A lifelong dream of earning a Division I scholarship came to fruition on Friday for five University of Miami walk-on football players.
Elias Lugo-Fagundo, Suleman Burrows, Jared “Moose” Griffith, Camden Price and Michael Scibelli never thought that head coach Manny Diaz would announce they were awarded scholarships when he called them up to the front of the huddle during their last practice before spring break.
But that’s exactly what Diaz did in an emotional video and multiple photos that have since been shared on the Hurricanes’ Twitter page.
“We talk a lot about behavior now, guys, and these guys all have something in common,” Diaz told his team. “What they have in common is they come here every day and put the work in, wondering if one day they’ll have a chance to go on scholarship. And guess what? Today’s that day.”
Instantaneously, the team erupted into cheers and rushed toward the five athletes, hugging, high-fiving and celebrating the big news with them.
Some guys in the video can be heard telling their teammates to call their loved ones, while Lugo-Fagundo appeared to take that advice and FaceTime his parents next to head strength and conditioning coach David Feeley.
“Your son just got put on scholarship!” Feeley told the athlete’s parents, breaking into a huge grin. “He did it! He did it!”
For Lugo-Fagundo, a redshirt junior from Puerto Rico, the big news came as a major surprise, especially given the time of year it had occurred.
“Usually it happens in the beginning of the spring, in January, or sometimes at the end of camp,” Lugo-Fagundo said in a press release on the Hurricanes’ website. “I was in shock … totally caught off-guard.”
“I tend to try to do things right all the time,” he added. “When [Coach Diaz] called me up, I guessed he was going to congratulate me because I got accepted into the Mortar Board Society earlier in the week. Maybe he was going to recognize me like that because of my grades.”
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The wide receiver said the scholarship was not only meaningful to him, but also to his family, who had sacrificed a lot for him to achieve his dreams.
“Moving away from your family at such a young age, I told my parents I wanted to play college football and my dream was to earn a scholarship eventually,” Lugo-Fagundo said. “My parents have sacrificed so much for me. My sisters, everyone in my family has put in so much work and love into me trying to reach my goals.”
“I remember my dad and I were going over some of the childhood things in my house, he found a note 10 years ago that I wrote that said one of my goals in life was to earn a D-1 scholarship for football,” he continued. “Both of us got so emotional talking, that God has a perfect time for everyone.”
“Him and my mom were saying to be patient and keep working and do what I do, and if it’s God’s will to earn a scholarship, then it was going to happen,” Lugo-Fagundo went on. “To be able to call them and say you don’t have to pay for school … I have three others sisters and it’s a lot of money. Being able to tell them that was very fulfilling.”
Diaz was equally as moved by the scholarship presentation, noting that the walk-on players on teams often work even harder to prove themselves to their coaches and teammates.
“Count the weight-lifting sessions. Count the off-season workouts, the runs in the summer, the practices,” he said in the press release. “The guys who have been here for four years, that number is hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of days of coming in and just working.”
“The sacrifices that walk-ons make for any program are just remarkable,” Diaz continued. “At the University of Miami, being a private school, it’s even greater.”
The coach also said he hopes this opportunity serves as a reminder to his athletes to never take anything for granted.
“[Coaches] are in a developmental part of these young men’s lives,” Diaz explained. “We want all of them to experience greater things when they leave the University of Miami. But sometimes, as we all know when we were that age, we can be so concerned about what’s next that we can forget to appreciate what we have.”
“I think that’s why, when you saw the team’s reaction, they have such an appreciation for how hard those guys work and the sacrifices those guys put in to come out here, day in and day out, and provide a vital role for our program,” Diaz added.
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