No place like home

Zach Mettenberger was born in Watkinsville, Ga., a mere 665 miles and 10-and-a-half hours from Steubenville.

He played college football at the University of Georgia and LSU before being drafted by the Tennessee Titans last weekend. It’d be hard to believe a guy fully engrained in the deep south and SEC-country would ever set foot in the Ohio Valley and, what could be considered Big 10, Big 12 and ACC country.

But he has. Multiple times.

Mettenberger’s father, Bernie, is a Steubenville native and attended Catholic Central High School.

“Zach has been to Steubenville many times,” said Todd Toriscelli, a 1979 Central grad. “His dad and I just missed each other in high school. He was a freshman when I was a senior.”

Toriscelli, the director of sports medicine for the Titans, was unaware of the Steubenville ties when Mettenberger was chosen as the 178th overall pick in the sixth round of the draft. Though he did have his eye on the 6-foot-5, 235-pound QB who is sixth in LSU history for passing yards (5,783) and fifth for touchdowns (35).

“I did have a say in picking him because he is coming off ACL surgery,” Toriscelli said, “so we had many discussions over that in the past several weeks.”

Toriscelli and Mettenberger chatted briefly on Monday morning to discuss early plans for his place on the depth chart and the crazy connection that was just formed.

It truly is a small world.

To Mike DiAngelo, though, the small world seems bigger when you’re nearly 3,000 miles away from home.

The Steubenville native and 2002 Big Red graduate is currently a graduate assistant on the University of Arizona football staff.

“The way of life is a bit different,” DiAngelo said.

That includes the food. Out there, it’s more of an hispanic flavor. Here, it’s all about the Italian cuisine.

“I definitely miss the food back home,” DiAngelo said. “Nothing beats homemade meatballs and pasta.”

He does keep in touch with family and friends, regularly. He’ll also come home as often as possible.

“I come back whenever I can,” DiAngelo said. “I’ll be home this summer; I came home last summer for about three weeks. I was home for Christmas then got to come back again after the bowl game for about 10 days.

“Any chance I get, even if it’s only for three or four days, I’ll come back to see my family.”

Though it’s gameday, he has a particular gameday ritual every Saturday in the fall.

“I’ll always check the newspapers online to see Friday night high school football scores from back home,” he said.

With head coach Rich Rodriguez being from Northern West Virginia, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel being from a fellow OVAC school with Paden City, and 13 other assistants or support staff being from the Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia region, the same background and foundation is shared throughout the Arizona coaching family

“It’s pretty much the same mentality,” DiAngelo said. “It’s very similar to what I grew up with in Steubenville and with Big Red. The values and qualities they preach is exactly what I was taught.”

He still fondly remembers playing quarterback in high school, “though we greatly underachieved,” DiAngelo said.

Steubenville made it to the playoffs his senior year, after an 8-2 regular season, but fell to Columbus DeSales in the first round, 38-8.

“When we left, then they started getting good,” DiAngelo said. “Zach Collaros and those guys came in and eventually won back-to-back state titles.”

While Toriscelli’s career has taken him from Ohio to North Carolina to Kansas to Florida to California and now Tennessee, he still considers Steubenville home.

But Tampa, Fla. is, too.

“That’s where my kids grew up,” said Toriscelli, who spent 17 years as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training staff. “I lived there almost as long as I lived in Steubenville.”

His son just completed his freshman year at the University of Georgia, where Mettenberger started his college career, and his daughter is a junior in high school.

“We’re in the process of relocating (to Tennessee),” Toriscelli said.

He’ll come back to Steubenville at least once a year. His parents and brother still live in the city. Though he’s been on a Super Bowl-winning team, beating Big Red in 1977 and 1978 still resonates at the top of his football memories.

“Those were great experiences in the 70s, especially beating Big Red my junior and senior year,” he said. “Now they don’t even play each other, which is crazy. Playing football in those days was special. It was truly competitive between Central and Big Red. It was a great match up.

“The whole town got excited. There was nothing else like it.”

DiAngelo and Toriscelli are just two examples of success stories who never forgot where they came from.

You can change a lot of things in your life, but your hometown will always be the same.

Faithfulness to your hometown is also something that should never waver.

DiAngelo and Toriscelli have pride in Steubenville and Steubenville should have pride in them.

(Peaslee, a Youngstown native, is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at mpeaslee@heraldstaronline.com or followed on Twitter at @thempeas)