Former and Slippery Rock University center Brandon Fusco said football has taken him “pretty far” since he joined local youth teams at age 7.
The journey might be just beginning.
The Minnesota Vikings drafted the 6-foot-4, 305 pound Fusco with the seventh pick (172nd overall) in the sixth round of the National Football League draft on April 30 at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
Fusco admits there are no guarantees in the modern NFL, a $9-billion annual business where careers can be short and the pressure to win is intense.
Teams like the Vikings invest millions in scouting players. They rarely make mistakes in the seven-round draft. And they rarely draft a player unless the organization is willing to invest at least a year or two toward developing their skills on the field and in the weight room.
“I’ll have to adjust real quickly to the speed of the (NFL) game,” Fusco said in a recent interview. “When you watch those guys on TV, you can see how strong and fast they are. I’m just going to be ready for it. I’m pretty confident in my game.”
Fusco was surrounded by family and friends at Ginger Hill Tavern in Slippery Rock when his Vikings’ selection was announced on the draft’s second day. The room, filled with about 200 people, erupted in cheers when the Vikings drafted him.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to show these guys what I can do and make a name for myself in the NFL,” he said.
The first obstacle standing in his way, however, is the NFL labor dispute. There’s been almost no progress in labor negotiations between players and owners since talks fell apart on March 11 and the lockout began.
The clock is ticking on the NFL season – and Fusco’s career. No new talks are scheduled until June 7 – four days after a Federal Appeals Court in St. Louis is scheduled to rule on the legality of the lockout.
“It’s a stressful time right now, especially for the rookies,” Fusco said. “We don’t get the playbooks and a chance to meet our teammates and coaches and talk to them. Nobody can talk to anybody right now. I can’t even make a phone call to my coach.
“Our rookie training camp was supposed to start a week ago,” he said. “I’m a little worried that I’m not learning the system right now. I’m still working out and lifting and staying in shape, but I’d just like to be with my new teammates. I’m just really anxious and excited to get it going and get to it.”
He also must wait to negotiate his first NFL contract until after the labor dispute is resolved.
Fusco became the second lineman and fifth player overall to be drafted out of Slippery Rock, where the four-year starter earned first team All-America honors from the American Football Coaches Association. He also was selected the winner of the Gene Upshaw Division II Lineman of the Year and the Dave Rimington Award as the top center in his college division.
“Becoming captain two years in a row was really a great thrill for me at Slippery Rock,” Fusco said. “That showed me that my teammates really looked up to me, that I could handle whatever came my way. It was just a really good memory for me.”
After also winning Associated Press Little All-American honors, Fusco became the first Slippery Rock player ever invited to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
“It was a dream come true when you’re finally playing with the best players in the country,” Fusco said. “Not too many players get invited to the Senior Bowl, and I was really honored. I learned a lot about the speed and strength of the game.
“I faced good competition at Slippery Rock, but there definitely was a difference,” he said.
Fusco entered Seneca Valley’s varsity football program as a sophomore under head coach Bob Ceh.
“I started my sophomore year on the scout team behind a couple big guys, and just got beat up,” Fusco said. “I took my licks and learned a lot.”
Fusco quickly moved up the depth chart his junior season under new Raiders head coach Ron Butschle.
Despite his potential, Fusco didn’t start the first game of his junior season. It wasn’t until the player in front of him was injured that Fusco got his chance to start the rest of the year at center and guard.
In 2005, Fusco started at center, guard and tackle his last season wearing a Raiders uniform.
“My senior year we won against Kiski Area in the final minute, and it’s one of my favorite high school memories,” Fusco said. “We blocked a punt with about two minutes to go and scored on it, and it won the game for us.”
Fusco, who graduated from Seneca Valley in 2006, said he began playing youth football for the Seneca Valley South team in Evans City. Fusco said his family currently resides across the opposite side of Cranberry, at the Estates at Seven Fields near Route 228.
“I’ve lived all around the Cranberry area since I was 7 years old,” Fusco said. “From the time I was a kid, I just loved the game of football, and kept playing it year-in and year-out. I’ve enjoyed it and it has taken me pretty far.”