Prose & Pros
Dolphins QB Fiedler among many mentored
by Frank Luisi
on the phone with Frank Luisi 74 and you know hes a connector.
Youve never met the guy or heard of him before this year, but the
word on him from many sources makes you wonder if you should drop John
Paul II a note. If Luisis infectious, look-out-for-others, man-on-a-mission
work ethic were patented, hed be rich, or rather, the rest of us
would be, and no doubt world peace would be on the horizon.
Fortunately for his students in English and his football athletes at Oceanside
High School in Long Island, New York, Luisis not despite
his larger-than-the-room personality a spotlight grabber. Hed
rather shine the beam on their success than tout his own. Called for an
interview for VQ about his work and influence, Luisi launched, instead,
into a paean to the professors and coaches at UVM who changed his life.
Ironically, its just that selfless attitude that has brought him
more than a few moments of wider fame. His name has been bandied about
on NPR and in ESPN Magazine thanks to his highest-profile alumnus,
who often pulls his own Luisi-like lateral of the credit.
Jay Fiedler, quarterback of the Miami Dolphins, was coached by Luisi at
Oceanside, the beginning of a close and lasting connection. Fiedler told
ESPN Magazine that his hero growing up was my coach at Oceanside
High School, Frank Luisi, who would do anything for us. Coach
kept me focused. He still calls after every game.
Luisi came to UVM in 1970 to major in English and, he hoped, to play football.
Although he did play through UVMs penultimate season
he had a lot to learn. UVM had switched to a pass offense in the 70s,
not his forte. He didnt realize then that fate had handed him a
backdoor gift. He says now, All that emphasis on the passing game
helped me help Jay, who eventually had the dubious thrill of following
passing giant Dan Marino on the Dolphins. Luisi gives all thanks for his
Catamount football experience to Rick Farnham, one of his coaches and
now athletic director, and head coach Joe Scanell.
Farnham returns the favor. Frank was as hardworking an individual
as youd ever want to meet in the field of athletics. He wasnt
a great player, but he could be a model for hard work and perseverance.
I can still see Frank running two more sprints after everyone else
was done so he might get a little bit better.
I cant think
of anyone more loyal to his coaches, team, players, and the university.
Hes one of those people who goes through life being grateful.
Luisi comes by his expansive goodwill legitimately. Farnham laughs as
he recalls the Long Island road-game when Franks mother boarded
the bus with a basket of eggplant parmigiana for the team.
Homesickness was even harder to tackle for the freshman Luisi than studies
or sports. I missed New York
I missed my family a great deal,
he says. But, there again, he found UVM people happy to fill the vacuum.
There were some wonderful people at UVM. Bill Stephany (now professor
of English) was a great influence on my life as a teacher. He brought
me into his home, I babysat his kids. Arthur Biddle (now emeritus professor
of English) also was a great influence. In education, Charlie Rathbone
(now associate professor) was a very positive man, and the atmosphere
of the school encouraged me to help kids. In the Newman Center, Father
Francis Holland, the director, had a big influence on me going into teaching
and helping kids.
Rathbone still finds Luisi memorable. Frank was one of those students
who makes you feel like you are doing something really important,
he says. He always had incredible interest and motivation to learn.
I loved his contributions to class and his ongoing commentary and questions.
I am so glad he has been able to influence hundreds of high school students.
Lucky young adults!
Luisi holds inviolate UVMs philosophy of the scholar-athlete. I
believe in excellence in academics and in sports. Its why I became
an English teacher and not a phys ed teacher, he says. Although
he didnt have Fiedler in his class (He didnt need much
help in class
he had a 98 average in high school.), the coach
judged him a good but not great player, who worked hard
at it, and now he is great.
He also guided Fiedlers choice of college. Luisi, who met his wife
in Stowe, was a frequent visitor to the Green Mountains and wanted Fiedler
to be near them. With UVM out of the football business, he directed him
toward Dartmouth, to be sure he pursued the best academic education.
Fiedler made coach proud on both fronts. He broke all the passing
records at Dartmouth, Luisi says, and he was one of the most
endeared players. Ever the scholar, Luisi says, On bus trips
to games, Jay would be reading Melville or Dante. Hes a special
The power of writing, which Luisi says he absorbed at UVM,
helped me to help Jay, in his career. Released by the Philadelphia
Eagles after two seasons, Fiedler was searching for his next QB job. Luisi
stepped in with a letter to every coach in the NFL about Fiedlers
characteristics and qualities. Twelve wrote back, two called, and the
Vikings sent a plane ticket for a tryout. Fiedler flew out to Minnesota,
where he signed a $300,000 contract that day. Fiedler visited Luisis
English class at Oceanside the next day to deliver the good news.
Now in his third season with the Miami Dolphins, Fiedler seems unintimidated
by Marinos records. Last season, he followed that leader, becoming
the second Dolphins QB to throw 3,000 yards in a season, and third (behind
Marino and Bob Griese) to throw 20 touchdowns, leading the team to an
Meanwhile, for Luisi, theres a new troupe of students to guide,
probably with an occasional timeout to call Fiedler or huddle with the
media. And, another season of football as metaphor for a life lived like