When Gaven DeFilippo was 8 years old, he wanted to play Pop Warner football.
His mother tried to reason with her son.
"Just being a nervous mom, that’s all,'' Jean DeFilippo said. "Contact. A contact sport. And it wasn’t flag football. They were tackling each other, and him being a quarterback, that’s who they go after, the quarterback, and I was just thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness. Eight years old. Don’t you want to wait until maybe 12?’''
Football was ingrained in DeFilippo, the sixth-year senior starting quarterback at Stetson, from an early age. His family told him stories of his great-uncle, Lou DeFilippo, an offensive lineman with the New York Giants in the 1940s and how they attended the team’s scrimmages at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Ct.
Several other relatives played college football. His cousin, John DeFilippo, played quarterback at James Madison and is the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive coordinator.
Another cousin, Gene DeFilippo Jr., served as the athletics director at Boston College.
"It was almost like something out of a storybook,'' Gaven said. "Just listening to those stories, it was in your blood, like you have to go play football. That’s something we do as a family.''
A team captain, DeFilippo has completed 59.9% of his passes (142 of 237) for 1,513 yards in 2019, even after a 5-for-23 showing in a 19-10 loss last weekend at Valparaiso. He has thrown for 16 touchdowns and been intercepted seven times. DeFilippo has gained 234 yards and scored four touchdowns on 48 rushes.
Coach Roger Hughes said the DeFilippo family’s rich football pedigree has benefited Gaven with Stetson (5-2, 2-2 Pioneer Football League), which will play at Jacksonville (2-6, 0-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday.
"It teaches you a toughness and a consistency, and most importantly, it tells you the price you have to pay to be really good,'' Hughes said. "Being good doesn’t just happen. It’s a conscious effort every day to make championship decisions.
DeFilippo grew up in Tucson, Ariz., and never heard of Stetson until the private university in Volusia County recruited him. He originally committed to Cornell but said changes in the coaching staff there prompted him to look elsewhere.
He called Hughes.
"I pretty much said, ‘Hey, I’m ready. I want to come over to Stetson,' '' said DeFilippo, who wants to go into medical-device sales after he earns his master’s in business administration.
DeFilippo (6-0, 209) earned the Hatters’ starting QB job as a redshirt sophomore in 2016 and played in seven games until sustaining knee and shoulder injuries at Campbell.
He endured a yearlong rehabilitation.
When DeFilippo returned, he competed with Colin McGovern to lead the first team in 2018. After McGovern prevailed, DeFilippo was disappointed but did not pout. Instead, he became a de facto "coach on the sideline,'' Hughes said.
"Being good doesn’t just happen. It’s a conscious effort every day to make championship decisions. He’s the ultimate example of that.''
Roger Hughes, Stetson football coach, on QB Gaven DeFilippo
Share quote & link
"[Gaven] would go over and coach Colin during the game,'' Hughes said. "'Hey, did you see this? Hey, when this read comes, you might want to get rid of it faster. The safety’s coming down, and this isn’t like we practiced it.'''
Gaven was home-schooled, and Jean said her son had an insatiable desire for knowledge. He’s always loved sports, too. He started martial arts when he was 3 years old and earned a black belt as a 15-year-old.
His family’s connection to the sport made sure of it.
"When I’m reading coverages and looking at coverages, I’ve seen a lot of it from a very young age,'' DeFilippo said. "When I get out there at this level, I can identify it a lot faster than somebody who’s had to learn it at a different time in their lives.''