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Nick Chimienti becoming a bright spot for Stony Brook football

Strong safety Nick Chimienti knocks down Richmond quarterback Jackson Hardy on the blitz on Saturday, Sept. 23. Chimienti leads the Coastal Athletic Association with four takeaways this year. TIM GIORLANDO/THE STATESMAN

In the middle of a very rough year, strong safety Nick Chimienti is giving the Stony Brook football team something to smile about.

The fourth-year defensive back has had an up and down career, but this year he is finally living up to his potential this year. After snagging his third interception of the year against Richmond and recovering a fumble at Maine, Chimienti has taken the lead for most interceptions and takeaways in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA).

Getting the start in the season opener versus Delaware was already an accomplishment for Chimienti, who had been a career backup and special teamer up to that point. That night was poetic for him, as he snagged a pair of picks in the second quarter to triple his then-career total.

The first pick was the most meaningful. Just before the second quarter opened, a tribute was held for Stony Brook’s late defensive coordinator — Bryan Collins — who passed away in July. On the first snap after the honoring, a tipped pass floated right into Chimienti’s waiting arms, and he ran it back 25 yards to set up the Seawolves’ first scoring drive of the year.

When Chimienti was a junior at Central Dauphin High School in Harrisburg, Pa., Collins — then-head coach at Long Island University — recruited him to play wide receiver. Chimienti was intrigued by the opportunity, but decided he wanted to play defense in college. Three years later in 2021, when Collins took the job as defensive line coach at Stony Brook, he and Chimienti were both happy to see each other’s familiar faces.

The two formed a strong bond during their time together with the Seawolves, giving Chimienti some extra incentive to succeed this year.

“He came here and started coaching [at Stony Brook], and I was like, ‘How did you end up here?,’” Chimienti said in an interview with The Statesman. “I was pretty close with him. If I had a problem … I would go talk to him. He was a really good people person; you could tell he really cared about what you were saying. I can’t say one bad thing about him.”

Later in the same quarter, fueled by some extra motivation from up above, Chimienti raced to the sideline and tapped his toes in bounds to grab the next interception. After the turnover, Chimienti pointed his finger to the sky.

Stony Brook’s takeaway machine was not always destined to become a football player. His grandfather, Nick Chimienti Sr., was a middleweight boxer in the 1950s, fighting in 66 amateur and 12 professional bouts. Chimienti Sr. faced off against notable names such as Bob Provizzi and George Chuvalo and also trained in the same gym as Muhammad Ali.

Chimienti’s father, Nick Chimienti Jr., also boxed before becoming sheriff of Dauphin County and expected his son to lace up the gloves one day. However, Chimienti’s mother, Kathy Chimienti, shut that dream down.

His mother — who played softball growing up — approved of less violent sports, such as basketball and baseball. Chimienti started playing both sports at the age of six, with basketball becoming his first love. He played hoops all the way through his junior year of high school, competing in the Amateur Athletic Union and on Central Dauphin’s varsity team. He even received offers from NCAA Division III schools to join their men’s basketball programs.

Chimienti’s hoop dreams got some competition when his father brought him to a Penn State University football game when he was seven years old. After experiencing the atmosphere of a college football game, Chimienti knew that was what he wanted to do. 

As an 11-year-old sixth grader, Chimienti’s begging finally wore his mother down enough to let him put the pads on. He traded in baseball for football, changing the trajectory of his life.

Chimienti’s first experience in competitive football was with the Linglestown Colts, a youth football team in Harrisburg. The kids he met there went on to be his teammates all throughout middle and high school.

Upon arriving at Central Dauphin, Chimienti was still torn whether he wanted to stick with football or basketball in the long run. Once he was called up to the varsity football team in his sophomore year, he found instant success playing against the older kids. While playing both wide receiver on offense and safety on defense, Chimienti was an All-Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) selection in his first varsity season.

By hitting the ground running, he realized that his future belonged on the gridiron and not the hardwood.

“I started talking to schools for football, way better schools than I was for basketball,” Chimienti said. “That’s kind of when I stopped focusing on basketball and put all of my focus towards football.”

Chimienti’s first offer for football came from Army West Point during his junior year, an experience that felt so surreal that he could not comprehend it in the moment. 

“I went up there with my family and I was talking to the head coach, and he gave me the offer there but I didn’t really understand it,” Chimienti said. “I walked out of the room with my parents and they were all happy and the coaches were all giving me fist bumps. I was still kind of confused about what happened, and they explained to me that, ‘You can come play here when you graduate.’”

The offer was a big deal for Chimienti’s whole family. Neither of his parents had gone to college — a trend that both he and his twin sister Adrianna changed.

Though junior year brought Chimienti an emotional high, it also brought him a devastating low. Chimienti’s close friend and teammate, Harrison Fenstemaker, was killed by a drunk driver while riding his motorcycle at the age of 17.

Chimienti and his community came together to mourn Fenstemaker, instilling a valuable principle in the then-high schooler.

“Ever since then, I’ve realized it’s way bigger than just me,” Chimienti said. “So I know if I perform well [at Stony Brook], everybody in Harrisburg sees it, and I just want to keep that going because I really love where I’m from.”

His friend’s passing gave him something else to play for, pushing him to earn his second consecutive All-PIAA nod and win the 2018 PIAA Special Teams Player of the Year award.

