Dean Varrecchione has two charms he frequently wears on silver chains around his neck. One is the shape of his uniform number 12. The other is a football that bears his name and number 12.
Gifts from his mom, both have the same message engraved on the back.
It’s always us.
“It’s always been just me and my mom living in the same house since I was 7,” said Varrecchione, whose parents divorced about 10 years ago. “I love my dad and we have a good relationship, but me and my mom have a different type of bond.”
A very special bond.
As one of Rhode Island’s top high school football players, Varrecchione, 17, continuously owns the spotlight. The La Salle senior returning All-State quarterback heads to the field for his final season after recently receiving a full Division I scholarship to Robert Morris University. Before heading to Pennsylvania next fall, the 6’2”, 185 lefthanded signal caller will play his last season for the Rams. He has set his sights on winning a state championship – perhaps the only accomplishment that has eluded him throughout his high school football career.
His mom faces a much bigger challenge.
Jennifer Ricci, 47, has progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Unable to work, she has little feeling in her left side, impaired vision and is in constant pain – among other things. Few know about her illness. She hides it well, refusing to complain. Her focus is on her son and his future.
“My mom’s not going to get any better. What she goes through every day is tough, but she doesn’t let it stop her. I always remember when I am doing something – playing football or anything – the sacrifices she has made and what she has gone through and continues to go through,” said Varrecchione. “Her whole left side doesn’t work…she loses balance and gets tired a lot….but that hasn’t stopped her. She is always there. She got me this necklace that says “It’s always us.” I always wear it when I play and around so she is always with me. Everything I do, I do for her.”
“Dean is a super kid and a great talent,” said La Salle Coach Geoff Marcone, who often compares Varrecchione to Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator and former La Salle great Liam Coen. ”The relationship Dean has with his mom is a very special one. They are always there for each other. She’s never asked him to sacrifice football, despite what she is going through. But if she needs him, he’s right there. He loves to work hard and doesn’t like to miss practice or anything. It doesn’t happen often but if he has to be a little late because or leave early because his mom wasn’t feeling well or needs his help, he doesn’t question it. He’s right there for whatever she needs.”
Varrecchione’s football journey started when he was just five. By the time he was eight, he attended an offense/defense camp at Bryant. He was named the MVP on just the second day and earned a spot on a team that would go on to play in Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
“At that point I needed to figure out what I needed to do because he was absolutely in love with football and the whole process,” said Ricci. “I researched camps, training and learned the process. I knew I had to get him to where he needed and wanted to be.”
Ricci tried to ignore her constant pain and fatigue and spent her time between doctors appointments navigating her son’s football journey.
LaSalle quarterback @varrecchione12 knows expectations are high this season for the Rams. He also has an eye to the future and playing college football. Despite that, his goal first and foremost is to bring a state title to LaSalle. https://t.co/Y0f35mbo2V pic.twitter.com/uGMG8ybgR4
— New England Football Journal ® 🏈 (@newftbj) September 9, 2022
“She has great insight on the resources Dean needs to be successful and she has made many personal sacrifices to ensure he has access to these resources,” said Lorenzo Perry.
Perry, former Bryant and La Salle star and owner of GameDay Fitness, shares the story of how he first started to work with Dean – more than a half dozen years ago.
“Dean was playing football in North Smithfield and they were AWFUL. Jen heard I ran the best youth football program in the state so she wanted to get Dean on my team,” said Perry. “Somehow she got my number and she called me relentlessly for months leaving me recruiting details about Dean. Finally she said enough is enough and she showed up at my gym.”
“Jennifer is Dean’s dream builder,” said QB Universe’s Kyle Rowley, who has worked with Varrechionne for nearly 10 years. “All workouts were scheduled through her. Dean’s job was to show up and work. She would be up in the stands getting some work done while we were down there sweating it out. It always felt like they were a team. She ran logistics and his schedule, not like a pampered kid, but more like an agent that knew her client had pro caliber focus and needed the appropriate support. It was clear from day one Dean was on a mission and Jennifer was mission control.”
The mom and son pair spent countless early mornings this summer getting up at the crack of dawn and hitting the airport and roadways traveling to camps, showcases and college visits.
“I knew what his goal was since he was little to play Division I football and I wanted to give him every opportunity to reach his goal,” said RIcci.
The dedication has paid off. He will play for Robert Morris, a FCS school in Pennsylvania.
“To get to the point where I am, it’s a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice by other people to put me in this position. It’s not just me. It’s a lot of others’ ‘ said Varrechione, crediting Rowley, Perry and Jermaine Monteiro, among others, for his success.. “I just do the work, but it’s others who have allowed me to get better and be where I am at today. I like to work to improve my skill set for my team and for me, personally. I am always trying to get better, trying to have a future and get myself to college – which I did.”
The hard work hasn’t stopped just because Varrecchione has locked up a D-1 college scholarship.
“I’m still working hard. Just because you make it doesn’t mean you made it. You have to keep getting better because there’s always someone who wants to take your spot. I’m blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity so I can’t let it go to waste. When the season is over I’ll be back to 2-3 workouts a day. The work never really stops until you’re done with the sport.”
He puts the work in for himself, his team – and especially for his mom.
— Dean_Varrecchione12 (@varrecchione12) August 10, 2022
“I know she is proud of me. I am excited that she doesn’t have to worry about paying for college. I have a future, A free ride playing Division I college ball. That was the goal and that’s what I’ve done,” said Varrechione. “I am very grateful for the opportunity. When I got the offer I was proud because I know everything she is going through. I would say I did it for her.”
“I told him I will always be on your journey every step of the way.,” said Ricci.
With the college recruiting process behind him, Dean is focused on one goal – winning the state championship.
“I’m super excited for this season to roll with this team, That’s my sole focus right now, nothing more,” said Varrecchione.
So it is for Ricci as well.
“I absolutely adore watching Dean play football…Whether it’s practice, a camp, a game, I couldn’t imagine not being there. I think I missed one college visit when I was really sick, but haven’t really missed anything….It’s definitely something good to focus on and a positive part of my life… MS prevents me from a lot of things, but I won’t let it stop me from getting Dean to where he needs to be and be by his side – even if I have some help with family and friends. I’ll never let it stop me. I’ll always be by his side. I am not going to be a victim…I refuse to let MS win.”