Originally published in The Fordham Ram on December 7, 2016.
Robbie Cantelli, a communications major from Holdmel, New Jersey, had a huge role in the Fordham Football offense the past two seasons as a wide receiver. This year, he led the Rams in receiving touchdowns with 13, good for second in the Patriot League, and also had 634 yards on 37 receptions.
He sat down with The Fordham Ram to discuss his journey from walk-on to a scholarship player and coming back from a significant injury last season.
The Fordham Ram: What was it like being a walk-on?
Robbie Cantelli: Right away, I came in and all the freshmen got here on July 1 and I didn’t get here until August 1. So, I was kind of behind the eight ball already with that. It’s tough. The first day of camp was I think was [August 3], so all these kids have been learning the playbook since July, I get here and the first day I’m expected to know everything. It was really stressful right away, but you start to get yourself acclimated, start to meet all the guys, the upperclassmen, the coaches. But it’s an uphill climb, it definitely is. Sometimes you feel like you’re kind of — not disadvantaged — but you have to work a lot harder than a lot of people to get the same opportunities. But there are opportunities as long as you work hard and continue to do that work and put everything you have into it.
TFR: Last year, you stepped into a larger role due to some injuries. What was it like going from being a walk-on to being a starter and having a bigger role in the offense?
RC: It was awesome. But it was something that I expected of myself because I have high expectations of myself, obviously. Learning from guys that came before me like Brian Wetzel [GSB ‘15] and Tebucky Jones [FCRH ‘15], they kind of taught me what it took to be a starting receiver here and the mentality it took to have, the leadership you had to have. We had a lot of young guys come up last year, so I knew I had to kind of take on that role, whether I was a walk-on or a scholarship, whatever. I did that, I feel like, pretty well. It was good. It was enjoyable.
TFR: You tore your ACL in the game against Colgate late last season [the Rams were playing for a chance to win the Patriot League. Cantelli tore his ACL in the first quarter, and Fordham lost 31-29]. Can you describe the work you had to do to come back this season?
RC: That was definitely the hardest thing I’ve had to do through my athletic career. From not being able to feel my entire leg for a week after the surgery not being able to walk or put pressure on it for a month and a half after the surgery and then just the rehab process itself right away is the worst. Trying to bend your leg. Something as little as lifting your leg becomes almost impossible. The beginning was definitely tough. As you progress three months, four months, five months, you really start to feel like, “Okay, I’m making progress.” But even then, you can only run straight. You can’t do this, you can’t do that. So, it’s definitely tough, a lot of hard work. I was in the training room with Vinny [Porricelli, head athletic trainer] for four hours a day. Coach Reimann on the sidelines during spring practice. Just consistently working. Icing when I went home. I had to rent an ice machine to always have ice on it no matter what time of day it was. It was a continuous process that was definitely stressful at times. I even doubted myself at times. I had great family and friends that would pick me up and motivate me to continue to go.
TFR: Now you come back this season and playing Colgate you have those two late touchdowns in what could be considered a revenge game [Cantelli caught one with 3:38 left in the third to bring Fordham within three. With 4:55 left in the fourth, he made a top-tapping catch after a huge jump to give the Rams the lead and the 24-20 win]. What was that like?
RC: That was an unbelievable experience. On Senior Day, with I think 28 guys that I came in with, our last home game to finish it off. To have two touchdowns to help us come back and beat Colgate, I couldn’t ask for a better storybook ending than that, especially since I tore my ACL against them last year. It was definitely a game I had circled on my calendar since last year. In those late rehab hours, just thinking, “Alright, we’ve got another shot at Colgate. I have to get back so I can do the best I can against them.” But yeah, that moment was crazy. All the fans, I had a bunch of family there and my teammates embracing me after the game, it was really special.
TFR: You had a good year as a junior, but to have all these touchdowns this season was something else. Was there something different you did, or was that how the games just worked out?
RC: It is how the games worked out, but I think what got me a lot more touchdowns this year – I had a couple long ones – was Coach Breiner really looked for me in the end zone. I think that helped. He set up a lot of plays for me like pick plays or one-on-one plays that I had the opportunity to get open, so that really helped I think. And Kevin [Anderson] was obviously constantly looking for me, gave me great passes…but I didn’t expect to have 13 touchdowns. I mean I only had one last year, so that was a surprise to me, too.
TFR: What are your post-Fordham plans?
RC: I actually have a fifth year of eligibility. Not here, because of the way the league works. I didn’t miss enough games when I got hurt to redshirt, but I didn’t play my freshman year. I’m looking into that. I’ve been talking to Coach Breiner, Coach Marmaros, they’re helping me reach out to other schools to possibly do a year of grad school, play some more football, which would be awesome. But if doesn’t work out, I guess just look for a job and be happy with whatever I do after my football career is over.