Following Their Father's Lead: Rhody Legacies Share Their Stories

By Nichole Sarkis
GoRhody.com Staff

KINGSTON, R.I. - Have you ever looked at an amazing athlete and wondered if their incredible skills run in the family? Where did they get their athleticism, dedication, and drive to compete at the Division I level?

Although legacies attending the same school as their parent are not uncommon, finding student-athletes who competed at the same school and the same athletic program as their parent are hard to come by.

On this Father’s Day, GoRhody.com takes a look at a few of the many legacies in the Athletics Department to learn more about what it’s like competing at the same school as their parents.

Mike Casey, a senior business finance major on the men’s soccer team, has a unique story. Both of his parents were athletes in the URI athletics programs back in 1985. His mother Trish  was a Ramette and used to cheer at the basketball games, and his father Terry played for the men’s soccer team.

Casey grew up in Wakefield, R.I. and was exposed to URI athletics from an early age. His parents would take him to the soccer, football, and basketball games and Casey found himself falling in love with idea of competing for URI someday.

"Watching all of the URI soccer games made me fall in love with the sport, especially because I was able to watch incredible players that shaped the program to be one of the best in the country," Casey said.

URI soccer players like Gareth Elliott, Dennis Richards, Callum Bissett, and Kevin Kennedy are the reasons that Casey wanted to play soccer at URI. Growing up, Casey said he was never felt any kind of pressure from his parents to play for URI.

"I wasn't ever pressured by my parents, but I always felt like I had something to prove to myself," said Casey. "My dad always encouraged me that if I had worked hard enough, I could play college soccer. He said it wasn’t about the talent, but it was about the actual amount of time, effort, and passion you put into the sport. The pressure was not from my parents, or the team, but from myself as I knew I would have to prove myself worthy of the legendary team that I grew up watching."

Growing up, Casey's parents always attended all of his soccer games and were his biggest source of encouragement. His father coached his team from a young age and he continued to coach him through premier soccer. Although his father was always hard on him as a coach, he was also the first person to tell his son how much better he was than he thought of himself.

"An advantage to being a legacy is that you get the opportunity to prove yourself to anyone who doesn't think you deserve to be where you are," Casey said. "There is no better feeling than overcoming the obstacle you set before you and outperforming everyone’s expectations, especially your own."

Most of the legacies that spoke to GoRhody.com agreed that the greatest challenge of being a legacy is creating their own identiy as an athlete that does not fall under the shadow of their parent.

James Strawderman, a graduate kinesiology student on the men’s track and field team, knows just how difficult it can be to from your own identity in college. His father, Mark, was also a pole vaulter for the Rams.  

Strawderman and his father both attended the same high school and the same college. During Jimmy Strawderman's high school days, he recalls having more fun with high school pole vault than college pole vault because it was easier to smash most of his father’s high school and state records.

"At college meets, everyone knows my dad so that puts a lot of pressure on me because people expect me to be as good as him," said Strawderman. "My freshman year in college was the hardest because the pressure I put on myself to be as good as my dad felt like it was crushing me at times. Now that I’m older though, I’ve really learned to deal with it."

Although Strawderman faced challenges as a legacy, he acknowledges that there are great perks to being the son of URI’s pole vault record holder.

"Since everyone knows my dad, I'm lucky enough to get feedback from people that are all around me," Strawderman said. "Other coaches and parents that know my dad are always willing to help me. It just really motivates me to jump higher."

The Cranston, RI local told GoRhody.com that after his father graduated in 1986, he competed at the Olympic trials twice.

While Casey and Strawderman decided to stay close to home by choosing to attend URI, Mike Rinaldi, a graduate student on the URI  football team, grew up in Dallas, Texas and decided to move across the country to play at the same school as his father, Barney.

"I wanted to play for URI because my dad played here and it seemed like a good fit for me," Rinaldi said. "There was definitely a bit of uneasiness when I moved out here because of the New England culture shock."

Rinaldi began playing football in the fourth grade and remembers his dad as a huge influence on his football career. His father was his coach until eighth grade and taught the younger Rinaldi everything he knows about football.

"My dad is my hero and I try to be most like him in everything that I do," Rinaldi said. "He is a really great dad and an amazing role model."

Although Rinaldi and his father both decided to play for URI, they both have completely different stories of how they ended up here. Rinaldi’s father was an All-Conference player and he was also on scholarship. The younger Rinaldi took a completely different path from him. Mike Rinaldi walked on the football team and eventually earned a scholarship after his coaches noticed his hard work and dedication to the game. By the time Mike Rinaldi was a senior, he was a full-time starter and Rhode Island’s CAA Football Chuck Boone Leadership Award nominee.

"Since I was following in the footsteps of my dad, I realized that there were some huge shoes to fill," Rinaldi said. "But my dad is so understanding and he really knows what it’s like to balance school and football and he also understands the frustrations of not always getting enough playing time. It’s reassuring to know that my dad remembers exactly what it was like to be a student-athlete."

Despite his father living in Texas, Rinaldi mentioned that his father flew to Rhode Island for every one of his home games.

Like Rinaldi, Kolt Peavey, a senior health studies major on the football team, is also an out of state student-athlete. His family resides in Missouri with his family.  Peavey transferred from the University of South Alabama after two years because he knew the URI football had a great coaching staff.

Rhode Island seemed like the perfect fit for Peavey because his father, Jack, used to coach here and because he has close extended family living in Rhode Island.

"I started playing football when I was five in large part because of my dad," Peavey said. "My dad is the biggest influence on me. He played football his whole life and he's gone through everything I have. My dad is my role model and he’s a great man to look up to."

According to Peavey, he talks to his father everyday, sometimes even multiple times a day and he says that they are best friends. Peavey's father was a coach at URI from 1994-95 and spent a year in 1996 at in-state rival Brown.

"He pushed me growing up and I’ve wanted to play football in college my entire life because I really look up to him," Peavey said. "He is so motivating and it’s really helpful that he understands exactly what I am going through as a former student athlete."

TJ Lynch, a junior communication studies major on the baseball team, also attributes his passion for sports to his father. Lynch grew up in Wakefield, R.I. and chose to attend URI because it's close to home and because he grew up always loving this school. His father, Terry, played football for the Rams, coached there for several years and still teams with Steve MacDonald to do the radio broadcast for all URI football games.

"I started playing baseball at the age of four when I was in my town Little League program," said TJ Lynch. "But my dad never pressured me to play for URI. He fully supported me on attending all of my other options and he wanted me to choose the place that was the best fit for me."

According to Lynch, his parents have supported him from day one and have had a huge influence on him, especially since he’s grown up in an athletic family.

"My dad and I have a very close relationship," said Lynch, "We talk everyday and he's really helped guide me through some tough obstacles in life. My dad's been there for me when I had brain surgery and he’s also supported my decision to play baseball at the DI level."

Lynch's father played football and baseball in high school and eventually was the quarterback for URI football in the 1980s.

Mike Sherburne, a senior on the baseball team, grew up in North Kingstown, R.I. and wanted to play for his state university because URI is in his backyard. He felt compelled to play at URI because he has an allegiance to the school and he likes the idea of representing his state.

Sherburne's father, also Mike, played URI baseball for one year until he tore his labrum his freshman year.

"I never felt any kind of pressure to play URI baseball from my dad," Sherburne said. "I've always looked up to my dad and I chose URI because I wanted to follow in his footsteps."

Sherburne's father played a huge role in his decision to play baseball.

"He just always knew so much about the sport and his advice and wisdom shaped me into the player I am today," Sherburne said. "My dad coached me almost my whole life up until high school, so he really influenced my love for baseball."

According to Sherburne, he does feel a certain amount of pressure to perform well in baseball because he comes from an athletic family and people expect it of him. But, he also likes the pressure of being a legacy and believes it comes with a lot of perks.

"The knowledge and experience my dad has passed down to me has is a huge perk of being a legacy," Sherburne said. "College baseball is still the same game that it was when he played so we can really relate to one another."

Sherburne chose to pick the same jersey number that his father also wore in college.

All of these athletes share one thing in common: they have pride for their sport, their university, and the relationship they have with their father.