It was on the tip of his tongue, but it took Cardinal Spellman two-way star Rory Donovan a few moments to put two and two together on the familiar figure that spotted him going through drills at football camp last July on the campus of the University of New Hampshire.
“Rory Donovan, you’re a good player,” said the man, according to Donovan.
“I’m sorry, but who are you?” Donovan replied.
“I’m Chip Kelly.”
And that, Donovan recalls, was when “my jaw dropped”.
“I was stuttering,” he said of meeting the Philadelphia Eagles head coach, who carved his legend as the architect of record-setting offenses at UNH and Oregon, and remains close friends with UNH head coach Sean McDonnell. “I didn’t know what to say, I just couldn’t believe it was Chip Kelly.
“It made me feel amazing. He saw my 40 time and said, ‘You’re a Hell of a player. Anyone who can run a 4.5 flat at 6-foot-6 is flat out impressive. You’re gonna have a great future.”
This morning, the roots of that exchange five months ago came full-circle as Donovan, the hulking 6-foot-6, 195-pound flex tight end gave a verbal commitment to the Wildcats, a pledge he said was a long time in the works.
Donovan, who was named to ESPN Boston’s All-State Team last week after scoring 14 touchdowns in 10 games, chose the Wildcats over a host of suitors that included two Division 1 FBS schools (UMass, UConn) as well as smattering of FCS programs (James Madison, Maine, Delaware, Albany, Bryant).
“UNH made the semifinals for the FCS championship, so I knew with their success and some of the commits they’ve been getting -– [Nashua South QB] Trevor Knight, [Central Catholic safety] D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie -- they’re gonna be stacked for the next four years,” Donovan said this afternoon.
“I liked what they had to say. My recruiter and soon-to-be wide receivers coach, Ricky Santos, was absolutely great.”
The Wildcats initially offered Donovan a scholarship during that star-crossed camp back in July, and said he had his sights set on them from the get-go. Why he chose to wait five months to permeate his intentions with a verbal commitment, Donovan said, was a matter of testing the waters.
“My parents wanted to see what else I can get, they thought I would get a lot more scholarship offers if I waited,” he said. “They wanted me to go through my senior year first, then commit, because I could get more scholarship offers. They were right, I did.
Here are a few more comments from Donovan to shed light on his future with the Wildcats:
His anticipated role in the offense: “They want me to be an ‘X’ or ‘Y’ wide receiver, they don’t want me to be a tight end at all. They think I am athletic enough to be a wide receiver on the 1-AA level, and they think coming in as a freshman I have potential to make a huge impact right away. That’s what they’ve been telling me, I should be getting on the field very fast. They are graduating two starting wide receivers, so spots are wide open and I have a chance. It all comes down to me being able to grasp the offensive scheme.”
On whether UNH’s organic player development played a factor (the Wildcats’ roster has no FBS transfers, a rarity for FCS powers): “Absolutely, I’ve seen some people come out of there, they’ve got a lot of players in the NFL. They just talked about getting players like me, who get a bunch of 1-AA scholarships and don’t get much looks from the 1-A schools, and making them great players but also great people –- that’s the most important thing, that’s big.”
On his interest from Division 1 basketball programs: “I had interest from Franklin Pierce, Bentley, but I don’t think I’m gonna do anything about that. All the players on their teams are much better than me. [Spellman teammates] Joey crane, Ryan Roach, those guys should be getting more attention than me.”
On the relief of finally giving a commitment: “It’s a huge weight off my shoulders. Over the last year, every single day I’ve been getting calls from schools –- while I’m doing homework, while I’m out with friends. It just became too much. It’s been my dream since I was little to be a Division 1 college football player, but it became a burden.”