Record-breaking Conard High running back Jonathan Esposito took one look at Princeton University and immediately got the feeling that he belongs within the hallowed Ivy walls of the southern New Jersey campus.
But a phone call one Sunday last fall got him to thinking. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was calling on behalf of his alma mater, Wesleyan.
Esposito gave some serious thought but his first impression turned out to be a lasting one. Esposito made it official Feb. 11 at a ceremony at Conard that he would soon be Princeton-bound.
“It worked out the way me and my family wanted it to all along,” he said. “Going to Princeton for the first time over the summer, right when I stepped on the campus, I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”
Esposito leaves Conard with school records in career yardage (4,570), points (360) and touchdowns (64). As a senior, he ran for 1,800 yards and crossed the goal line 29 times. Considering that Princeton and Wesleyan were interested in him, his academic standing at Conard is impeccable. So is his character.
As much as communicating with Belichick enthralled him, he was captivated by Princeton’s history-rich campus.
“It’s such a prestige school and there’s so much history behind it,” Esposito said. “Everything there was just flawless. Princeton just had something that no other school had.”
He visited Yale and Trinity as well as Wesleyan.
“It’s not too far away because I’m very close with my family,” he said. “That was important. It’s perfect.”
The call from Belichick spawned second thoughts, although at first he didn’t think it was legitimate.
“I thought it was a joke,” Esposito said. “I just woke up from a nap, it’s Sunday afternoon. That Saturday I had SATs and a game so I was drained. Right when I woke up, the phone rings.”
Belichick introduced himself.
“Not in my wildest dreams would I think he would call me so I hung up. I thought it was a prank call,” Esposito said. “He ended up calling right back and we lost service so we got disconnected.
“I really thought nothing of it. All along I thought it was kid, a joke.”
The next night, he was watching Monday Night Football with his mother when he received an e-mail from Wesleyan coach Mike Whalen telling him that Belichick was going to call.
“My jaw drops and my mother asks me what’s wrong. … He was great,” Esposito said.
The decision to stick with his initial instinct settled in during the first of the successive snow days on Feb. 1.
“[Princeton] called me and said they got everything cleared through admissions and they wanted to offer me a spot,” Esposito said. “Of course I accepted right away. If that didn’t work out, I probably would be going to Wesleyan.”
Esposito said he could reap the ultimate in academic rewards from either school.
“In terms of academics, they’re both phenomenal institutions,” he said. “Everything was comparable. I loved all the coaches, all the players, but Princeton is Division I football and Wesleyan is Division III. Big difference.”
Esposito plans to study business – economics, accounting or finance – but wishes to keep his options open.
“What was also appealing to me is you go in and take your requirement classes so you can get a better feel of what you like,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working hard and finding out what I want to do.”