ANNAPOLIS, Md. — This was supposed to be the season that Vinnie Mauro finally lived up to all the hype he received coming out of high school. Navy needed to replace a starter at inside linebacker and Mauro was a senior who seemed to have overcome the many injuries that had derailed his playing career.
Mauro was listed No. 1 on the depth chart to open spring practice, but did not seize the opportunity and was surpassed by converted safety James Britton. Frustrated that he’d never been able to regain the form that made him one of the most highly-rated recruits in recent Navy history, Mauro has decided to end his football career.
“I really feel for Vinnie because he’s one of the best kids we’ve had in the program the past four years,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “Vinnie has been through a lot injury-wise, but has never complained. He has constantly worked hard in rehab, in the weight room and on the practice field. He’s also a squared-away midshipmen who has never been in trouble and maintains a 3.0 grade point average.”
Mauro was rated the nation’s No. 26 linebacker by Scout.com as a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Described by recruiting analysts as a rugged, physical and aggressive defender, Mauro garnered a dozen scholarship offers from schools in Bowl Championship Series conferences. The Florida native considered Rutgers, Stanford, Wisconsin and Vanderbilt, but chose the Annapolis service academy because his lifelong goal was to one day fly fighter jets.
However, Mauro’s collegiate career was derailed before it even started as he suffered a severe back injury while lifting weights at home prior to reporting to Annapolis for plebe summer. He initially thought it was simply a muscle spasm and did not seek medical treatment, a decision that proved a major mistake.
“I tried to push through the pain during plebe summer and wound up making things even worse,” Mauro told The Capital in April 2012. “We lifted on the first day of (August) camp. I did a series of squats and afterward I couldn’t even walk. At that point, I knew something was seriously messed up, so I went to see the doctors and that’s when they found the crack.”
Mauro was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back and a slipped vertebrae, both of which affected the nerves in his legs. He had difficulty simply walking for a month and was ordered not to participate in football-related drills for the entire 2010 season in order to heal.
Mauro was allowed to practice in pads for the first time during spring practice of his plebe year, but was limited due to the lingering effects of the injury. He has tried hard to make an impression on the coaching staff ever since, but subsequent injuries repeatedly set him back.
Mauro was just another nondescript member of the scout team as a sophomore — not exactly what fans expected from a recruit who recorded 143 tackles (29 for losses) and 10 sacks as a junior and senior in helping St. Thomas Aquinas compile a 28-1 record and capture two Florida Class 5A state championships.
As a junior in 2012, Mauro appeared in seven games on special teams and was credited with one tackle. However, the 6-foot-2, 231-pounder had one more year of eligibility to make an impact for Navy, which has a history of having previously unknown players emerge as seniors.
“I was hoping that Vinnie would have a breakout senior season like Jerry Hauburger, Keegan Wetzel and so many other linebackers we’ve had here,” Niumatalolo said. “Unfortunately, he just was never able to recover that burst, that explosion that made him so good. I know it bothered Vinnie that he just wasn’t the same player he had been in high school.”
Niumatalolo called Mauro a “humble young man” and the “ultimate teammate,” and said the youngster’s situation is an example of how repeated injuries can ruin any player’s potential.
“Basically, Vinnie was in the training room for three years. He fought very hard to rehab, but at some point that takes its toll both mentally and physically,” Niumatalolo said.