Far from home

Published by Tyler Howe, Date: October 6, 2021

The air was cold and crisp, and there wasn’t a soul to be seen on campus. It was winter break, and the large majority of students were at home celebrating the holidays. It was calm and quiet as Cinque Sweeting was walking around campus on a visit with the Slippery Rock football staff. He had just recently decided to transfer from Seton Hill University and the chill here is something that’s taken a while for him to get used to.

Being from Miami, it was always a lot warmer. He had the chance to return home and finish out his college football career there, but there was just something about western Pennsylvania that he loved. Maybe it was, as he’d put it, the hospitality that people have here. One thing is for sure. It wasn’t the weather.

The atmosphere of the region was a lot different than what he was used to, even after two and a half years of being here. The city life is something he had grown accustomed to in the first 18 years of his life. He had the opportunity to return to it, since he was in the transfer portal and he had received some attention from Florida International University, a Division I college whose campus is located in Miami-Dade.

Many thoughts were running through his head. Was it worth it to return home? Especially considering he’d have to lose a year of eligibility to play at a Division I school. The only reason he’d came here in the first place was because his friend and teammate, Dennis Law, made the decision to come to Seton Hill University as well.

“I didn’t want to go somewhere so far, and just not know anyone,” Sweeting explained.

Being a thousand miles from home and from his friends and family wasn’t something he was exactly keen on. Sweeting became homesick sometimes. To make matters worse, his true freshman year he would have to redshirt due to an injury, which made things even harder for him.

It was a setback, but he’d had setbacks before and made it through and came out better. In the end, that’s exactly what happened.

“I would say the experience [of being by myself my freshman year] shaped me into the man I am today, it made me stronger, and it made me tougher,” Sweeting said. “Not having my family in person and not having those things like home-cooked meals was definitely a tough experience, but I’m grateful because it shaped me to be the person I am today.”

His tour of the campus went on, and Sweeting was beginning to feel at home. He could tell Slippery Rock rallied around their team, just like the people in the Pittsburgh area did around the Steelers. Before coming here, he had never seen people support their teams as much as the people here do. In Miami, no one roots for the Dolphins, or really anyone for that matter, not since the University of Miami fell apart nearly 15 years prior.

Sweeting still didn’t know if he wanted to go home or not. He wondered if he could be by himself again. Going somewhere new for a second time in only three years was a daunting task.

Sweeting got through those 36 months despite all the challenges he faced. He was named Cinque, pronounced (sin-q), for a reason after all. The name comes from a book that his father, Joseph Sweeting, had read called Amistad. In the book, Joseph Cinqué, a leader to the African Americans on a slave ship, led an uprising and persevered through all the obstacles he faced. The book was made into a film and was released December 10, 1997. Only 13 days later, Cinque was born to Joseph and Nadine Hines.

That symbolism has seemed to always play a part in his life. In French, the name also means five, and Sweeting was the fifth born child in his family. Being the youngest brings an entirely different set of problems, but it also sharpens you and makes you more resilient. That’s exactly what it did to Sweeting.

“Growing up as the youngest male in the house, that toughness I got from that, I feel it gave me a competitive edge,” Sweeting said.

His drive was plain to see from a young age. He’s always had the desire to be first in everything. Even as a kid, when they’d get home from the grocery store, he wanted to beat his siblings from the car to the house.

His visit of Slippery Rock continued, and the more he saw the more he fell for it. The feeling was just so different. It felt like family. He had barely been on campus, but he could just tell that the program’s culture was family-oriented in the program and the dedication to the sport reminded him of his own.

Sweeting’s commitment was tested at Seton Hill University. His parents tried to convince him to play elsewhere coming out of high school because they knew Seton Hill University did not have a winning culture. Sweeting’s response was always the same. “I know what I’m getting myself into,” he would say.

His parents were right. The team success just never came, and when you play on a team that had a record of 1-21 over two years, it can bring into question how much you love the game.

Through all the adversity, Sweeting found a way to stick with it, which he did up until the day the coaches who brought him in got fired.

It was starting to become clear that, if he was going to stay in Division II, then he should join the team that beat him by a combined score of 126-64 in the two years they matched up. Besides, you know what they say: if you can’t beat em, join ’em. It didn’t feel like that in this case, though.

The decision was a rough one, but Sweeting had made difficult decisions since high school. He had always taken risks. Like when he first decided he wanted to play football in high school.

