A sheer nose for the pigskin and an insatiable thirst for victory.These are the two indispensable factors which played into Dan Contrastano’s freshman season at Hartwick College, where the Hastings product became an instant plug in the trenches.
Contrastano, an inside linebacker who slipped below the recruiting
radar in high school, made a seamless transition to NCAA football. Once pegged as virtually “immovable” on Hastings’ line, Contrastano has picked up where he left off on the gridiron. A hard-hitter who thrives against the run, Contrastano used his pure strength as a piece of leverage. It certainly worked to his advantage, allowing Contrastano to separate himself from the chlorophyll-green recruiting class he came in with. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Contrastano, is head-and-shoulders stronger than most of the freshman and sophomores in the Division-III program. This helped him pave his path into the starting lineup. Now Contrastano is looking at a significant role and as only a sophomore, we could have seen this coming.
“He was the best lineman in Class B his senior year,” said John Malone, one of the founding fathers of Section 1 Recruiting, Inc. who evaluates high school and college talent in the Westchester County-area year around.
“In the future, a player of that caliber should have college coaches knocking on his door."
Contrastano bench presses well over 300 pounds and his established high-water mark in the weight room is a jaw-dropping 340.Contrastano admits that the Hawks’ playbook, which was certainly perplexing during the first week of camp, along with the increased level of competition was a major jump the freshman had to master.
“It’s just a totally different game,” said Contrastano, who was named Defensive Player of the game after his first start of the season, a startling 32-30 upset over then no.-24 Ithaca College.
“Everyone’s just bigger, stronger, faster. Everyone is just better and (the level of play) is more competitive in general. When you start out, you are at the bottom. Once you get your opportunity, you just have to capitalize on it.”
Contrastano would get his opportunity by chance, as a pair of injuries hurled him into a Sept. 15 coming out party that the neophyte was well-prepared to attend.
Contrastano set the tone defensively for Hartwick, recording 13 solos, including a tackle for loss. This helped lift the Hawks to the pulsating, pound-it-out upset victory.From that moment on, Contrastano remained was a fixture in the starting lineup.
There were other adjustments and pivotal aspects that the 2007 Hastings High graduate had to adapt to. The tiny liberal arts school that’s more recognized for its acclaimed Division-I women’s water polo team is hoping to establish a football culture.
That means the emphasis on committing nearly all of your time outside the classroom to football and working in unison with teammates is ubiquitous.
“You just have to work hard every day, get ready for camp when the season arrives, and once you get to camp you just have to play good,” explained Contrastano,” who is spending this summer working out at the F.A.S.T. program in Mount Vernon. F.A.S.T. is an elite training company that stresses leaps-and-bounds improvement and vows to make athletes “bigger, stronger, faster,” as the slogan has it. He’s also looking to shred weight that can be converted into muscle.
Like every new face, Contrastano entered training camp an 18-year-old with aspirations to a etch a name for himself and win the approval of the coaching staff.
“Honestly, it went by so fast I didn’t even feel the pressure,” he said.
While he won’t remember exactly how he got his foot in the door and won the approval of the coaching staff, there are certain facets of the season he simply won’t forget.
A draining, all-out 72-70 quadruple overtime victory over Utica is indicative of this. That score sounds more appropriate for a basketball game than it does football, and Contrastano says it was an all-out, last man standing battle.
“That was definitely the highlight of our season,” explained Contrastano. “It was crazy and in the end, we were able to hold on.”
Contrastano’s freshman season came with personal accolades, as well.
The undersized workhorse was named Defensive Player of the week after his first game as a starter. An introvert on the outside, not much keeps Contrastano neutralized on the gridiron. He’s got a penchant for delivering blood-curdling hits and his ability to recover fumbles with the frantic pace of a promoter for Monster Energy drink will surely enhance his role on next year’s squad.
With a solid football pedigree, Contrastano credits two people for helping him prepare mentally for the jump to NCAA football: his older brother Joe (A former All-Section defensive lineman and a catalyst on Hastings 2004 league championship team) and teammate Joe Flaherty.
Flaherty, the former Hastings wide out who ballooned to linebacker-form while making his defensive prowess known at Hartwick, was a team captain. The fifth-year senior, taller and a bit more athletic than Contrastano, helped mold him into the kind of player Hartwick was sorely lacking in their defensive unit.
Flaherty’s 2007 campaign was stained by nagging injuries.
Contrastano admits the workouts and emphasis on maintaining tip-top shape takes a tax on the body. It’s a chief reason few players who turned heads in high school are able to make an immediate impact on the collegiate level.
Don’t get it twisted.
Contrastano garnered Defensive Player of the Week accolades after the first game he started and with pre-season camp in the waiting, the kid that was overlooked by the scouts will certainly enhance his image.