Chimienti’s senior season cemented his legacy at Central Dauphin. He became the school’s first 1,000-yard receiver in nine years en route to a First-Team All-State selection as both a wideout and a defensive back. On offense, he caught 60 passes for 1,139 yards and 10 touchdowns. On defense, he picked off three passes and forced a fumble. 

Chimienti was elected to represent Pennsylvania in the 2020 Big 33 Football Classic, branded as “The Super Bowl of High School Football,” but the game was never played due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He would not have been able to receive these accolades had he opted for season-ending surgery. Chimienti suffered a torn muscle in his left shoulder before his senior season began, but he played through it.

“I just toughed it out because I wanted to play with my friends,” Chimienti said. “We ended up going to the state championship that year, so I just couldn’t not play.”

He underwent the surgery after the season, ending his basketball career simultaneously. However, by that point, he had already set his sights on playing football.

Chimienti racked up 15 Division I offers for football, but it was Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore’s recruiting tactics that enticed him the most. Priore took the trip to Harrisburg to offer Chimienti a scholarship at his home in front of his family. Chimienti’s father bonded with Priore, taking him to their boxing-themed basement and showing him all of Chimienti Sr.’s memorabilia.

After the visit, Chimienti knew he was going to be a Seawolf.

“Out of all of the schools that I had offers from, Stony Brook definitely recruited me the hardest,” Chimienti said. “So that’s why when I made my decision, I put that into perspective because I could tell they really wanted me to come play here.” 

Once he arrived on campus, his freshman season was put on pause until the spring of 2021, allowing him to continue his recovery from shoulder surgery.

Though he only played in three of the four possible games as a true freshman, Chimienti still made an impact. In what wound up being the season finale against Albany, former cornerback T.J. Morrison went down with an injury in the third quarter. Chimienti subbed in and snagged the first interception of his college career, aiding in the Seawolves’s 21-7 victory. Chimienti earned CAA Rookie of the Week honors two days later.

Later that fall, Chimienti’s second season was not as fruitful. He struggled with injuries throughout the year, playing in only six games and recording just one tackle and one pass breakup.

Being relegated to the sideline helped Chimienti realize how much he truly loves the game.

“That actually made me really appreciate what football is for me,” Chimienti said. “When I wasn’t playing, I was down in the dumps. So I realized I had to work harder and be better to get on the field and make plays to be with the other guys.”

Chimienti stayed healthy enough in 2022, earning an opportunity to play in place of injured strong safety Akeal Lalaind, who was a full-time starter in 2021. However, he struggled, as he recorded no interceptions in nine games played while being a part of the second-worst pass defense in the CAA.

His tough 2022 season stemmed from a torn muscle in his right shoulder that, once again, he opted to play through.

“That took a toll on me because the first one was not fun at all, and I knew the second one was not going to be better because it was my dominant arm,” Chimienti said. “That definitely was mentally and physically challenging, but I just grinded it out. I push my body to the limit a lot of times to see what I can do.” 

Last December, Chimienti got the shoulder surgically repaired. Coming off a bad season and an injury, the coaching staff brought in more bodies at his position to potentially supplant him. Strong safeties Cory Gross Jr. and Brandon Higgs along with free safety Jalen Hoyle were all acquired through the transfer portal, giving Chimienti a lot of competition to beat out.

“We had a lot of competition in the room,” Chimienti said. “I knew going into the season that I was going to have to outwork everybody to get on the field, and I just grinded my tail off after my surgery and put my head down and didn’t say nothing to nobody and just worked as hard as I could.”

Chimienti’s pursuit for a starting spot was made easier when Gross Jr. went down with a season-ending injury before opening night. Though he likely would not have seen the field without Gross Jr.’s injury, his monstrous second quarter against Delaware helped make him the centerpiece of the secondary. Now with the staff committed to him, he has gone on to take the CAA lead with three picks and four takeaways.

Other than finally being fully healthy, it is the mental part of Chimienti’s game that has been the key to his breakout.

“I feel like I have a lot more confidence in my abilities than I had last year,” Chimienti said. “I like to learn about the game and learn what other teams do, what their tendencies are, quarterback tendencies and stuff like that. If I can pick up on those things, then it helps me really be able to dissect the play while it’s happening on the field.”

Though he is a college senior, Chimienti is nowhere near done with school. He is majoring in multidisciplinary studies and plans to use his two remaining years of NCAA eligibility to pursue a master’s degree. Chimienti also has a fall-back plan of being a union worker back home if the academic and football routes do not work out.

Though Chimienti does not yet have his future figured out, he finally has the Division I level of football and his physical health down pat. All that is left for him to do is to continue to make the Harrisburg and Stony Brook communities proud as his growth continues.

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About the Contributor
Kenny Spurrell, Assistant Sports Editor
Kenny Spurrell is an Assistant Sports Editor of The Statesman. He is a senior English major and journalism minor at Stony Brook University. He began covering sports for The Statesman during the Fall 2021 semester. Since then, he has covered men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s lacrosse and football. His passion for sports derives from his many years of playing basketball, football and baseball. He is a Long Island native from Selden, N.Y. and has dreams of becoming a sports journalist.
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  • J

    John F. CherryJan 19, 2024 at 8:30 am

    Just read this article. How one faces adversity defines a person’s character. Nick’s character is defined by courage and heart. He is a star in the game of life.
    John F. Cherry

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