No amount of snow, sleet or freezing rain could stop people from piling into the lobby of Ligonier Valley High School on Wednesday afternoon. A long row of cars lined the sidewalk around the building, which was closed for the day due to the inclement weather.
But the doors were opened for friends and family of Alec Bloom, along with some media, to watch the senior sign his National Letter of Intent to play football at the University of Connecticut, a Division I Football Bowl Subdivision program.
“It’s been a great ride,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “It’s like the cherry on the top of his great high school career. We couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Bloom, a 6-foot-7 tight end, verbally committed to play at UConn over the summer, and sealed up his decision on National Signing Day by faxing his letter to head coach Bob Diaco.
“Back before the season, I was getting offers from some FCS schools, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect,” Bloom said.
“But when I started getting bigger offers, my eyes started to open up to the fact that I could have some great opportunities in front of me, and this is a great opportunity. It was a really exciting time.”
Bloom joins 13 other recruits who will be taking the field this fall for UConn, which won its last three games of the season under interim coach T.J. Weist following an 0-9 start. Paul Pasqualoni was fired just four weeks into the season, and Notre Dame defensive coordinator Diaco took over the team in December.
The coaching change put some stress on Bloom’s choice, but the standout said he never changed his mind about where he wanted to go.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, but whenever it happened, it was a little setback obviously,” Bloom said. “I didn’t know who they were going to bring in or where he would be from. You just don’t know. It was kind of a surprise to hear that coach (Pasqualoni) got fired, but then they hired Coach Diaco from Notre Dame, and he has a great reputation. He is building a great team so far. You just have to put your faith in him because UConn did.”
“Probably the most impressive thing with the recruiting process with the University of Connecticut was that even with the change in staff, they still had to honor their scholarships,” Beitel said. “But we had to make sure they wanted Alec and weren’t just inheriting him. You want to know ‘Did they really want me, or did they have to take me?’ But that wasn’t the case at all. They made it very clear that regardless of the changes, they wanted him.
“He felt the love and he felt the want. It’s just like anything. If you’re not their guy, you may not get the opportunities you want. At all levels it’s that way — especially in college and in the pros. But he was still really high on their board, and that was a big part of his decision.”
Bloom was recently named to the USA Today’s all-state team and was selected to play in the Big 33 Classic in June. He finished his senior season at Ligonier Valley with 45 receptions for 830 yards, falling 13 catches and 125 yards short of Andy Ostach’s single-season area records in both categories.
But his season — and high school career — were cut short by a knee injury in a Week 8 loss to Homer-Center.
“Right now, I’m still not allowed to do anything because of my knee,” Bloom said. “I’m thinking of doing track again this year, it could definitely help my speed. I don’t know for sure what I’m doing, but I’m definitely training for football.”
“He saved some of his best performances for some of the biggest games,” Beitel said of Bloom. “Ultimately, it came to a quick halt with the knee, but we’re past that. That’s something that’s going to motivate him in the future because he was so close to breaking all those receiving records. It’s exciting, it’s fun and Alec would be the first to tell you that without his teammates, he wouldn’t have been able to do those things. We are looking forward to the next stage.”
The next stage is a big stage, and Bloom wouldn’t want it any other way. He could’ve chosen a school on a smaller scale, but couldn’t pass up the opportunities that Connecticut offered him.
“Other schools came in later and were interested like Temple, Wake Forest and Pitt, but at the end of the day, I was comfortable with UConn,” Bloom said. “They were the ones that introduced me to Division I football. I love everything they stand for, and I didn’t find that anywhere else.
“Anywhere you go, you’re going to have to compete for a job. Of course it’s a higher level, but it’s going to make you better. You’ll be playing with the best athletes in the country at that level. The guys who make it that far are all great athletes. At the end of the day, you’re going to have to compete wherever you go, so why not compete against the best.”
“When he started grabbing the attention of high-profile coaches, at that point, it’s a matter of belief,” Beitel said. “And he believed he could do it. He thought he was a Division I player, he started acting like a Division I player and his performances proved he was a Division I player.
“To go through the whole recruiting process and know that’s where he wants to spend the next four years of his life, that’s what it’s really all about. We had a chance to sit down with Coach Diaco and the University of Connecticut staff, and they are top notch. They’re just phenomenal. We couldn’t be putting him in better hands, that’s for sure. I look forward to the opportunity to watch him on television and to go up and see him play in person. We’re extremely proud of him, and he’s going to represent our school very well.”