That one choice set his football career into motion. Before his freshman year at American Senior High School, Sweeting wasn’t even sure if he wanted to play football. Then when the first day of school hit, he made the choice he wanted to play. He’d have to try out for the team, and at time he was on the smaller side. The tryout should have been nerve-wracking, but the winning mindset he’d developed since he was young was always there, whether he knew it or not.

How many other kids come from families as big as his and have parents who are split up? The answer is simple, not many. He does feel lucky that his parents remain close, even to this day, although they aren’t together. They did so much for him and worked so hard to get him where he is. Regardless, Sweeting knew he’d have to work his way up after making the team. No one was going to take his background into consideration, so instead he’d have to use it to his advantage.

“In Miami, the mentality you have to have to make it out is just different,” Sweeting said. “Everyone is trying to compete to make it out, and you have to do something to make yourself stand out.”

Sweeting realized he could stand out when his team played Oxbridge Academy when he was a senior. Oxbridge Academy, who shut down their football program in 2018, was one of those prep schools that has Division I prospects on its team, and in that game Cinque made his presence felt. Even though his team walked away with a seven-point loss, he knew that he could play the game of football at a high level.

The walk around Slippery Rock went on, and he got to meet some of the players who were still on campus. There was only between 10 and 20 of them, but immediately Sweeting got the sense that he was right about the family culture that was in place here.

He had played against those same guys only months earlier, and on the sideline across from him was Coach Shawn Lutz. As soon as Lutz got wind that he was transferring, he jumped on it.

Sweeting’s phone would constantly buzz. When he’d pick it up to see who was calling, a lot of the time it was Lutz. No one else called him to just check up on how he was doing and what he was thinking, but Lutz made it a point to. Sweeting joked that he called him “like a maniac”, but deep down he appreciated it. Those calls played a big role in why he came here to Slippery Rock. The relationship he was able to build with Lutz was something special, and Sweeting doesn’t take that lightly.

The visit came to a conclusion, and Sweeting was ready to go home and get back to the warmth. The impact one simple trip here had on him can’t be measured. Even with no one on campus, the experience was like nothing Sweeting had ever felt before. He immediately knew that Slippery Rock was where he wanted to be. That’s something he wouldn’t tell Coach Lutz, however.

“I knew when I was on the plane back to Miami that deep down, yeah, this was the place for me,” Sweeting said. “I didn’t even tell Coach Lutz that, I told him I got to go home and make a decision, but I knew all along that this was the place for me.”

Sweeting made it official soon after. He was now part of The Rock football team. Little did he know, Lutz and his staff already had a plan for him. They knew they wanted to move him to receiver. A position that was already loaded with the likes of Henry Litwin and Jermaine Wynn Jr. It was a move that would make a stacked offense even more explosive.

Litwin and Wynn Jr. are two of the players that Sweeting describes as “brothers.” From the first day he was there, Sweeting believes he fit in and they helped make his transition to receiver an easy one. The trio quickly became arguably the best receiving core in the country.

“They embraced me with open arms, and seeing guys like them having success would have other people wondering what their role would be,” Sweeting said. “Those are guys that just want to see everyone win, so they made the transition easy and that’s something I’m really grateful for.”

In the 2019 season, they would catch passes from the eventual Harlon Hill winner, Roland Rivers III. Of his 322 completions, 4,460 passing yards and 52 passing touchdowns, the trio accounted for 251 of the receptions, 3,687-yards and 45 touchdowns. Sweeting himself had a breakout year in his first year as a receiver. He had 53 receptions, 839 yards receiving, and nine touchdowns.

The game that meant the most to Sweeting was the first game of the season and his first in a Rock uniform, on the road in Detroit against Wayne State University. In the game, he had five receptions for 86-yards and two touchdowns.

“At the time it was very emotional for me and looking back on the 2019 season the first game and scoring the first touchdown of the season was special and it helped kick off a magical run,” Sweeting said.

The season consisted of a ton of unprecedented events for not only Sweeting, but the entire team. The team made a run to the national semifinals, where their run eventually came to an end with their first loss of the season. In the run, the squad went 13-1 and brought home the PSAC championship. It was Sweeting’s first conference championship in his life, and now no one can take that away from him.

“That was a very special season, it was great to see all of us have success because we know how special we are, and we know that no one in the country can stop [Henry, Jermaine, and I],” Sweeting said. “I was really proud for Henry, because hearing his story of how he went from a walk-on to an All-American was just special. I really love those guys and I wouldn’t change how that season went.”

