There was no such thing as Signing Day at Templeton High before Jake Romanelli.
He was the first Eagle to become a Division I scholarship athlete. He went on to start at Cal Poly, where he became an FCS All-America candidate and rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a senior this past season – all firsts for Templeton and all while he was close enough to remain admired by the locals.
Already the poster boy for sports in the small North County ranching community, Romanelli’s next logical step seemed to become the first Eagle to play in the NFL. But it does not appear at this stage that the 6-foot-3, 240-pound fullback will pursue that goal.
Stopping short of saying he’d given up on playing football, Romanelli said he decided to give more focus this offseason to academics and opportunities for jobs outside of sports. The business administration major said he’s currently in the interview process for a job in a management training program with a nationally known winery.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve completely given up,” said Romanelli, who declined to participate in Cal Poly’s senior scouting day on Tuesday. “Right now, I’ve been very, very concentrated on career fairs and job leads, not giving all the time and energy to football that it would have required.”
A deft ball-carrier and receiver, Romanelli would have had to bulk up and work on his speed, but he was already close enough in both categories to be a potential undrafted free agent in the NFL if he was somehow able to prove he could transition from being a triple-option fullback to a more pro-style blocker or H-back.
Having watched Romanelli since he was a junior at Templeton, I could see him having a professional football career. So could former Eagles coach Don Crow. He and I had a conversation about it at a Templeton playoff game this past fall. Crow was ready then to help Romanelli find representation.
It’s not really a stretch to imagine Romanelli in the league considering the backgrounds of some NFL fullbacks and H-backs. The position is usually bypassed in the draft, and contributors often come out of nowhere.
A guy named Stephen Spach started for the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl. Have any idea who he is? The only reason I do is because we went to school together at Fresno State, where I watched him catch all of 38 receptions in a four-year career. He’s still in the NFL, playing for the St. Louis Rams.
Romanelli’s chosen path makes sense, too.
He would have to spend every waking moment preparing for a football career – lifting weights, eating right, speed training – and even then, it would be a big gamble. It’s not as big a game for a prospect like Asa Jackson, but for Romanelli, and teammates like Scott Winnewisser, there is no guarantee they will be given a chance in the NFL.
Winnewisser is spending the time training. Romanelli is not. It all comes down to their personal preferences, and I believe both guys will be successful regardless of their paths.
Romanelli, however, said he was influenced by former teammate Marty Mohamed, a fellow former All-Great West Conference player who took his turn as a fringe player on the scouting circuit. Mohamed tried to get noticed last spring, but was not called by an NFL team. Mohamed had a short-lived career in Canada, being cut shortly after sustaining an injury.
Meanwhile, recruiters in the business sector are often hosted by Cal Poly around this time of year, looking for the brightest seniors to add to their list of potential new employees.
Perhaps there is a short shelf life for athletes, but how long are Cal Poly students the sought-after entry-level job candidates before the next crop of students hits the job market? Especially in this economy, accepting a jump-start in a career with more longevity can’t be a bad idea either.
It just means that Romanelli’s time breaking football barriers for Templeton might be over.
“In all honesty, there was a little bit of that pressure there,” Romanelli said about the possibility of carrying on in the name of his hometown. “I was glad to be the first to get out and get a college scholarship. I know there’ll be plenty more. It doesn’t mean I was the first good player. There were plenty more before me. I was glad to be one of those people to put Templeton on the map, and people are like, ‘You should keep playing.’ It would be a rough transition for me regardless.”
You’re up, Tyler Gray.