Bill Poland and Tony Carvitti had played football together since the 3rd grade. They were star players on the 2002 Elder football team that won Ohio's Division I state championship, but it seemed the two 1st team all-Ohio performers would finally have to split up. Bill was offered a football scholarship by Rick Minter at the University of Cincinnati, but Tony was offered only a chance to walk-on. Bill's size made him attractive as a college receiver, and Tony's lack of size made him a question mark as a college defensive lineman. Tony had offers at some smaller schools, but he decided to roll the dice by paying his way to Cincinnati and trying to earn his scholarship.
Earning a scholarship as a walk-on is never a sure thing, and it becomes a long shot when the coach that originally recruited you leaves the program. Exit Rick Minter-enter Mark Dantonio. Tony played middle linebacker in the spring of 2004, but by summer practice he found his way back to his more natural position of defensive line. Tony was bouncing from position to position and coach to coach. For an athlete good enough to play in the Big 33 all-star football game, it was depressing, and Tony thought about quitting. That's when having a friend like Bill Poland is especially helpful. Tony explained, "There were a couple of times when I thought about hanging it up, but Bill helped me through it. If I would have quit, my dad would have had a broken heart. I know I would have regretted it." Bill's encouragement helped Tony through the tough times, and everything worked out last summer when Coach Dantonio offered Tony a scholarship. That scholarship changed everything for Tony. "Now that I'm getting school paid for and having a good time playing football, it's been worth it. I don't have anything to worry about."
Tony has repaid the trust that Coach Dantonio showed him by winning a starting job as a defensive tackle. Bill identified the strengths of his perennial teammate. "Tony's a great player. He works hard. He never gives up. He's got a motor that just keeps going, and he's got a great heart. He keeps coming out here making plays." Last year Tony even made some unusual plays for a defensive lineman. As a member of the kickoff return team, the 6'/250 pounder proved he isn't afraid to grab an opportunity when it's presented. Tony returned four kickoffs for 53 yards-the same number he wears on his jersey.
As these buddies enter their final year, they are very similar but still a little different. Both are outstanding young men and were members of the National Honor Society at Elder High School. Last year, both were chosen to the Big East Conference's All-Academic team. Both have been named to either the Topcat Scholar list or the Bearcat Academic Honor Roll for all nine quarters at Cincinnati. But as I said, there are still some differences. Bill's majoring in accounting while Tony's major is pharmacy, and Bill plays on the offensive side of the ball while Tony is a defender. Despite the close relationship, Tony said it doesn't prevent them from doing some talking on the practice field. "On the football field we like to talk trash back and forth. If there's a middle screen, I like to let him know that I'll be there. Off the field we're best friends." Off the field, Tony has the utmost respect for his buddy. "He's a tremendous workhorse. He knows every position so they can throw him in there at any time. He'll get the job done. He's one of those clutch receivers."
As they finish their careers as Bearcats, it's obvious they still have a strong bond with Elder and the GCL. Bill said, "It's kind of fun having so many guys from Elder and the GCL. It's good having local guys out there." Tony sees an advantage to having so many Elder Panthers on the roster. "The more Elder people here the better. Hopefully it helps to bring the winning attitude to UC."
Their football careers together will likely end this year, but their friendship will last because they are brothers in arms and friends for always.