After the season, his desire to win a national title grew at the same time COVID-19 started to make its way around the country. For spring break, Sweeting went home, and unbeknownst to him, he wouldn’t return for a while. In Miami, he saw tons of people because of spring break. Seeing so many people at same time was both frightening and a bit of a relief, because it felt like things would go back to normal quick. It didn’t and in a way, still hasn’t, but for Sweeting the shutdown felt like it spanned years.

“I just remember how long it lasted, and I didn’t know what the future held and that was the scariest part,” Sweeting said.

Thoughts of moving on were always there. Sweeting, who majors in sports management, dreams of a future as a sports agent. During the pandemic, he stayed home and did school from there. His parents were supportive of him, and his dad even pushed him to work harder during that time and use it to his advantage.

“It was like a reset button on life that made you think, you know, what exactly you wanted to do with your life,” Sweeting said. “My dad was always there for me to remind me that you’ve got to keep working and use this time to set yourself apart from everyone, because a lot of people are going to sit back and relax, but you can use this time to separate if football is something you’re serious about.”

The desire to win a championship and the fact that guys like Litwin and Wynn Jr. were returning helped draw him back. Staying connected with them during the pandemic was a challenge, but Sweeting again mentioned Lutz and how important he was to making a decision.

“He made sure to keep the team connected, especially the seniors, and he would tell us that we had the chance to do something special,” Sweeting said. “Knowing he supported us no matter what decision we made and just knowing that, “oh yeah Coach Lutz has my back no matter what” was big.”

Eventually, he decided to come back. In the meantime, a major family milestone occurred. Sweeting became the first person in his family to graduate college. His mom constantly reminded him how big it was, and he always downplayed it. He knows how important it was, but knows without family’s support and hard work, he wouldn’t have had a lot of the opportunities he has. His hard work in the classroom finally paid off and he was able to hold his diploma in his hand.

A lot has happened since then. Now that one of his goals were completed, he had the opportunity to accomplish his others.

Fast forward to the present day and you’ll find a team that is in the midst of their season. If you’re looking for Sweeting, you’ll find him in the weight room up at the stadium at around 5:45-6 a.m.

During those workouts, he has time to soak in everything, like the fact that so many seniors came back. They were really going to try to do this.

Being one of those seniors, Sweeting is one of the leaders on the team. He made it a point to help the younger players when they got back for camp, because there are two full classes of players that have never experienced any of the college football lifestyle before. Sweeting remembers how hard it was on him, and if he could make it easier on his new teammates, that’s exactly what he was going to do.

Lutz immediately noticed how he was taking underclassmen under his wing. Players look up to Sweeting, and Lutz feels that players like him attract athletes to come here.

“Cinque is one of those guys where people look at him and think ‘he’s making it after what he’s been through, maybe I can do that,’ and it makes other people want to come here because he can relate to people,” Lutz said.

This season will also consist of a lot of firsts, but it will also feature a lot of lasts for Sweeting. He experienced both in his return to Seton Hill University.

“It was bittersweet,” Sweeting said. “It made me realize that this is my last year playing college football.”

It was the final time he’d play on Offutt field. This time he was able to play on it at night, something that they never did when he played for The Griffins.

The game didn’t go exactly as Sweeting envisioned it. He ended with only one reception for 13-yards. At one point, Sweeting had a touchdown in his hands, it was ruled incomplete. It was the closest he got to scoring in the game. Those moments just fueled his motivation even further.

The Monday after the 41-17 win, Cinque again found himself in the weight room at 5:45 a.m. When he feels like he didn’t play to the best of his abilities, the way he expresses it is through more work. People tend to pick up on that, even scouts from the highest level of football.

Playing with Litwin and Wynn Jr. has also been able to bring some attention to Sweeting from NFL scouts. Lutz made it clear, that if there is a guy who deserves it, that it’s Sweeting.

“He might be the most underrated player in Division II,” Lutz said.

The NFL is a dream for him like so many others. But he doesn’t let it get to him that he has scouts watching him. To him, it’s business as usual. If he did make it though, he would love to play for his hometown of Miami.

“A lot of my friends and family joke that if I made it to the league then I have to play for The Dolphins,” Sweeting said. “But, I think that just making it to that level and showing I belong would be a dream come true for me.”

Through it all, Sweeting remains focused on this year. To him, the goal is simple, and it’s the reason he gets up and immediately goes to workout before the sun rises.

“I know coach doesn’t like us saying it, but the goal is a national championship,” Sweeting said. “That’s the reason why we all came back and it’s heavy on our minds because we were one game away from playing in it.”

While this may be No. 3’s last year on the gridiron, he’s making a point to cherish every moment, and no matter what happens he knows that at Slippery Rock, he’s found another home far from his own.


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