For a Division II football player, being drafted into the National Football League is an uphill battle. Without the national exposure that Division I schools get, it can be hard for Division II players to be noticed, let alone to be regarded as talented enough to be selected in the draft. 2010 Slippery Rock graduate Brandon Fusco, like so many other college football players, dreamed of one day playing in the NFL and through hard work and dedication he has made that dream a reality.
Fusco, a Seneca Valley High School graduate, joined The Rock in 2006 under recently retired head football coach George Mihalik.
Fusco was named to the All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) team his sophomore, junior, and senior season, was a consensus All-American as a senior and also won the Gene Upshaw Division II Lineman of the Year award and was the Rimington Trophy winner as the nation’s best center.
Fusco said that Slippery Rock means everything to him and that he is an avid fan of Slippery Rock football when the season comes around.
“I play at the biggest stage today and I tell guys all the time I would take anything to come back and play for the Green and White, this place means a lot to me and it’s very special,” Fusco said. “I love this school, it has done a lot for me, it has opened a lot of opportunities for me and I always love checking the (football) scores when I’m on road trips. I give the other guys a hard time because their schools are losing, but mine’s always winning.”
Following his graduation from Slippery Rock with a safety management degree, Fusco was selected in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings, becoming the highest drafted player in SRU history. Fusco is also the only Slippery Rock graduate to be invited to participate in the NFL scouting combine and the Senior Bowl.
Following the football team’s annual green and white spring game on Friday, Fusco was honored by the university by becoming the third ever Slippery Rock player to have their jersey number retired, joining SRU legends Jerry Bejbl and Jim McElhaney. There will also be a sign hung from one of the light posts outside of Mihalik-Thompson Stadium showing Fusco’s name and number, preserving his legacy.
Surrounded by family, friends and former teammates and coaches, Fusco saw his number 74 jersey become officially retired and, while fighting back tears, delivered a thank you speech where he talked about his love for Slippery Rock and the gratitude he feels for the university and everyone that has helped him throughout his life.
Mihalik said that Fusco is the greatest player to ever come out of Slippery Rock and is the perfect representative for SRU in the NFL.
“He had a dream and his dream, like every other high school player, is that he wants to go to college and play in the NFL,” Mihalik said. “The only difference was he made his dream come true because of dedication and hard work. At Slippery Rock, you come here to get a degree and graduate and win championships, but he took it that next step. To have one of your players drafted into the NFL is fantastic but even more so the fact that a lot of people get drafted but don’t play. He’s played five years in the NFL and that’s what is most impressive about Brandon. He beat players from any division one school you can mention.”
Mihalik also mentioned that he is most proud of Fusco for getting his degree in safety management and graduating, and that retiring his jersey number was the last thing Mihalik wanted to do before retiring from SRU for good.
Slippery Rock president Cheryl Norton said everyone at Slippery Rock is so proud of Fusco and what he has accomplished and that he has proven that anything is possible.
“I think whether you’re an educator in the classroom or a coach on the field, your hope is always that you help your students achieve more than what you have achieved, to become more than what they ever thought they could,” Norton said. “So for Brandon to be an NFL player, obviously he has made his dream. What it also says about a small-town college like Slippery Rock University is anything is possible if you work hard, if you have a goal, if you’re devoted to it and if you have the right people to support you. So he’s a great example of what a person can become and how Slippery Rock can help you along the journey.”
Fusco is one of 13 players in the NFL to come out of the PSAC currently in the NFL and said that he has shown that a Division II player can be just as good as any Division I player.
“It feels unbelievable (to play in the NFL). It’s hard to put into words. This is my sixth year in the NFL and coming into the league, the expectations of people that saw me certainly weren’t for me to play this long,” Fusco said. “I glad to have proved people wrong and just show others that it doesn’t matter what school you go to. It doesn’t matter if you go to Alabama or Ohio State, I went to Slippery Rock and showed everyone that I can be just as good as those guys.”
In September of 2014 The Vikings signed Fusco to a five-year contract extension, meaning that he will stay in the league for an even longer time.
From now on, Fusco can rest easy knowing that no football player will ever again wear the number 74 for The Rock and that no one ever attending a Rock football game at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium will forget who he is and what he has accomplished with the help of Slippery Rock University.