Pete Dandrea had played basketball all his life. So when the St. Augustine senior took up football before his junior year, he had a lot to learn.
Specifically, how to put on his own football pads.
"I really didn't know how to put on the uniform," Dandrea said, now able to laugh at the thought. "You figure things out, but everybody was busting my chops."
Those must be brave souls at St. Augustine. Dandrea is 6-foot-5 and 295 pounds, and the good-natured ribbing didn't last long.
Not only did he figure out how to put on the uniform, but also he was dominant once he had all that gear on.
A two-way lineman, Dandrea earned second-team all-Cape Atlantic National Division honors on a 10-1 St. Augustine team that won the division title, set a single-season school record for wins, and finished No. 6 in South Jersey in The Inquirer's final top 10.
Dandrea will be pursing football in college; he recently made an oral commitment to attend Penn. He made his official campus visit over the weekend.
For somebody who had never played football on any level, this is remarkable progress.
"His first year was trial and error, but he still did a great job," St. Augustine coach Dennis Scuderi Sr. said. "After basketball last season, he really committed himself to football, got a lot stronger, and just had a great senior year."
Dandrea played basketball last season but has decided not to compete this winter. He wants to hit the weight room for football and is also looking to prepare for attending Penn's Wharton School.
It's interesting that he followed a similar path as Jack Crawford, a former St. Augustine tight end/defensive end who is in his first year at Penn State. Crawford was a basketball player from England who attended St. Augustine as a junior. He was declared ineligible for a year by the NJSIAA due to its transfer rules and was asked if he wanted to try football.
"Jack Crawford lived with me when he came over, and I saw the success he had in football, so I thought I'd give it a try," Dandrea said.
Dandrea, who lives in Longport, Atlantic County, said Division I schools in the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference have contacted him, but he had his heart set on an Ivy League school. Besides Penn, he considered Princeton and Columbia.
"My parents instilled in me to use sports as a way to get a good education, and I couldn't be happier with my decision," Dandrea said.
He credited assistant coach Mark Bresani for much of his development.
"He taught me everything I know," Dandrea said.
In some ways, Dandrea's relative lack of experience has been a plus. The coaches at Penn have told him that he hadn't developed bad habits and that he still had an enthusiastic approach to the game. He is even enthusiastic about practice.
What the Penn coaches really have to like is his athletic ability. All of those years playing basketball and running up and down the court made Dandrea into one mobile athlete.
Scuderi said Dandrea has run the 40-yard dash in just under five seconds, which, for somebody almost 300 pounds, is like lightning.
"He has great feet, and if I had some bigger players who could play the line, I would have moved him to tight end," Scuderi said.
The last year and a half has been a blur to Dandrea, but he has exhibited a true passion for his new sport.
And the person who didn't know how to put on his pads not too long ago now has no intention of taking them off anytime soon.