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Winding road leads star diver Ferrucci to UK

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Ferrucci.jpegThis time a year ago, Greg Ferrucci was in a situation familiar to many young adults struggling to find their way. He had tried his hand at one line of work but had decided to make a career change and was trying find a job in that field. In short, he was trying to figure out which direction to take his life.

What happened next was completely unforeseen.

Ferrucci placed a call to Kentucky head diving coach Ted Hautau to ask for a reference for a job application. Hautau was willing to provide the reference, but he offered him something more: a chance to come to the University of Kentucky on a diving scholarship.

As a result of that unexpected phone call, Ferrucci is now a standout diver at UK. He is coming to the end of a historic season that has seen him become the first Southeastern Conference Male Freshman Diver of the Year in school history. He is also on scholarship with a chance to earn a degree from a top university.

"I think it really gave him a great opportunity," Hautau said. "It kind of gave him a direction. It's been a blessing for him because he has a chance to get a college education. I'm excited as much for that as I am for our program."

It may not sound like it, but Hautau's offer was more than just a shot in the dark. Before rising to the college coaching ranks, Hautau was Ferrucci's youth diving coach in Huntersville, N.C., beginning when Ferrucci was 11. Hautau saw immediately that Ferrucci had a chance to be very good.

"I realized he had real potential," Hautau said. "I had taken him very slowly when I coached him in club because of that. We spent a great deal of time on the basics to make sure he had a good foundation."

However, Ferrucci had an accident in competition at the 2006 US Open when he hit the board, a nightmare scenario for any diver. After that, Ferrucci was out of diving for a year to recuperate. Right around the time that Ferrucci was returning, Hautau accepted a position with North Carolina State. Ferrucci made the decision to give up diving shortly thereafter.

His diving career seemingly behind him, Ferrucci graduated from high school in 2008 and attended cosmetology school. He completed the one-year program, but diving was something he just couldn't toss aside.

"Throughout the year I was in cosmetology school, I would go in and dive just to play around and see my old teammates and coaches," Ferrucci said. "They were always a big part of my life and good friends of mine."

Ferrucci worked in a salon for approximately six months after finishing his training, but it just wasn't for him. He heard from friends about an interesting opportunity that would allow him to dive again.

"I knew some people who were in the performing business and worked with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines," Ferrucci said. "They told me about their newest ship, the Oasis, having a diving show on it."

Ferrucci made an audition tape and received notice that Royal Caribbean was interested. Eventually, they called back in March of 2010 and requested a resume and references. When it came time to decide whom to list as a reference, Hautau was the perfect choice. The conversation went in a direction that neither expected.

"Mid-conversation while we were talking about some of my old experiences with diving, he was like, 'Do you want to come to Kentucky on a scholarship?' " Ferrucci recounted. "That completely shifted my life and I decided to go for it."

Hautau's recruiting pitch was a bit different than the one he was accustomed to delivering.

"I jokingly said, 'Why don't you come get some school paid for and get a college degree and you don't have to get sea sick when you're diving?' " Hautau said.

During that same recruiting season, UK had been involved with a number of the top divers in the nation but was unable to sign any of those top prospects.

"We were excited that we got some of the best recruits to come in and look," Hautau said. "The team was still in the rebuilding phase and we just didn't end up landing those top kids. That all worked out perfectly. I'm glad because I think I got the best one of the bunch."

To some, the way things ended up may seem lucky. Others may chalk it up to innovative recruiting and scouting by Hautau. Hautau, though, looks at it a different way.

"To be honest with you, I give credit to God," Hautau said. "It's providential. It's God's hand moving."

As talented as Ferrucci was, there were no guarantees things would end up working out as they did. Even though Ferrucci almost instantly leaped at the chance to go on scholarship, he did have a period during which he got "cold feet" because of how quickly things came together. Eventually, though, a trusting relationship with Hautau reassured him.

"He's always kind of been an inspiration in my life," Ferrucci said of Hautau. "He's a great guy. We didn't stay very close when I quit diving but we would catch up every once in a while. He's definitely like a father figure. I could talk to him about anything, not just diving."

Particularly with the way Ferrucci was coming to UK, Hautau recognized special attention would need to be paid to ensuring a smooth transition to college life. For that reason, Ferrucci came to UK for summer school to ease him into a new routine.

"I told (head swimming coach) Gary (Connelly) this kid is really talented, but what you didn't know was how he was going to adapt to school," Hautau said. "That first year is pretty challenging. We decided to bring him in for summer school and I think that was a really good move as far as him getting used to going to school. It got him familiar with our academic support program and got him in the habits of the team."

Another benefit of his early arrival was that Ferrucci hit the weight room seriously for the first time since giving up diving in high school.

"(The weight room) really significantly changed his body," Hautau said. "If you look at him from when he came in to where he is now, it's unbelievable. He really has bought in and worked hard and that's a credit to him."

Once he set foot on campus, Ferrucci was 100 percent devoted to capitalizing on the opportunity afforded him, which is evidenced by all of his hard work. Ferrucci is more mature than a typical freshman and also has real world experience that most college athletes lack. Hautau says that experience has honed his focus.

"He comes in as a pretty mature freshman," Hautau said. "He was out in the real world and it has really made him appreciate being in a university, so he's going to take advantage of it. He has more of a purpose about him."

Picking back up a complex and dangerous sport like diving as readily as Ferrucci has is really quite amazing, but Ferrucci talks about it as if it is as simple as riding a bicycle.

"Part of me will always be a diver no matter how much I try to push it away," Ferrucci said. "It's always there in the back of my mind. I guess just working on it for a while it all comes back."

At his first meet against Indiana, Ferrucci won the three-meter event. His initial success only served to motivate him further.

"It kind of sparked something in me," Ferrucci said. "I thought, 'I really am getting back into this pretty well,' so I kept working hard."

Hautau lauds Ferrucci's mental fortitude as the biggest reason why Ferrucci has been so consistent in his freshman season.

"The most impressive thing has been his head," Hautau said. "He has competed very well and I've been really impressed. Being off that long, you're going to have some practices where things are just not clicking. When things aren't clicking in diving, you're not able to make certain skills and you're crashing. He has a real ability to not panic and not worry. He's been faithful and confident that everything would fall into place."

Things have indeed fallen into place for Ferrucci. The freshman finished in third place on the platform at the SEC Diving Championships a couple of weeks ago, the second-best finish in the event in school history. He also finished in fifth in the one-meter dive and seventh in the three-meter.

His ultimate goal of qualifying for the NCAAs March 24-26 in Minneapolis, Minn., is still ahead of him, but already Ferrucci ranks in the top three all-time scores in the platform (second), three-meter (second) and one-meter (third) in school history.

Hautau said that Ferrucci will face some of the best diving competition the NCAA has even seen, but that he has the ability to rewrite the record book at UK.

"He's on pace to set some records here at UK as far as scores," Hautau said. "Making NCAAs is going to be tough, much less scoring there, but if he stays on pace and stays steady, we'll see what happens. I won't make any predictions but he's going to try to be the best diver that has even been here."

He certainly makes the case for the most unique path.

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