WORCESTER – In the end Steve Bucciaglia’s decision on where to continue his academic and athletic careers did not come down to anything tangible. His choice was not based on academic programs, the recent success of the football team or where the school was located. It didn’t come down to anything he read in a brochure or that was pitched to him by the admissions office.
“I chose Assumption College because it just felt like it was the right fit for me,” Bucciaglia, St. John’s record-setting quarterback, said. “I went on a recruiting trip there and spent the night and I really liked it. I could picture myself there.”
Bucciaglia, who led the Pioneers to an undefeated season and the Division 3 state championship in December, signed his National Letter of Intent to attend Assumption College on an athletic scholarship on Wednesday. He said the other schools he was seriously considering attending were fellow Northeast-10 schools Bentley and Merrimack.
Bucciaglia finished his senior season for St. John’s (13-0) by helping to defeat North Attleboro, 35-33, Dec. 1 at Foxborough’s Gillette Stadium. In the Pioneers’ victory over the Red Rocketeers Bucciaglia completed 16-of-18 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns, including a 74-yard scoring strike to Jay Brunelle on a third-and-12 play that pushed the St. John’s lead to 35-20.
For the season the 6-foot-1 Bucciaglia completed 207-of-285 pass attempts for 3,591 yards and 45 touchdowns.
Complicating Bucciaglia’s college decision-making process was the fact that Bob Chesney, Assumption’s wildly successful head football coach departed the Salisbury Street campus in December to become the Holy Cross head football coach. Chesney was 44-16 in five seasons leading the Greyhounds, who captured two Northeast-10 championships and appeared in the NCAA Division 2 playoffs three times while he was there.
“I knew I wanted to go to Assumption but I was waiting to see who they named as coach,” Bucciaglia said. “I wanted to meet the guy before I made my decision.”
Assumption hired former Holy Cross offensive coordinator Andy McKenzie on Thursday, Feb. 1, and two days later Bucciaglia and McKenzie had a face-to-face meeting. Just hours after the two met Bucciaglia announced on Twitter that he would be attending Assumption College.
“He’s a really nice guy and I would love to play for him. I made my decision right after I met him,” Bucciaglia said. “He’s a quarterback-oriented guy. He said he saw me on film and he said I’d be a good fit at Assumption. I was really happy when I heard that.”
Most recently the 45-year-old McKenzie served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Holy Cross, from 2008-2015. Prior to that, from 2002-2007, he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Allegheny College, from where he graduated in 1996.
From 2000-2001 McKenzie was the quarterbacks coach at Williams College. Before that, from 1996-1999 he was the wide receivers and secondary coach at Northeastern University. McKenzie got his start in coaching before he graduated from Allegheny, serving as the Gators’ wide receivers coach during the 1995 season.
“Coach McKenzie was excited when I told him I had decided to attend Assumption,” Bucciaglia said. “So were the other coaches who have been recruiting me since the summer (quarterbacks coach Jensen Gebhardt and linebackers coach Nick Kessel). They really liked me and I really liked them. I’m excited for August.”
McKenzie declined to comment on Bucciaglia’s college decision although the Assumption College football twitter account welcomed him to the family on Wednesday.
“I’m going to let Steve speak to that. I’m not sure I can comment on kids yet,” McKenzie said. “There are some recruiting rules about commenting on prospects and kids so I’m just going to take Steve’s word for what’s going on. I can’t comment because there is some documentation that has to be completed before we’re allowed to comment on such things.”
Bucciaglia said he was pleased and relieved that he has made his decision.
“Yeah I am,” said Bucciaglia, whose father Steven and mother Lauren (Lumsden) are both Assumption graduates. “The process is kind of stressful so I was wicked excited just to get it over with.”
Bucciaglia said the St. John’s community has been reaching out to him since Saturday congratulating him on his decision.
“Everybody at St. John’s has been wicked supportive and are very excited for me,” Bucciaglia said. “They wished me the best of luck. It’s cool because I think my teammates will be able to see a couple of my games in the next four years.”
Bucciaglia, who grew up in Worcester but now lives in Shrewsbury, said he considered schools from all the college divisions.
“I was looking at some NESCAC, NE-10 and smaller Division 1 schools,” Bucciaglia said. “In the end, though, I saw myself as a Division 2 player so I went after those schools. I went to the camps during the summer and sent my highlight tape from my junior year to them. I’ve been talking to a lot of NE-10 schools since the summer.”
McKenzie left his job as athletic director at Gardner High School to accept the Assumption College position. This was McKenzie’s third year overseeing the Wildcats’ athletic programs.
“The administration in Gardner, Mark Pellegrino (superintendent of schools) and Paula Bolger (Gardner High principal) were phenomenal to me,” McKenzie said. “I’m so appreciative and grateful for the opportunity they gave me at Gardner. Hopefully they feel like I worked hard for them and did the right things there, which I think they do. After a good conversation with them they were more than willing to let me move on to Assumption College and be the head football coach.”
McKenzie said when the Assumption job opened up he simply had to throw his hat in the ring.
“I’m a football guy. I love football and I love the value that a sport brings to a community and what it does for the growth and development of the kids that participate in it,” McKenzie said. “It’s always been an important part of my life. When the opportunity came about at Assumption it was an opportunity I could resist looking into.”
McKenzie has had to hit the ground running, getting the Assumption position right in the middle of recruiting season. Wednesday was National Signing Day for Division 1 and 2 college football programs.
“I’m walked into the position on Friday with just a weekend and a couple days to try and put a recruiting class together,” McKenzie said. “Fortunately coach Chesney laid a great foundation here. There are a lot of positive things happening on campus and Assumption’s reputation right now is trending really high.
“There were a couple of assistant coaches on staff here (Gebhardt and Kessel) who held the fort together and did a great job of recruiting while the school was looking for a coach,” McKenzie continued. “We’re in good shape but this is just the beginning. We’ve still got more work to do.”
Although it’s still early, McKenzie said the transition from Chesney to himself has been smooth.
“The transition has been awesome,” McKenzie said. “As crazy as this time of year is for college football coaches the people at Assumption College, from the administration, to the athletic department, to the students on campus, to the players, they have all been totally supportive. “They’ve been totally into getting a new coach in here and moving forward and getting ready for next year. I’m really excited about how important the football team is to Assumption College right now.”
Leading the Greyhounds marks the first time in his coaching career of 20 years that McKenzie has been a head coach. He’s already come to the conclusion that it’s much different than being a position coach or a coordinator.
“When you’re a position coach or a coordinator you’re totally focused on coaching your position and taking care of your specific duties to the best of you ability,” McKenzie said. “When you’re in the head coach’s chair you’re responsible for the full program. You’ve got to think about the offense and the defense and the special teams and the budgets and the scheduling.
“It does open up a lot of managerial situations that you have to take care of and I think that’s where my time at Gardner as the athletic director has truly benefitted me,” McKenzie said. “I’m now able to handle all the different tasks that come across the desk.”
McKenzie said he hopes to have his coaching staff finalized by the end of this weekend.
“I’m working on it right now,” McKenzie said. “I anticipate having most of the guys on board by the end of this weekend or early next week. Right now I’ve got to hire a couple of coordinators and a couple of graduate assistants.”
McKenzie said he will be retaining Gebhardt, Kessel and running backs coach Mike Vulcano.
“They all did a nice job in the transition and they deserve to be here,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie and his wife, Salwa, live in Holden with their children, 13-year-old Braeden and 10-year-old Yasmine.