As an eighth grader, everyone told Al Georgio he was too small to play running back in high school
In high school, people said he didn’t have the size to stand up to the rigors of varsity play.
During his record-breaking senior season, few thought he would be big enough to play at the college level.
And each time, Georgio proved his doubters wrong.
After a difficult search, the Exeter-West Greenwich senior – who owns the state single-season rushing record with 2,872 yards and single-season rushing touchdown record with 46 – will attend and play football at Norwich University in Northfield, Vt., next fall.
“I’m thrilled really,” said Georgio by phone Monday. “I’m excited. It was something I always dreamed about doing and coach (Mike Messier) always told me I could do it, but I have this opportunity and I’m going to give it my all.”
Georgio certainly doesn’t look like your typical running back.
While he stands at 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds now, as he got ready to start high school Georgio wasn’t quite sure if he was going to even play as a freshman, instead giving thought to playing one more season of Pop Warner.
A phone call from Messier, who was killed in a one-car accident last February, changed all that and Georgio hasn’t looked back since.
After seeing minimal playing time as a freshman, Georgio became a solid player in his sophomore season, rushing for 1,228 yards and 11 touchdowns as the Knights won their first Division IV Super Bowl.
As a junior, Georgio became a star, leading the area with 1,591 rushing yards and finishing second to teammate Adam Sweeney in touchdowns with 17 as EWG won its second straight D-IV title.
In his final season, the EWG senior became the most explosive player in the state, finishing the year with a state record 2,872 yards rushing and a record 46 rushing touchdowns.
But throughout his final season, Georgio didn’t talk much about his numbers. He ran for over 200 yards in the Knights first seven games and eight overall, and hit the 300-yard barrier three times – a 32-carry, 338 yard performance against North Providence that set a school record; 27 carries and 300 yards against Scituate; and a 25-carry, 329-yard game against Central Falls.
The most important thing to Georgio was how the team performed; it wasn’t until the season was over that he truly understood the numbers he put up.
“After the season was over I kind of realized those things, but like I said 100 times and told everyone, it wasn’t one on 11 out there,” Georgio said. “It was 11 on 11 and I couldn’t have done it without the rest of the team.”
Georgio’s decision to attend Norwich wasn’t entirely football based.
He applied to several schools – like the University of Rhode Island – know he wasn’t going to play football, but the opportunity to play at Norwich – which went 8-3 last season, 5-2 in the Eastern College Athletic Conference, where it lost to Framingham State in the ECAC Championship Bowl game – and major in either accounting or criminal justice made it the perfect fit.
“I wasn’t looking to how good the teams were,” said Georgio of the schools he was applying to. “I was looking for academics, because they will bring me farther in life than football will.”
It was a lesson taught to him by Messier, who Georgio credits with his development as a player and a student.
“He helped me tremendously,” Georgio said. “I wasn’t going to play freshman year because I was going to play Pop Warner, but he gave me a phone call and I knew for a high school head coach to call a kid who wasn’t even a freshman yet that he really wanted me to play. I knew that mean a lot right there and he cared about the team, not just one player, from the freshmen to the sophomores, juniors and seniors.”
Georgio flourished under head coach Jim Alves and assistant coach Steve Alves – both of whom served as Messier’s assistants – as well as the tutelage of volunteer Kevin Briggs, a former college running back who helped turn Georgio from your run-of-the-mill star back to something the state had never seen.
Norwich wants Georgio to play running back and currently, he is working on getting bigger to prepare for the start of summer camp, which begins in August.
Being small always been a sticking point when critiquing Georgio, but it’s something he’s not worried about.
“Everyone busts me up about my size,” Georgio said. “But there are small running backs all around the country. It’s not so much about size and strength; it’s about determination and drive.”
With the college decision over, Georgio will continue working on getting bigger and enjoying what is left of his senior year and the final summer before college.
“It was an extremely hard process, but it is for every person, no matter if they’re playing football or not. It’s the hardest thing for everyone,” Georgio said. “It’s four years that you’re preparing for that will impact the rest of your life.”