By Mark Jaffee
SPRINGFIELD (October 20, 2016) - When Cheshire's Mark Dietrich was considering colleges where he could use his football abilities and advanced computer skills, his search came down to one place, Western New England University.
It's an hour's drive from his family's home to the Springfield, Mass., campus, where Dietrich has found the best of both worlds. Not only has the junior thrived in his field of study with hopes of someday working in a criminal justice forensic lab, he has made an impact on the gridiron with the Golden Bears' football team.
Through six games, Dietrich has recorded 29 receptions for 419 yards with six touchdowns, all team highs, for the undefeated Golden Bears (6-0). He's already on pace to surpass last year's totals of 37 catches, 549 yards and six scores.
Playing in 26 career games, Dietrich, 20, already has accumulated 71 receptions for 1,025 yards, a 14.4-yard per-catch average and 12 touchdowns.
"I'm not the fastest guy and consider myself more of a possession-type receiver," noted Dietrich. "What also helps me is my height (6-foot-2). I'm able to go up and get the ball."
Dietrich's basketball skills, especially his soft hands and leaping ability, have definitely come into play. On the football field, the former Rams captain didn't put up huge statistics at Cheshire.
"Quite honestly, I didn't have the best numbers, but I was able to put together a highlight tape of my best plays over a two-year span and that made a big difference during the recruiting process," said Dietrich. "When I was a senior, I was a scrawny dude, but in that offseason, I started concentrating on my strength and conditioning and muscle mass."
Though he had only five receptions for 57 yards and no touchdowns as a college freshman in 2014, Dietrich did receive expanded playing time as the season went on.
"Our receivers coach (David Benoit, now at Rockford (Ill.) University) told me after the season that I had exceeded the coaching staff's expectations, and my confidence soared from that day on," said Dietrich. "Now I thrive under pressure."
In the classroom, after more than two years as a computer science major, he now knows that he's made the right choice of attending Western New England.
"I grew up watching 'Criminal Minds,'" said Dietrich of the CBS television series featuring FBI profilers. "I had already been interested in computers and understood how they worked. My dad (Dave) was a computer science major and told me that it'd be hard at first, but would be worth it down the road."
Dietrich heeded his dad's advice. He has three siblings, 21-year-old twin brothers Eric and Kevin and sister Danielle, a 17-year-old Cheshire senior and swimmer on the Rams' squad. Eric is a senior on the UConn men's golf team.
"My sister tells me that she is my biggest fan although my mom (Sandy) is probably my No. 1 fan," said Dietrich. "My mom wears my No. 84 jersey to games. Both of my brothers have always been there to push me toward reaching my goals."
The Dietrichs will be there when the Golden Bears play at Endicott (3-3) on Saturday at noon in Beverly, Mass.
"We're heading into the toughest part of our schedule," said Dietrich. "Endicott has a very good team."
Endicott is quarterbacked by ex-Holy Cross standout Joe Kalosky, a freshman from Plymouth. Kalosky was named the New England Football Conference Offensive Rookie of the Week.
In his first college start Oct. 15, Kalosky completed nine of 12 pass attempts for 248 yards and three TDs in the Gulls' 35-14 win over Maine Maritime. Kalosky prepped at Lawrenceville (N.J.) School.
Endicott has two other Waterbury area players, sophomore free safety Allen Gibson of Seymour (a Fairfield Prep graduate) and freshman linebacker Logan LaRosa of Southington.
Besides Dietrich, Greater Waterbury players at Western New England include junior offensive lineman Tom Longo of Wolcott, junior wide receiver Brandon Black of Waterbury (Holy Cross), sophomore offensive lineman Alex Varhol of Prospect (Woodland), sophomore cornerback Chris Quarles of Naugatuck and sophomore tight end Phil Lebel of Wolcott.