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The Blue-White Game Star a Year Later: Inside the Football Soul of Cole Chiappialle

by on April 16, 2015 10:45 PM

It’s been 370 days since Cole Chiappialle ran away with two touchdowns, 80 total yards and our hearts.

The day was April 12, 2014 -- last year’s Blue-White Game in Beaver Stadium.

And Chiappialle, a 5-foot-8 and 209-pound walk-on from Blackhawk High School who once rushed for 404 yards in a single game, showed heart of the extraordinary kind.

On the field in Beaver Stadium before 70,000 fans, he ran nine times for 63 yards, with touchdown runs of one and 23 yards, with a pair of catches for 17 yards. 

Off the field, Chiappialle was still getting over the shock of his mother Kim passing away at age 53 just five weeks before the spring scrimmage. The media swarmed him after the game, anxious to hear and then share his story.

“I had decided I was going to play for her,” he recalled when we spoke earlier this week. “I had a lot of emotions built up that I kept in. I just went out there and played. I left it all on the field. It was one of those emotional moments you just can’t explain.

“When I look back at it a year later, it’s gone fast. It doesn’t get any easier when you think about it, but you do learn to think about the good times you’ve had. Despite everything that’s happened, you learn to live with it and move on, but keeping those memories.”

HOT AND COLE

The year since then has gone by both fast and furious.

Chiappialle used his 4.53ish speed and relentless spirit to become a sophomore stalwart on four Nittany Lion special teams in the 2014 season; carried the ball a game-high 16 times against UMass; had two knee surgeries following injuries suffered during last season; and announced his transfer to Shippensburg in February.

And through it all, Chip – also the nickname “of my dad and my dad’s dad; there’s no one better than my dad” – never had a chip on his shoulder. Lord knows, he could have.

“My family is doing good. We’re even closer, if that’s possible,” he said. “I have a great family. We gathered together. Honestly, it put a lot of things into perspective for me when that happened. The past year was a whirlwind, to say the least. I had ups and downs, but it was definitely fun. It's something I’ll always remember. It’s how life goes.”

Here’s how it went: Five games into Penn State’s 2014 season, Chiappialle took advantage of an off-week and had knee surgery. “I tore my lateral meniscus in my right knee and I missed Michigan and Ohio State,” he said. “I was out for two weeks. I had surgery and I came back after that. I was back in two weeks. That was my goal.”

Here’s how it went when he came back: Chiappialle made a special teams tackle at Indiana and was a deep man on the kickoff return team for the first time his career.  He had two carries for 15 yards against Temple. He ran three times for eight yards against Illinois. And he continued to play on all four special teams.

Here’s how it went in the regular-season finale, against Michigan State in Beaver Stadium on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. He tore his ACL. “It was on a kickoff, the second or third one. I ran down and went to plant off my left knee to go inside and make the tackle and it blew out on me.”

On Jan. 9, Chiappialle was in Pittsburgh, a short 40-minute drive from his home in Beaver Falls, for an operating appointment with a fellow Penn Stater. That’s the day Chiappialle’s knee was surgically repaired by Dr. Jim Bradley, the former Nittany Lion football captain who is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ longtime orthopedic surgeon.

SHIPPING OFF

Three months later, Chiappialle is still on the mend. But he remains chipper. He’s taken the semester off, but will begin anew at Shippensburg University in the fall. 

“I still have a redshirt year and two years of eligibility left,” said Chiappialle, who plans to study sociology or criminal justice with the goal of being a coach some day. “The chances of me playing this fall are slim, because I want to do a good job recovering from surgery. Then I want to get the most out of it I can. I love playing running back and that’s what I want to do. I want to make the most of it. I have two good solid years left to play football the rest of my life. It just came down to wanting to make the most of it.”

Chiappialle was a stud at Blackhawk. His senior season numbers are staggering. Buoyed by his Beaver County 404-yard game against Chartiers Valley, in 2012 he ran 210 times for 1,488 yards (a 7.1-yard average), had 571 kick return yards and grabbed 49 passes for 523 yards. That adds up to 2,582 total yards. And oh yes – he scored 27 touchdowns.

But to truly understand Chip Chiappialle and his football, you need to click here for eight minutes and 12 seconds of:

-- A 78-yard touchdown run in one direction. Then, in the same game, a 63-yard touchdown run going the other way.

-- A simple hook pattern, where he lines up in the inside slot, goes nine yard, makes the catch and then evades eight defenders before the ninth pulls him down on the other side of the field.

-- A quick pitch to the left, where three defenders converge on him and then – a la Larry, Curly and Moe – collide as we see Chiappialle emerge from the failed triangulation to run 84 yards for a touchdown.

That’s just the first 139 seconds, but you get the idea. Chip has never forgotten it.

“That’s what I love to do. After two years of special teams, I wanted to do more,” he admitted. “I love football so much. Hopefully, when they watch me play football in the future they’ll understand.”

MEMORIES

The Blue-White Game is a nice memory, Chiappialle says, but he knows it was simply a scrimmage.

“I hope that when people think about that game, I hope they remember it as Coach (James) Franklin’s first showcase,” he said. “I had a good day, but I don’t want to be all about me. I’ve never been like that and I never will be like that. It was a good day for Penn State. It was a beautiful day.”

With two knee surgeries and two years with big tuition bills as a walk-on, Chiappialle could look at his time at Penn State as costly. He sees it the other way around.

“A real game is obviously way better than a spring game. I love the spring game experience,” he said. “But that was just me saying, I can compete here I can play here. Running in a real game at the Division I, showing that I can do it was definitely fun. That’s something no one can take away from me.”

He’s asked about his best memory at Penn State.

Chiappialle pauses. Laughs a bit.

“One?” he asks, a bit incredulous.

He mentions his roommates from last fall – Christian Hackenberg, Garrett Sickels and Hunter Crafford, who has since transferred to North Carolina. Hacklenberg and Chiappialle are inveterate golfers, regularly hitting the links together. The QB has six inches and 25 pounds on the RB, but Chip often out drives The Kid, well into the 340-yard range. Chiappialle noted: “I consider all the guys on that team my brothers.”

He recalls the UMass game: “That was the Dirty Show. I was definitely tired that game. I was on all four special teams. We scored and we kicked off. We scored and we kicked off. I remember that I was exhausted that game. Then they put me in at running back and I was definitely exhausted.”

He mentions the 2014 season opener against Central Florida in Dublin. “Starting the season in Ireland doesn’t get any better – we were all psyched and then the way we won.”

A PENN STATEMENT

Then he mentions Penn State. 

What Chiappialle has to say is going to sound corny, maybe even canned. But as someone who’s been fortunate to have spent time with him away from the bright lights of campus, I want you to know this about Cole – the following is from deep inside his soul.

“I love Penn State. The fans there are amazing. Nothing comes close to the Whiteout games. I was just happy to be part of something great. Not many people get the chance to do what I did there.

“I’m forever grateful. I want to thank O’Brien’s staff, Franklin’s staff, my teammates and everyone there that was a part of Penn State. I loved every second that I was there and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m excited for my future and for Penn State’s future as well.”

 

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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