Scarpinato spurns medical school for one last gridiron campaign

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Scarpinato spurns medical school for one last gridiron campaign

By Jeremy Tepper / Senior Staff Writer

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Staying in contact with those from your past can be of great benefit — it certainly was for defensive tackle Mark Scarpinato.

Following his decision to forgo his final year of college football eligibility in lieu of medical school, Scarpinato decided to meet with Jeff Mazurczak, Scarpinato’s high school football coach and director of alumni relations at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, grabbing a meal at a local burger joint.

After some small talk, Scarpinato broached a subject Mazurczak didn’t anticipate.

“He said, ‘I want to talk to you about something. I think I’m not done with football,’” Mazurczak recalled.

With that conversation, Scarpinato’s return to college football was in the works, a return which will officially begin when he takes the field for Pitt and his former defensive coordinator and Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi.

That return, of course, was never planned. Scarpinato thought he was finished with football. After playing in fourteen games, starting two and winning a Rose Bowl at Michigan State, Scarpinato was pleased with what he accomplished.

“I felt like I reached the top of the mountain,” Scarpinato said. “I started in the Big Ten, I won a Rose Bowl, won a Big Ten Championship. I felt like I climbed the mountain and it was time to move on to the next part of my life.”

For several years, Scarpinato always knew that next step would be medical school. The son of a doctor, Scarpinato took immediate interest in his father’s work as a young boy, urging his father to bring his work home with him.

“When I was four he’d bring home surgical gloves and we’d go into surgery on fruit,” Scarpinato said.

With that in mind, Scarpinato got to work on a degree in kinesiology at Michigan State, which he finished in three years. Between his sophomore and junior years, Scarpinato decided to take the MCAT, wanting to get it out of the way since it was changing soon.

After he received positive test results, his parents urged him to apply to medical school “just to see,” Scarpinato said.

Scarpinato was accepted to the Medical College of Wisconsin and decided to take advantage of the opportunity. It wasn’t long until Scarpinato started to miss football.

“There was something missing. I wasn’t able to even watch the games on Saturday because it would kind of make me sad,” Scarpinato said.

“There was something missing. I wasn’t able to even watch the games on Saturday because it would kind of make me sad,”

For a short period of time, Scarpinato was happy to forgo the sacrifices and rigors which come with football. But Scarpinato started to miss the opportunities the game presented.

“There’s nothing that you can do in normal life where you can hit someone and it’s legal,” Scarpinato joked. “It’s very instant gratification. There’s nothing in this world like getting a sack in front of 75,000 people.”

It also didn’t help that medical school proved to be extraordinarily difficult, more so than football ever was for him.

“A lot of people said you’ll find it a lot easier than playing Division I sports. It wasn’t for me,” Scarpinato said. “To me, nothing compares to studying 20 hours a day for an exam.”

After some soul searching, Scarpinato decided to return to football, enlisting Mazurczak’s help to find a school and conjure up interest.

The first step was finding the best schools for his master’s degree in health administration. After that, Mazurczak would gauge the interest of the school’s football coach, an easy task after getting past the initial disbelief.

“I think they thought I was crankcalling them,” Mazurczak said. “I called the guy at North Carolina and he was like, ‘are you for real?’”

Along with North Carolina, Pitt was on Scarpinato’s list of potential suitors because of its strong program for his master’s degree, but he wasn’t favoring any school for a while — that is, until Mazurczak reminded him that Narduzzi was the new head coach at Pitt, making the decision an easy one.

Narduzzi was glad to have Scarpinato back, though he certainly didn’t expect it.

“Coach Duzz was shocked. He caught him off guard. I don’t think those are the type of calls you expect to get,” Mazurczak said.

For Narduzzi, Scarpinato provides familiarity with his defense at a position of need. The first-year head coach is confident that Scarpinato will be able to return to football with little transition.

“He’s a guy that knows our defense,” Narduzzi said. “I think he’ll be able to walk out on the field immediately and go, ‘I know what to do.’”

Despite his solid 6 feet 3 inches, 286-pound frame, Scarpinato’s strength as a player is not in physical ability, but rather on the mental side, where he uses the same smarts that enabled him to make it to med school.

“If you’re a student of the game, you don’t have to be the strongest or fastest person there, because you know what’s going to happen and you know what move to make off of it,” Scarpinato said.

Once his time is finished on the gridiron, Scarpinato has, at minimum, eight years of schooling left. After that, Scarpinato hopes to work on the administrative side of hospitals, his ultimate goal being to run a hospital.

And when the time comes that Scarpinato is done with football and he moves onto medicine, he’ll be able to look back and reflect with satisfaction, knowing he completed his football journey.

“Being able to play this last year of football will make me whole,” Scarpinato said. “I’ll be able to finish my circle for football and complete this part of my life.”

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