By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The first thought that comes to mind as Michael Calicchio approaches — his white No. 63 West Virginia jersey having darn near as many Xs in its size designation as the defense has on the chalkboard on the locker room wall, as in Size: XXXXXXLarge — is that he surely is going to greet you with the words “You rang?”
Instead, though, this 6-foot, 9-inch, 325-pound 2014 clone of Lurch, the faithful butler in the classic television series, “The Addams Family,” puts out a hand that is about the size of a Thanksgiving ham and says, “Hello, sir.”
You are taken aback with the words that rain down from above, considering very few people today use the term “sir” anymore, at least when addressing an ink-stained wretch such as the one who was preparing to interview him.
In many ways, the comparison to the Addams family character Lurch is fitting, for it isn’t very well known that Lurch was an adopted West Virginian himself. While Calicchio came here from Brooklyn, where he was raised as the youngest of seven children, Ted Cassidy, the actor who played Lurch, was born in Pittsburgh but raised in Philippi, where he played basketball and football.
Cassidy went on to attend West Virginia Wesleyan before transferring to Stetson in Florida, where he majored in speech and played a season of basketball, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds a game.
Cassidy was probably more of an athlete growing up than was Calicchio, who somehow avoided playing football until his senior season in high school despite his massive size.
Following that senior season, Calicchio wound up playing a season at Valley Forge Military Academy in eastern Pennsylvania, an area patrolled by long-time WVU assistant Bill Kirelawich, who was not about to let a physical specimen like this get away even if he was raw and unschooled in the ways of football.
“I don’t know where we’ll put you,” WVU’s former defensive line coach told Calicchio, “but one thing we can’t teach is size.”
Calicchio came to WVU, tried to learn what he could learn, but decided it was best for him to go back home, transferring into C.W. Post on Long Island and playing a year there before watching the Mountaineers destroy Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
He decided that night he wanted to return, not because he felt he could bring a national championship to West Virginia, but because he wanted to be part of the team experience here.
That, you see, is very big with Calicchio, even now, perhaps growing out of being from a family with seven children.
“Oh, man, it’s definitely been a journey and I’ve gone through a lot along the way. The thing I always try to do is take positive out of it, work hard, and I’m starting to see results. I’m proud of being part of this team and giving this team everything I have,” he said.
This is his final season and he still isn’t the most skilled of offensive tackles, the late start having put him at a large disadvantage.
“It’s been a lot harder than I thought it would be when I started,” he said. “At this level, it’s a lot of stuff. Coming into college I only had one year under my belt. Being big doesn’t count if you don’t have technique. That was challenging, learning new technique and everything, but I feel like it is definitely coming together.”
WVU has a pair of starting tackles in Adam Pankey and Marquis Lucas, but head coach Dana Holgorsen is looking for a third tackle and Calicchio may be able to put himself in the mix for that, although he says that isn’t even one of his working goals.
“My main focus every day is to come in, work hard and give my best. That part is up to the coaches. I can only control what I can control. I just hope I’m playing well enough to play whatever role I have to play for this team to be successful. That’s all I worry about,” he said.
And, his offensive line coach, Ron Crook says he has improved to the point that he “has put himself in the position where he may be able to help us out.”
“The good thing about him is he’s a football junkie,” Crook said. “He’s in constantly watching film. He’s in watching other people. He gets stuff on YouTube. He watches NFL stuff. He knows who the top draft picks are each year.
“He just loves football. He loves being around it. A guy like that you enjoy coaching because football is so important to him as a person, not just as a player.”
What would Calicchio accept as a successful final season at WVU?
“Just to have great team chemistry and go out and win. That’s all that matters to me,” he said.
And if he’s summoned to go out there and help the team win, how will he answer the bell?
“You rang?” we suspect.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel