Maryland defensive tackle Joe Vellano is a self-described “under-the-radar-kind-of-guy.”
“I kind of liked it that way,” he said.
Those days are over.
The transformation from unknown to unstoppable occurred on Oct. 8, 2011, when Vellano shocked the college football world with a career-best 20 tackles in a 21-16 loss to Georgia Tech. It was the most tackles by any defensive lineman in the FBS.
“It was kind of crazy,” Vellano said. “The first drive, I picked up like three or four tackles, and I was like, four tackles on one drive? Then I kind of got a beat on their offense from watching a lot of film. My brother played the option when he was at Rhode Island. Watching them, you get a feel for what they like.”
ACC offenses should now have a feel for Vellano, who enters 2012 as one of the league’s best linemen. Last year he finished third on the team with 94 tackles, had 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, four pass breakups, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. It didn’t matter that Maryland was 2-10. It was clear that Vellano was a first-team all-conference player stuck on a sinking ship. This year, the hard-nosed tackle will move to end in the new 3-4 scheme. While his position will change, his work ethic and method of preparation will remain the same.
“I’m just trying to do my job the best I can,” he said. “I’m going out swinging at least.”
It’s how he was raised.
Vellano’s dad, Paul, was a two-time All-ACC selection (1972-73) at defensive tackle for Maryland. They are the first father-son All-America combo at the same school in ACC history and one of four known in FBS. Vellano’s brother, Paul, played football at Rhode Island (2006-09) and has been a player-coach for the past three years for the Parma Panthers of the Italian Football League (if you haven’t read John Grisham’s “Playing for Pizza,” do it now).
Vellano said his father has played an integral role in his career.
“He wanted the best experience for us growing up,” he said. “My dad never told me I had to play football. He said, ‘If you like it, I’ll be happy to do everything I can to help you play,’ but he never pushed it on us. He comes to every game, he and my mom, and my brother. Not even just my immediate family, but my uncles, everyone tries to make every game. There’s a lot of support.”
Vellano said his father was a major influence on his decision to attend Maryland. The building his father lived in is right next to the stadium. It was the first college football program he saw when he was younger, and it was a part of his life growing up. Despite the disaster that was Randy Edsall’s first season, Vellano said he has no regrets trying to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “I love both coaches and that’s out of my control really. Coach Friedgen, he’s the one who offered me a scholarship. I would never be here without that. And coach Edsall, nothing but the best for our team. It’s been good to have both coaches.”
And it’s been just as good for Maryland to have both Vellanos.