— It was summer camp 1982 and Norm Myers was walking back from the old UConn football facilities to McMahon Residence Hall. Peggy Walsh, who still holds the UConn women's basketball record for most rebounds in a game, was moving in for her freshman year.
Peggy's dad was standing at the car as the sophomore tight end from South Windsor walked past his Jersey plates.
"Hey," Bud Walsh said, "you look like a football player."
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Coventry, CT, USA
"So I stopped," Norm said. "We must have talked for at least 20 minutes."
"And here I am moving things into my dorm with the guy from home I dated all through high school [in Voorhees, N.J.]," Peggy said. "Even he went, 'Who's that guy your dad is talking to? I'm like, 'I'm not sure.' He was sweaty, in his UConn grays."
"I came from a big family, three brothers, two sisters, we're close. I was really homesick the first couple of months. I'd call home and go, 'I don't know if I can do this.' My dad's going, 'You can do it!' One conversation when I was really upset, he goes, 'Go find that football player. He seems like a really nice guy.' So I did."
Long UConn love story short, here was Tommy Myers, a 6-5, 238-pound tight end, sitting Wednesday between his parents — Norm and his Jersey girl — at Coventry High School. He was signing a national letter of intent to play football only 5 miles away, for his parents' alma mater.
"Absolutely awesome," Norm said.
"Really cool," Peggy said, "really, really cool."
"It's a great feeling knowing that you're carrying on a tradition," Tommy said. "My mom and dad didn't actually tell me how excited they were until after I committed [in June]. They wanted me to be happy with my own choice. I would have picked UConn even if they hadn't gone there."
Maybe Tommy was always meant to be a Husky. That certainly doesn't mean he always was meant to be a football player.
As a kid, Peggy said, Tommy was a phenomenal pitcher. He gave up baseball in eighth grade to play AAU basketball. According to the latest MaxPreps statistics, Tommy, who is averaging 23.6 points for Coventry, is third in the nation at 20.1 rebounds a game. He is undersized to play inside at the elite UConn level. Division II? Sure. Even lower Division I? Why not?
Yet he also gave up AAU basketball after his sophomore year when he decided that football would be his focus. And here's the thing. Interest from schools like LSU and Alabama wasn't in basketball, baseball or football. It was in track and field. Myers won the New England title in the javelin as a sophomore. He has run 11.5 in the 100, 23.2 in the 200 and 54 in the 400. He has a 37-inch vertical leap.
"UConn was interested in me as a decathlete," Myers said. "Then they offered me in football. I don't think they're going to let me do track now. I tell my mom that after the NFL, I'm going to compete in the Olympics."
Tommy breaks into a laugh.
"Just a little dream of mine," he said.
At her wedding, Peggy said her dad, who passed away on Tommy's 11th birthday in 2006, made a big deal about introducing Norm to his daughter. One of those there that day was Geno Auriemma.
"The best thing that happened to me my first year at UConn was the fact Peggy was a senior," Auriemma said. "She was the kind of kid who could play for us even now, because of the level of competitiveness and toughness. More importantly she bought into what I was doing, it trickled down to the rest of the team, it helped our program grow."
"She'd probably say I'm the best and worst thing that happened to her. She liked to go at her own pace. I remember kidding her, 'If you start training on something other than cheeseburgers and Budweiser you're going to be a hell of a player.'"
Peggy, a first-team All-Big East performer who amassed 1,413 points and 937 rebounds at UConn, pulled down 25 rebounds one remarkable February night at Pittsburgh in 1986. Twenty-seven years, her school record stands.
"Twenty-five rebounds!" Auriemma said, shaking his head.
"Geno will say it was a matter of me getting the rebounds of all my missed shots," Peggy said, laughing.
"I had a pretty good career at UConn, but Peggy is the college superstar of the family," Norm said. "Now it's up to my son and daughter."
Kelly, a sophomore, plays basketball for St. Francis [N.Y.]. Peggy, meanwhile, works as a program aide for UConn women's basketball, and its Hall of Fame coach isn't surprised that she and Norm have turned out athletes and honor-roll students.
"They are competitive," Auriemma said. "They stress education. They keep things in proper perspective. They didn't push Tommy into football. I remember when he was 6 or 7. He was Little Tommy. When I saw him recently, I could not believe the size of this kid. He is Big Tommy. He's a hell of an athlete. When you get a football player who plays basketball, I go back to Aaron Hernandez [who played AAU for Auriemma]. Those guys have skills guys who only play football don't have."
Norm said that Tommy wanted to play football when he was younger and Peggy wanted to hold off. They allowed him to play when he got into middle school. Still, basketball was his focus.
"Then he came home one day a year and a half ago and said, 'I want to play college football,'" Norm said.
AAU basketball screeched to a halt. The focus went to football camps. Tommy, in fact, did well on the Connecticut 7 on 7 team in Philadelphia last spring with a UConn-bound quarterback named Tim Boyle from Xavier-Middletown. Mom? She kind of wished he had played basketball forever.
"I'm going to be honest, I did," Peggy said. "But, most importantly, I wanted him to play what he wanted to play. I didn't want him to play for me. He looked at me that day and said, 'Mom, I want to play college football.' I think it took everything in his power. That's when I said, 'Buddy, I don't care what you do. I just want you to be happy.' Still, Senior Night is going to be difficult for me. He's never going to play basketball again."
"Mom took it hard at first," Tommy said. "She loves to watch me play basketball. She got over it eventually. She knows my best path is football."
Norm and Peggy say that Coventry/Windham Tech/Bolton coach Tony Bonito was a tremendous help. He reached out to his college contacts. Tommy can run. Tommy has the hands. Tommy has the height and leap. Yet this was the message from UConn's George DeLeone: He needs to get up to 240. Tommy was 205 in the summer before his junior year.
"He lifted like a maniac," said Norm, who was 6-2, 210, when he was recruited and got up to 225 at UConn.
"So many protein shakes, chicken and rice all the time, nuts by the dozen, this huge trail mix thing," Peggy said.
It worked. The boy is jacked. Temple offered him a scholarship. So did a number of I-AA schools. Rutgers grew interested and Tommy was impressed by tight ends coach Darnell Dinkins. His interest screeched to a halt on the way home on the Jersey Turnpike. Traffic.
"He took the headphones out of his ears and asked when are we going to be home?" Norm said. "I said I don't know. We're going zero right now. He goes, that's not very good. I said, well, that's what we've got to deal with when we come down here. He shook his head and put his headphones back on."
Bye-bye Rutgers. Hello, family legacy.
Norm remembers entering the old UConn locker room for incoming freshmen his first time. Cement floor. Next to the laundry room. He opened his locker, out dropped a pair of black leather cleats. Old school.
"The facilities are incredible now," Norm said.
"I wanted to stay close to home," Tommy said. "Five minutes might be a little too close, but my parents told me something good. They said I could make college as far away or as close as I wanted."
Yep, Little Tommy is grown up.