The Post-Journal

Sirianni A Big Catch For Mount Union

Mike Sirianni was an eighth-grader at Southwestern Central School in 1985 when he and his two younger brothers got the news about their dad, Fran.

It was frightening.

The subject was cancer. And it had invaded Fran’s lymph nodes.

“I remember the day he told us he had good news and bad news,” Mike recalled. “The good news was it was in the early stages. The bad was that (he) could die from it.”

From that point on, Fran, a teacher at Southwestern Central School, his wife, Amy, and their sons, Mike, Jay and Nick, tried their best to move on.

“We tried to have a normal lifestyle, do things as a family,” Amy said. “For Mike, that was a hard thing at 13.

“Being the oldest, it was a lot of responsibility on Mike because of his younger brothers.”

Fortunately, Fran’s condition gradually improved and today – on this Thanksgiving day – he’s healthy, happy and as proud as he can be of his oldest son.

He was the only one that really understood,” Fran said. “The responsibility he accepted really made me proud.”

From that near-tragic situation grew a stronger bond between father and son. From Mike watching intently as his dad coached the Southwestern football team, to Fran attending every football, baseball or basketball game that Mike played in growing up, the relationship flourished.

And it continues to do that today.

For when Mike, now 21 and a senior at Mount Union (Ohio) College, takes the field at noon Saturday in the North Regional quarter-finals against Albion, Mich., (10-1), he’ll be looking for his family in the stands. In fact, Fran hasn’t missed a game this season, while Amy has missed just one as the Purple Raiders (11-0) are the top-ranked Division III football team in the nation and are the odds-on favorite to win the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl next month.

Not coincidentally, it was Fran who encouraged his son to go out for the team as a freshman in the fall of 1990. If nothing else, Fran reasoned, it would be a good way for Mike to meet friends and help cure a case of homesickness.

Let’s just say it was the right decision.

For not only is Mike playing for an outstanding team, he’s one of the main cogs in an offensive machine that has racked up amazing numbers.

In compiling their 11-0 record, the Purple Raiders have amassed 462 points, while allowing only 72. Their games have included offensive explosions of 40, 42, 49 (three times), 50 and 66 points. All-conference quarterback Jim Ballard has been spectacular, throwing for 3,651 yards and 42 touchdowns.

The younger Sirianni has been on the receiving end of 36 Ballard throws, good for 597 yards and nine touchdowns. And he was named to the All-Ohio Athletic Conference Second Team for the second consecutive year.

Mike even received brief mention in a Sports Illustrated article about Ballard last August.

Pretty heady stuff for a kid who had no intention of continuing his football career after graduating from Southwestern in 1990.

“I really didn’t think I could make it here,” Mike admitted.

But he was handed a starting wide receiver job as a sophomore and it’s been nothing but an aerial circus ever since.

“There are scouts at practice every day (looking at Ballard),” Mike said. “The Bills have been here a couple times. It’s exciting, even if they’re not looking at you. I really think he’s got a shot (at the pros).”

Fran is especially enjoying his son’s success as it reminds him of when his dad used to watch him play at Clarion (Pa.) University.

“My dad didn’t know anything about football, but I can count on one hand the number of games he missed,” Fran recalled. “...It’s really an experience to see (Mike) play.”

If the Purple Raiders, who beat Allegheny, 40-7, in a first-round playoff game, win this weekend, they’ll play the winner of the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse/St. Johns game Dec. 4 at home.

Wisconsin-LaCrosse eliminated Mount Union, 29-24, in last year’s semifinals despite the Purple Raiders holding a 600-200 advantage in total yards.

“We knew coming in we could be a national champion,” Mike said. “Anything else would be disappointment.”

But if the Purple Raiders shouldn’t meet their own expectations, Mike will have somebody there waiting for him after the game.

“I’ve always looked up to him,” Mike said. People think about heroes (like) Jerry Rice (of the San Francisco 49ers), but my hero is my dad.”

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