wanted to play football if I could,” said Esposito, a New Haven resident. “The offer I got from Fairfield was a very good offer. I felt the degree I could get from Fairfield could open up a lot of doors in the future. I think it was definitely a mature decision to not play football and go to Fairfield, but I think it will be the right one for the future.
“Eventually you have to hang up the pads. It’s unfortunate that I have to do it a little early.”
But not before one final high school contest.
Team Nutmeg squares off against Team Constitution in the Super 100 Classic on Saturday at Rentschler Field. Kickoff is set for 4:30 p.m.
“This is to lay it all on the line,” Esposito said. “I’m fighting for a (starting) spot among the best competition the state has to offer. It’s pretty awesome to play my last game like this. It’s going to be like a college game.”
Esposito is expected to play outside linebacker for Nutmeg.
“He has a lot of strength,” Ferrazzi said. “He’s really able to play and rush against those tackles, as well as fly to the ball. He has such a motor on him.”
The 5-foot-11, 203-pound Esposito made 74 tackles as a senior and was named an all-Southern Connecticut Conference selection. Notre Dame coach Tom Marcucci said Esposito received interest from Stonehill and Southern Connecticut State.
“He certainly could have played at those schools,” Marcucci said. “He would be a good college football player. But I always tell the kids to go to the school they think they want to go to, and that’s what he did. I respect that decision.”
Esposito’s exploits on the gridiron only reveal one facet of his personality. Esposito also excelled in the classroom, where he compiled a grade point average of 4.127.
“Exceptional,” Marcucci said. “He’s hard-working, tough and great in the classroom.”
At graduation earlier this month, Esposito received the school’s highest honor — the Code Award, given to the senior whom the faculty deemed best lived his life by the words stated in the Notre Dame code.
One paragraph from the code reads: “In a word, a man of faith and honesty, of strength and character through self-mastery, of respect for the Christian family and lawful authority, of leadership in the pursuit of good.”
“I was pretty surprised,” Esposito said. “It was never really the goal to win that. I never did the stuff in the code just to win the award. But it was awesome. It was great for me and for my family, and for my coaches, my faculty and my friends who were always supporting me and always behind me. It was definitely a proud moment for me.”
Esposito was president of the National Honor Society, a member of the Spanish Honor Society, a peer counselor and he tutored underclassmen. He also volunteered with Special Olympics.
Esposito credits the school for encouraging students to participate in extracurricular activities.
“They push you to do it, but I enjoy doing it,” Esposito said. “My freshman year I was kind of iffy about doing it.
But they kind of laid it out there, and once I did it, it was pleasing to me, so I continued doing it.”
Balancing books, sports and a social life wasn’t easy.
“It’s hard to find time,” Esposito said. “You basically just have to manage your schedule. It’s definitely a busy schedule — you lose sleep a little bit sometimes — but that’s what you have to do. You have to sacrifice a lot.”
Said Marcucci: “He’s everything we want our student-athletes to represent.”