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Senior captain Joe Vitale III finished his career with the North Haven football squad by securing a spot on the Levi Jackson All-Star Team as a tight end this fall. Joe also started at linebacker, while helping the Indians finish with a record of 6-4. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Vitale )
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When Joe Vitale III was in 6th grade, he went to the store with his father, and the two of them happened to bump into North Haven football Head Coach Anthony Sagnella. Joe was excited to meet Sagnella and told him that he couldn’t wait to play football at the high school.
“I just loved how together everyone was. When people walked off the field, win or lose, they would give each other a hug,” says Joe. “I wanted to be a part of something like that, and I felt that North Haven was the place where I would have that.”
Joe’s dream to represent North Haven while wearing the maroon and white on Friday nights became a reality. Joe recently completed his high school career by having a stellar season that saw him start at tight end and linebacker, while leading the Indians as a senior captain.
Joe collected a couple of major accolades for his performance on the field and in the classroom this fall. Along with earning All-Academic honors from the Southern Connecticut Conference, Joe solidified his place on the Levi Jackson All-Star Team as one of best tight ends in New Haven County.
“It really was a dream come true to play football for the North Haven Indians,” Joe says. “If I was able to rewind everything and restart from my freshman year, I would go through all of it again. I wish I could go through all of it again. I enjoyed every second of it.”
Joe came up through the youth ranks as a two-way lineman and continued manning the line during his first two years of high school. However, Joe wanted to play positions where he was constantly on the move and set a goal of becoming a tight end and a linebacker.
In order to do that, Joe needed to get faster, leaner, and improve his footwork. He went on a strict diet, worked out twice a day, and went to speed classes once a week, in addition to participating in summer weightlifting sessions with the football team. When it came time to kick off the 2018 season, Joe was penciled into the North Haven’s starting lineup as a tight end and helped the Indians notch a 20-19 victory over West Haven.
“It was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had in my life, being out there under the lights at West Haven. It was a really big atmosphere,” says Joe, who’s 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. “We had never beaten West Haven since [Head Coach Anthony Sagnella] has been here, and to be able to start and help the team beat them was one of the best feelings.”
Joe ultimately helped North Haven win eight games and make the Class L State Playoffs in his junior campaign. He took a lot of satisfaction in contributing to the Indians’ dominant ground game by making blocks that sprung North Haven’s running backs for touchdown runs.
“I loved it. A great thing in North Haven is that we don’t care who touches the ball and who scores. We all know that we are getting into the end zone together,” Joe says. “Every time our backs score, they are the first ones to congratulate you. That makes me feel like I have 100 brothers surrounding me.”
After making his mark on the varsity, Joe went right back to work so he could take it to the next level in his senior season. Joe was a rotational player on the defensive line as a junior, but set his sights on starting at linebacker this year. Joe not only earned a starting spot as an inside linebacker, he also earned one of the biggest honors for any North Haven football player when he was named one of the team’s senior captains.
“It felt amazing. You see all of the great captains who came before you, and you know that you are in great company with so many legends,” says Joe, who captained the team with fellow seniors Pat DaSilva and Luke Maruca. “These are people that I watched play their hearts out when I was a kid. It’s an entire ring, and I was incredibly excited to take on the responsibility of being a captain.”
Joe served as the vocal captain of the trio and was never shy about speaking his mind, whether that meant giving his teammates some nice words of encouragement or, in other instances, using a more direct motivational approach. Joe and his fellow senior leaders needed to make sure the Indians stayed strong after they got out to a 1-3 start this year. North Haven rose to the challenge and won five of its last six games to finish with a record of 6-4.
Joe says that his favorite moment of the season was when North Haven posted a 28-14 victory versus an undefeated Sheehan team in his final home game at Vanacore Field on Senior Night.
“It was really emotional. You look around and see the support that you get from North Haven with thousands of people cheering for you. To walk off the field with a win on Senior Night was one of the most special things that could have happened this season,” Joe says. “We might not have gotten off to the start that we wanted, but we finished the season exactly where we wanted in terms of how we played. At the end of the day, I won’t remember that we went 6-4. I’ll remember the memories with these guys.”
Joe finished his senior year with 50 tackles to go with one sack, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery on the defensive side. On offense, he continued paving a path for North Haven’s backs with his stout blocking and also caught a 24-yard touchdown pass for the first score of his varsity career.
Joe was rewarded for his efforts when he was named to the Levi Jackson All-Star Team at the tight end position. On Dec. 5, he attended the awards dinner with fellow honorees DaSilva, Maurca, and senior Albert Hooks.
“It was a huge honor, and the dinner was amazing. [New Haven football legend and NFL Hall of Famer] Floyd Little came to the dinner, and it was mesmerizing to hear him speak,” says Joe. “I was so happy to share that moment with my teammates, and it meant the world to me that, for all the hard work I put in, I was able to get that out of it.”
Coach Sagnella was proud of Joe for making the Levi Jackson Team. Sagnella says that Joe definitely put in the work that was necessary to perform at his peak by the end of his senior season.
“Joe became a more complete football player this year. He’s a very good point-of-attack blocker, but Joe’s role expanded on offense because of his added foot speed. He was hustling across the field to make blocks on plays that were being run behind him,” says Sagnella. “Joe is also a very studious player who spent extra time with the coaching staff to make sure he was in the right position to be a signal caller on defense. He was playing as well as anybody the last few weeks of the season. Joe committed himself to every facet of the program and was willing to make the sacrifices he needed to get the results he wanted.”
A member of North Haven’s National and Italian honor societies, Joe is looking to major in science while doing premed in college. He also wants to play football at the collegiate level. In the meantime, Joe is going to play for the Indians’ boys’ basketball team for the first time this winter.
Joe has accomplished some great things alongside his teammates since that day he met Coach Sagnella in the 6th grade. As he reflects upon his football career in North Haven, Joe says the experience of competing for the Indians on the gridiron shaped him just as much as a person as it did as an athlete.
“The people who come before you set the example. You are not just a football player. You are a student and an active member of the community first,” says Joe. “When you wear that jersey, you need to act in a certain way. It’s a privilege to wear that jersey, and the responsibility makes you a better person. All the things that this program instilled in me allowed me to become a better person.”
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