Penn State's Chiappialle making a name for himself

Posted: April 15, 2014

STATE COLLEGE - Cole Chiappialle wakes up, rolls out of bed and looks down. A neon green rubber band wraps his right wrist. On it reads in bold letters, "Prove People Wrong."

A former walk-on and rising sophomore running back at Penn State, Chiappialle has worn that wristband since his high school days. It reminds him of his doubters.

With little college interest coming out of Blackhawk High in Beaver Falls, coupled with an oft-mispronounced last name, it has been hard for Chiappialle to get noticed.

But not Saturday. Even if fans and media alike failed to say his name correctly - it's pronounced chip - e - elly - everyone knew who was the star of Penn State's annual Blue-White spring game, which was won by the Blue side, 37-0.

The 5-8, 197-pound tailback, primarily a special-teams player last season, took full advantage of the opportunity, punching in two touchdowns and rushing for a game-high 63 yards on just eight carries.

And while Chiappialle exudes confidence, not even he expected to have that kind of performance.

"If I woke up this morning and you told me everyone was going to be around me, I'd say, 'OK, yeah, I don't know about that,' " Chiappialle said.

But like the herd of teammates surrounding him after he found the end zone twice, media swarmed Chiappialle after the game. And considering his exciting play, it was much-deserved.

He brought life to an otherwise dull first quarter with a 19-yard rush up the middle off a direct snap, setting up placekicker Sam Ficken for a score-opening field goal.

In the second quarter, Chiappialle barreled in for a 1-yard touchdown run with 2:39 left on the running clock. After the Blue side forced a turnover a minute later, the shifty rusher shook off a couple tackles and scampered into the end zone for another score, this one from 23 yards out.

All that from a player who tallied just one carry last season and, before coming to Penn State as a preferred walk-on, garnered zero FBS scholarship offers and just one FCS bid (Robert Morris).

But as fellow running back Akeel Lynch and other teammates said, that's what the spring is for. The game itself is obviously geared toward entertaining the announced 72,000 fans in attendance. But it's also a showcase of sorts for players who don't see the field on a regular basis.

Essentially, it's a chance for players like Chiappialle to be rewarded for working hard over the course of spring practice, and first-year coach James Franklin said the running back made an impression on him the first day of practice.

"He showed up from Day 1 with his attitude. He showed up with his attention to detail. He showed up every single day in practice making plays," Franklin said. "I'd like more guys like that."

Despite his impressive afternoon, Chiappialle said he's a levelheaded guy; he understands this was the spring game, not a conference contest between Michigan or Ohio State.

That's not to say this kind of showing will go to waste. The opportunity to earn carries in 2014 is still ahead of Chiappialle. Even his teammates recognize that.

"Your name might be called during the season, so you never know," Lynch said.

And if Chiappialle's name is called next season, at least fans will now know how to pronounce it.

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