Cavallaro Signs to Play Football at UNH

Hanover Speedster Looks Forward to Backfield Opportunity

Hanover's Shawn Cavallero (4) runs the ball upfield against Lebanon's Tavian Tobin in an Oct. 11, 2013, game in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Hanover's Shawn Cavallero (4) runs the ball upfield against Lebanon's Tavian Tobin in an Oct. 11, 2013, game in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Hanover — The coaches from the University of New Hampshire’s football program made their pitch to Hanover High senior Shawn Cavallaro over the past few months. But the person who perhaps pushed the hardest — and may have tilted the scales in the Wildcats’ favor — turned out to be someone who tried to chase him down for years.

The Marauders’ quarterback the past three autumns now stands to be the one doing some catching for UNH, having signed a National Letter of Intent with coach Sean McDonnell’s program on Wednesday morning.

The Wildcats are projecting the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder for what the 18-year-old called the position of “J-back,” lining up anywhere on the flanks to eventually take advantage of his speed and athleticism as a runner or receiver.

Cavallaro was part of a 13-player recruiting class that officially committed on UNH on Wednesday.

“I got a good feel for what was going on there before signing day,” Cavallaro said in a phone interview. “I knew what was there and what was going on. I love all the coaches; they have a great staff, and they’ve been a stable program for a while.”

Longtime Hanover coach Mike Ivanoski first slotted Cavallaro as a receiver when he was a freshman, moving him to quarterback when four-year starter Sam Carney graduated to a playing career at Ithaca College in 2011. Cavallaro would end up rushing for more than 1,400 yards and passing for more than 2,500 as Ivanoski’s three-year signal caller.

“No. 1, he has exceptional speed, and that’s why UNH was initially interested in him,” Ivanoski said. “Secondly, he’s rugged for his frame. That’s a great attribute. He knows the game, and he’s a really hard worker.”

Cavallaro paid visits to both UNH and Maine and was considering prep school as a third option. Although he’d met McDonnell and assistant John Lyons, the former Dartmouth College and Kimball Union Academy coach, at camps last summer, a trip to Durham in the past two weeks cemented the deal.

With former Lebanon High and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Alexander Morrill serving as host, Cavallaro got a closer look at the Wildcats’ plans for him should he commit. Morrill put on a particularly hard sell.

“He was the one recruiting me the hardest to go there,” Cavallaro recalled. “He was saying, ‘Let’s get some more Upper Valley guys here.’ ”

The J-back usually lines up in a slot receiver position, Cavallaro said, then is put in motion into the backfield for carries.

“You find their primary receivers in the slot,” he added. “They move around a lot. They need speed guys who can get in space, and they’re trying to do that with me.”

UNH hopes to capitalize on the talents of someone who provided most of Hanover’s limited offensive output during a 1-8 campaign.

With defenses collapsing upon him, Cavallaro saw his throwing numbers drop considerably in 2013. Ivanoski employed the senior in multiple situations — running, throwing, returning kicks — and Cavallaro finished with a team-high (and career-best) 567 rushing yards on 147 carries, his 11 TDs leading all Marauder scorers. Cavallaro also completed 30 of 71 passes for 489 yards and three scores.

“Shawn is an outstanding two-way threat,” said McDonnell, whose team went 10-5 last year and made the NCAA FCS semifinals for the first time, in a UNH news release on Wednesday announcing the recruiting class. “He is a versatile offensive athletic player who runs and catches the ball very well.”

He heads to UNH owner of 22 career touchdowns along with another 25 TD tosses to Hanover teammates. Cavallaro ran for 1,429 yards and threw for another 2,564 with the Marauders, talents that have landed spots in next summer’s CHaD East-West Game and the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl. Reflective of his talents, Cavallaro’s all-state second-team mention last fall came as a returner.

His commitment to UNH also continues an ongoing trend of gridiron opportunity in the Cavallaro household. His father, Sam, played football at William & Mary. An older brother, also named Sam, eventually played tight end at Merrimack College following a high school career at Kearsarge. (The Cavallaro family moved to Hanover when Shawn was an eighth-grader.) Younger brother Jack is a fixture in the Marauders’ line and backfield.

“We have a huge football house; my mom has had to adapt to it,” Cavallaro said. “I love it. It’s what I live and breathe. It’s fun to be around guys like that in a family.”

A new one awaits him now in Durham.

Greg Fennell can be reached at or 603-727-3226.