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CCSU Linebacker Marino Plays With A Purpose
When he runs onto the turf at Arute Field, Central Connecticut’s Jeff Marino feels blessed. He looks into the stands at his grandfather, Tom Marino, still coming to watch at age 80, and he is motivated to play for him. He sees the other family members who are always there — parents Tom and Barbara, older siblings Meg and Matt and younger sister Genny — and he is motivated to play for them.
He plays for his coaches, his teammates and his city of New Britain, which produced him and six of his teammates. Most of all, he plays for someone who cannot be there, someone who has been a big part of his life though he was alive for only five hours on Aug. 15, 1991.
Michael Thomas Marino died of unknown causes. He never had the chance to be a football captain or follow in the family tradition of law enforcement, so Jeff plays to honor his brother’s memory.
“I play the game for a purpose,” Marino, a senior linebacker and captain, said before practice Wednesday. “Not many people know it, but I play for my little brother who passed away. I play every single game for him, and I go out there and I know I have to play every game like he would play if he was out there. I go into every game thinking about that. I have to play emotional because I know he would, too.”
The extra motivation, the discipline that makes him the last one in the film room, has enabled Marino to get the most out of his ability and become Central’s leading tackler the past two years.
The Blue Devils, 1-2 against a tough nonleague schedule, open Northeast Conference play Saturday at home against Bryant.
Central won the NEC last year, but this year the champion receives an automatic bid to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the first time.
“Playing for the NEC championship was worthwhile,” Marino said. “Now, [the chance to go to the NCAA playoffs] puts a little bit more on It. It’s something the team wants to do. We want to get there.”
Marino, 21, has been sure about his goals on and off the field since he came to Central. Coach Jeff McInerney said Marino showed leadership qualities as a freshman on special teams.
“He’s one of those kids that has made himself a player by hard work,” McInerney said. “He knows the defense as good as our defensive coaches. He’s done that since his sophomore year. He’s a coach on the field and I don’t just give that lip talk. He comes in and watches [film] and you have to run him out of here. And the other kids will follow him.
“He has that anticipation. And that’s because he knows the plays, and when you know the plays, you know where to go. So if you lack some skill level, you can get to the spot by anticipation.”
Marino, a criminology major, will graduate in May and follow two great-uncles, two cousins, his father and his older brother into police work. His father spent 27 years on the New Britain force and his brother is a New Britain patrolman.
“Me and my brother grew up listening to my father’s police radio,” Marino said. “He told us what we could and could not do. He kept us disciplined. I look at my brother … he looks just like me … and, yes, I can see myself doing that. I could definitely see myself here [in New Britain]. I really think I’m going to be an officer.”
Fellow linebacker Isaiah Boddie has known Marino since kindergarten in New Britain and says Marino could always discuss anything with his own family. New Britain High teammates saw it firsthand at team dinners the Marinos often hosted.
“I think his dad and his brother probably told him plenty of stories about people messing up in the city of New Britain,” Boddie said. “We grew up with kids that probably aren’t even thinking about college. People who are on the streets now or maybe behind bars. Jeff’s seen that. He’s heard it from his family, his parents.
“He’s obviously had the right guidance.”
These football Saturdays at Central reinforce the family bonds. When Marino makes a big play, as he did with an interception against Bentley two weeks ago, he locks eyes with his mom and dad in the crowd and they share the unspoken feelings that Jeff has tried to symbolize with a tattoo on his upper right arm.
Above the initials of his parents and surviving siblings is an angel with the initials M.T.M. and the date 8/15.
“My little brother watching over us,” Marino says.
By Jay Spiegel, The Hartford Courant