Football Ready for a new journey
If Diante Vines was sitting at a poker table, he wouldn’t have any chips left in front of him. They would be in the middle after going all in.
Away from a comfort zone from being the best player on most of the teams he was on in Danbury. Away from home all together. All to chase a solitary dream.
Vines, a Division I prospect, is set to begin a new journey at Taft when he suits up for the Rhinos this fall. A reclassified junior, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound safety is both a ball hawk and stout against the run. Vines played quarterback for the past two seasons at Danbury, but will play receiver at his new home.
“He’s feeling it out a bit,” said Taft coach Tyler Whitley after the team’s second day of practice. “He’s a personable kid; he’s outgoing and not quiet. As a new 11th grader to a team you have to get chemistry and he’s doing that. I’m sure he’ll be a campus favorite in not too long.”
Practice began this week, giving time for Vines to meet his new teammates and get acclimated to life away from home. Most Taft’s students, including Vines, live on the campus in Watertown.
“It’s going to be different, the beds are way smaller and I have a roommate now,” Vines joked. “My mom loves that I came here and of course is a little sad that I left. We have a great relationship and we’re both happy I came here.”
Vines first discovered the school when fellow Danbury native Ayinde Johnson transferred from Immaculate in 2016. Johnson gave it a full endorsement and encouraged Vines — the two grew up playing the sport — to visit the school, which he did in June 2017. Whitley immediately knew he wanted the standout at the school, but with the admissions deadline passed, Vines returned to Danbury for his junior year.
“I wanted to play my junior year at Danbury and see how everything played out and see how the year went,” Vines said. “Even though Danbury is my true home and everything, I just knew I had to make a different change, so I can make the Division I dream that I want come true.”
The Hatters struggled to get any traction with a thin roster and went 1-9 in the competitive FCIAC. After maintaining his 3.6 GPA during the school year, Vines applied to and was accepted to by Taft, one of the top academic schools in the nation.
Taft competes in the Erickson League, which has increased in notoriety over the past decade. Many players have graduated to play at FBS schools and Vines will get his chance to make a name for himself playing with and against top talent.
“Ten years back our best player was going to play at an Ivy or NESCAC school,” said Whitley, who graduated from Taft in 2004. “Nowadays were seeing an increase in the talent level. We had 10 players go to play college last year and the last four years we’ve had an FBS player. The competition here is attractive to a lot of kids.”
Vines will undergo a position switch on offense as he transitions to wide receiver. Johnson will line up at receiver and in the secondary as well. Vines will have big shoes to fill there, as the past two at the position — Eric Rooks (Hawaii) and Elliott Brown (Virginia) — have moved on to FBS programs.
“The environment is great, it’s like a life-changing experience,” Vines said. “It’s like a college here; you get the college experience and when you go to real college everything is a little easier to acclimate to.”
Taft went 4-4 a year ago and Vines will likely be one of the top contributors this fall. He’ll have Yale-bound quarterback Nolan Grooms to throw him the football and he’ll be playing next to talented safety Liam Akpata; Grooms and Akpata will captain the team this fall.
“To be a cog in the grand scheme can be challenging when you’re used to being the guy,” Whitley said. “But his talent is such that he’s going to rise to a position where you’re going to notice him on the field. We have a lot of very talented players where it’s not all on him. He gets to share some of that responsibility.”
Vines hopes the leap into uncharted territory will be a successful one.
“I just have to keep performing at the level I was when I was at Danbury,” Vines said. “Playing wide receiver, I have to get acclimated to playing wide receiver and on the safety side just run around and playing free. I just have to make sure I’m 100 percent in everything I do.