Published September 27. 2011 4:00AM
In the Southern Connecticut State University locker room, Mickey Amanti's locker is directly next to Skyler McNair's.
The two are now teammates, although the last time Amanti played football at Waterford High School, McNair was in eighth grade, and hadn't even begun his stellar career at Montville.
Amanti laughs when he talks about it.
"He's come up to me and said he remembers hearing about me and going to games I played in when he was in middle school," Amanti said.
Five years after he last stepped on a football field, Amanti is back on one, getting another shot at Division II Southern Connecticut in New Haven.
Amanti was a key member of one of the most storied baseball runs in a decidedly baseball town, playing shortstop and winning championships in Little League, Babe Ruth, high school and American Legion before going on to play at Division I Quinnipiac in nearby Hamden.
NCAA rules stipulate that athletes who compete in one sport for four years can use a fifth year of eligibility to play another sport.
"I always loved football," Amanti said. "It probably was my first love, even a little more than baseball."
Amanti was one of the best athletes on the field as a football player, garnering all-state and all-area honors while catching and running, returning kicks and playing safety.
He committed to play baseball at Quinnipiac as a junior, leaving a few potential college football coaches knocking on Waterford coach Mike Ellis' door.
"Football was always in the back of my mind," Amanti said. "When I was winding down at Quinnipiac, I figured I'd give it a try. I knew I had the abilities."
Amanti has always had the ability.
He played four years at Quinnipiac, leading the team in batting average (.306), hits (57) and runs (31) during his senior season while earning a degree in criminal justice.
Now, the 22-year-old is one of three graduate students and one of eight former Eastern Connecticut Conference standouts playing for the Owls, contributing mainly on special teams.
"It has been five years since I stepped on a football field," Amanti said. "I played flag football, but it's not the same. It's totally different when you put on the pads and a helmet. The first couple of days, things were flying by me, but I caught on pretty quick and adjusted.
"High school was more playing than thinking. In college, you have to know your assignment. In high school I roamed around and did my own thing."
Amanti, who is studying sociology at SCSU, said one of the hardest parts of getting back into football was spending the summer after graduation getting into football shape.
"I was barely 180 pounds finishing up baseball," he said. "It's hard work putting on 10-15 pounds in a few months."
Amanti also had to escape the laid-back atmosphere of baseball to get into a football mindset.
"In football, you have to stay relaxed, but you have to know how to control your energy and all that stuff," he said. "Everybody riles each other up and builds off each others' energy."
Amanti said one of the reasons Southern coach Rich Cavanaugh took a shot on him was his college experience, albeit in a different sport.
"In Division I, any sport, the speed of the game is on a whole different level," Amanti said. "Everything happens so much faster and I was accustomed to that. Coach (Cavanaugh) said one of the reasons he took me is I played Division I college. That's the biggest difference. It's a job. It's not a hobby or a game anymore. Nothing comes easy in college."
Nobody knows that better than Mickey Amanti.