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Inner circle

One of the most rewarding perks of covering high school football is getting to know families and following their children’s careers through college and beyond.

I got the idea for this column through a conversation with Ray Doria Saturday at Pauline Park in Beechview while covering Penguins president David Morehouse’s day with the Stanley Cup.

Doria is the uncle of both the Ventrone brothers and Akron receivers coach Mauro Monz, as well as father of Akron graduate assistant Anthony Doria, the former Seton-La Salle and St. Francis (Pa.) quarterback. The Ventrones, who are from Scott Township, once were neighbors of former Pitt kicker Conor Lee and Penn State linebacker Sean Lee – another family I’ve come to know very well through covering them in high school and college.

What’s the connection? Read on.

Little did I know when I met the Ventrone family that both of their sons would play at Villanova and one would make it to the NFL. Raymond Ventrone starred in football and track and field at Chartiers Valley but, despite being selected to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Terrific 25 as a senior, didn’t receive any Division I-A scholarship offers.

I once wrote a recruiting column about how Ventrone and former Seton-La Salle quarterback Bruce Gradkowski played on a pee-wee football team with former Blackhawk basketball star Brandon Fuss-Cheatham. Who knew then that Ventrone and Gradkowski would play in the NFL or that Fuss-Cheatham’s career would reach its pinnacle at Ohio State?

Raymond Ventrone has since been part of a perfect season with the New England Patriots and played in Super Bowl XLII, where he delivered the biggest hit of the game on kickoff return man Domenik Hixon to pin the N.Y. Giants inside their own 20 late in the fourth quarter.

Having written extensively about Raymond and his sister, Dana, a PIAA track and field champion, it was only natural that I noticed Ross Ventrone’s name as a Pitt football walk-on.

Not that I recognized Ross.

When I met him in high school, he was tiny. He wrestled at 103 pounds as a freshman and sophomore. He didn’t play football at Chartiers Valley until his senior season, and then played in only four games because of an injury. Even so, he turned down wrestling scholarship offers.

Here’s what I wrote in this space in March 2007: “Remember this name: Ross Ventrone. The 5-9, 170-pound walk-on safety from Chartiers Valley broke up several deep passes. Although he’s small in stature, Ventrone has impressed coaches with his fearlessness and could become a special teams standout.”

Ventrone turned a strong spring into scholarship to Villanova, where he has followed in his brother’s footsteps.

Not only is Ross starting at safety like Raymond before him, but Ross played a major role in helping Villanova defeat Division I-A Temple in the inaugural Mayor’s Cup, the Wildcats’ first win over the Owls since Raymond was at ‘Nova.

What was Raymond Ventrone doing Saturday when he received the phone call that he was being released from the New England Patriots?

Watching the Akron-Penn State game, of course.

Sometimes, in this circle of life, the best reward is to have a strong circle of family and friends. When you have that, nothing seems impossible.

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