At the end of a practice two years ago, Wilton football coach EJ DiNunzio spotted sophomore Mike Coffey sitting alone on the bench.
“He was upset,” DiNunzio said. “He wasn’t getting a lot of practice time and he didn’t have a clear position to play.”
DiNunzio made a suggestion.
“He was tall and he had good hands, so I told him his best shot might be as a tight end,” DiNunzio said. “But he had to get stronger. He was a tall skinny kid who had played quarterback as a freshman and he needed to fill out.”
Coffey heeded the advice and decided to make the Wilton High weight room his second home. Now a senior, Coffey is 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds. Following a breakout junior season, he would have been one of the top tight ends in the FCIAC this fall — if COVID-19 concerns hadn’t led state officials to postpone the traditional 11-vs-11 season until next spring.
Unlike many other players across the state, however, Coffey doesn’t need to worry whether the delay will negatively affect the chances of playing college football: He gave a verbal commitment last Friday to play at Sacred Heart (an NCAA Division I program) in nearby Fairfield.
“The fact that [Sacred Heart] is in Connecticut, my home state, and a great town in Fairfield, I felt this opportunity was hard to pass up,” Coffey said. “I have built amazing relationships with the offensive coordinator, head coach, and tight ends coach, who will be my position coach upon my arrival.
“One thing this program preaches is a sense of community and family, which was one of my top factors in choosing a program,” Coffey added. “Coming from a small town like Wilton has made me appreciate the relationships I have with almost everyone in town of all ages and backgrounds. I love being able to walk around town or go to a game and see almost all familiar faces, and be able to hold a personal conversation with my peers. The community aspect at SHU had to be one of the biggest things for me not only on the field but off of it as well.”
Coffey has already witnessed Sacred Heart’s sense of community and family. Near the end of Wilton’s first 7v7 non-contact, passing game against Ridgefield on Oct. 2, he made a leaping catch and landed on a right leg that buckled and gave out.
“It was the worst pain of my life falling to the turf and I knew from that instant it was a serious injury,” Coffey said. “All I could do was hope it wasn’t my ACL and it wasn’t until the afternoon of the next day that the first doctor I saw said he feared it was in fact a torn ACL.”
An MRI confirmed the doctor’s fears, and Coffey had to inform the Sacred Heart coaches about the torn ACL before giving his verbal commitment last Friday. In an email, Sacred Heart offensive coordinator Matt Gardner said he was unable to comment on recruits who have not yet signed a National Letter of Intent.
“The injury was not what made me commit … ” Coffey said. “I thought back to my first conversation with SHU and then being offered by them just a week or two later. I knew these guys believed in me and, more importantly, they really wanted me in their program. Knowing that the coaches wanted me more than other players and cared enough to recognize me to that extent meant the world to me and with a few other factors in play I felt the time was right.”
Coffey picked Sacred Heart after considering offers from Army, Central Connecticut, Long Island University, and Morgan State.
“My dream has always been to play big time D1 college football since I was a little kid, and so I tried my best to achieve that dream,” he said. “Due to a couple of smaller injuries over the past year and a half I was unable to produce the [game] film I needed for the larger D1 programs and couldn’t get to their camps this summer because of COVID-19.
“Army was definitely the biggest offer and most well known by the average football fan,” Coffey added. “After I was offered by them I was definitely very honored and thought about a possible future at West Point. After about a month of thinking about all that goes into being a student athlete there, I decided it wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted to pursue.
“I was proud of all of my offers but there was always something special about Sacred Heart to me. Even when I thought of doing a PG (post-graduate) year this upcoming year after I graduate from Wilton, there was always a thought in the back of my mind about Sacred Heart and what I could be missing if I decided against it.”
A big plus for Coffey is that Sacred Heart recruited him as a tight end.
“I have always loved playing offense a little more than defense,” said Coffey. “I am definitely more suited for the tight end position because I have a natural ability for catching the football and good vision of the field.
“I think a lot of players talk about having the ball in their hands and how it produces a different type of feeling and energy for a player, especially in a game, and I’d have to agree with that 100%,” Coffey added. “Not only catching the ball but scoring touchdowns and helping your team march down the field time after time is probably my favorite aspect of the position.”
Due to the ACL injury, Coffey won’t be able to play if Connecticut has an 11-vs-11 season next spring. Instead, he will concentrate on rehabbing his right knee and coming back better than before.
“I think the two main areas of my game I need to improve in order to be successful at the D1 college level are my straight-away speed, and my lateral quickness,” Coffey said. “Other than that I am just going to work very hard at getting healthy again and do what I’m told to do by the coaching staff at SHU in order to become one of the best players in our conference over the next four years.”