Andrew Andella stepped on the football field at Bishop Hendricken on a sweltering summer Sunday last July. St. Raphael’s 5’10,” 180 pound defensive back was one of more than 100 high school football players displaying their skills in the sweltering heat. From a distance the sea of players all dressed in black short sleeve performance shirts all looked the same. But, on closer analysis, Andella stood out – to one person in particular – NFL veteran Will Blackmon.
“That kid can ball,” said Blackmon, the former Boston College and Hendricken All-American who spent 12 years in the NFL.
Andella, who had gone under the radar as a junior after his St. Raphael team barely won a game, took advantage of the opportunity to work with Blackmon at the second annual Blackmon/Rowley Combine last summer.
“That’s really what started it all for me,” said Andella recently. “I got a chance to work with Will Blackmon at the combine. It was phenomenal working with someone who has been in the NFL for 12 years and played virtually the same position as me (DB). It made me focus more and understand what the technique meant to him and what it should mean to me.”
“I was impressed with his competitive spirit. He accepted every challenge we threw at him. Not only did he accept the challenge, but he also won,” said Blackmon after the combine. “Andrew impressed me with his coverage and discipline during one-on-ones. He was patient and didn’t lack an ounce of confidence.”
Andella soaked in everything Blackmon offered at the combine.
“I tried to pay attention to every little thing he said and bring it into my game. I knew by listening (to Blackmon) I would gain confidence on the field because I knew an NFL player had done this for multiple years and been successful,” said Andella. “It was amazing to be able to learn from Will. He definitely triggered all of this (success) and motivated me to work harder and get noticed.”
“All of these camps and combines will have talented kids. What I look for is that talented kid who presents something different…,someone who is willing to compete and separate themselves. That’s exactly what Andrew did,” said Blackmon.. “He challenged every top receiver at the camp and pretty much won every battle. That’s why he is going to play football in college. If you are good enough and continue to take on tough challenges and not be scared, someone will find you.”
The University of New Haven found Andella.
Last Wednesday, wearing a bright blue shirt with Chargers sprawled across the front, Andella signed his National Letter of Intent to attend the University of New Haven. As he inked the letter, he drew applause from family, friends and coaches who surrounded him in the St. Raphael gym.
“I’m very excited. My brother (Tyler) goes to New Haven so I have been to the school a lot. I fell in love with the blue field. I really wanted to go there. I knew I had a lot of work to do to get there,” said Andella. “I am so happy the hard work has paid off and I get to go there now.”
Signing the Letter of Intent was the culmination of hard work that started long before last summer, but intensified after Andella had the opportunity to work with Blackmon at the combine. A two-sport athlete who also plays hockey, Andella spent the summer in the gym, put on 20 pounds and headed toward his final high school season at St. Raphael with a mission – to have others notice him the way Blackmon did.
LETS GO ANDREW!!!!!! https://t.co/1Nj3yS4tTG
— Will Blackmon (@WillBlackmon) February 6, 2020
Despite playing most of the season with a broken bone in his hand Andella earned first team All-State and All-Division honors.
But the SRA captain would rather talk about his team than his own accolades and, although he is pleased with his own accomplishments, he fell short of another goal.
“It was a struggle and heartbreaking not making the playoffs,” said Andella . “I really wanted to help get us to the playoffs. But our upperclassmen have done a great job helping the younger players and the program is getting better. It was very important to me to be a good role model and help the younger kids in our program with my leadership. When I was a freshman I had seniors in front of me that went on to play football in college. They were great role models.. It was one of the reasons I wanted to play football in college. Now as a senior, I wanted to be that same role model for our younger players here at St. Raphael.”
“Andrew and Albert Guwoe were two of the best captains I’ve had,” said veteran St. Raphael Coach Mike Sassi. “They are both great leaders and did all the little things to help our program. We were 2-5 this year, but lost three close games. We were much more competitive and focused. They really helped the younger guys.”
Sassi said UNH is getting a fierce competitor.
“Andrew is a bulldog. He will do anything to help his team win. We played Shea and put him on their running back (URI bound Jaylen) Smith and he held Smith to under 100 yards his only game all year under 100 yards. Andrew shut him down. We played Hendricken and he held (two-time All-Stater) Angel Sanchez to one catch for 11 yards. When we played a team that had a stud we put Andrew on him. We almost played a basketball version of a Box and One. We’d zone everything up and put Andrew on their best player. He took great pride in shutting those people down. He’s a tough competitor. He was a great captain. He led our team in catches and led our team in receiving. He was all over the field on both sides of the ball. He was our leading punt and kick returner, our best DB and Defensive MVP of our team.”
Despite another losing record, Andella was no longer under the radar.
“When you’re 2-5 you’re afraid he may get overlooked, but at the coaches meeting every single coach said he’s a special player,” said Sassi.
UNH, which is led by head coach and Rhode Island native Chris Pincine, noticed Andella was special, too.
“New Haven is getting someone who is athletic and fast. His biggest quality has to be that he is physical,” said Saints’ DB Coach Silas Copeland, who worked closely with Andella for the last four years. “New Haven is getting somebody who is going to be locked into their program for four years and is going to give it his all. We’re really proud of him. He has put in a lot of work since his freshman year. Each year he got better and better. One of the biggest things that separates him as a defensive back is he’s not afraid of the competition or any challenge. When he sees it, he goes out there and does what he can to be the best player out there.”
Andella is one of several from Rhode Island who will continue to play football next year at the college level.
“Everyone says we have a lot of talent in Rhode Island, but everyone talks about how we are the smallest state and no one pays attention to us in football. I think it’s big that so many are going on to play in college,” said Andella. “ I congratulate them because they are just like me trying to play at the next level and do big things. When we are on the field I have some tussles with them. That is because we’re both competitive. I am happy for all of them and everyone making it to the next level.”