FRISCO - Mike McCarthy and Ben DiNucci just sort of kept bumping into one another. ... and now, with the NFL cutdown-time release of former third-string QB candidate Clayton Thorson, he Dallas Cowboys' new rookie quarterback DiNucci figures to keep bumping into the head coach for a while.
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Dak Prescott is the starter here, of course. And Andy Dalton is the No. 2 guy. There are people here inside The Star who believe Thorson remains a prospect. But DiNucci, who has a four-year contract as a result of McCarthy's Cowboys making the James Madison quarterback their seventh-round choice with pick No. 231, has sponsors in the building in powerful places.
On Jan. 8, as DiNucci was in Frisco to lead his team into the FCS national title game, and the Dukes stayed at the Omni hotel at The Star in Frisco. McCarthy - just having been introduced as Cowboys coach - was still living at the hotel.
They found themselves aboard the same elevator.
“I walked right into the elevator and he was standing in the back right of it, and I made it a point to go stand by him,'' DiNucci said via his hometown newspaper. "I introduced myself and just brought up that his brother was my basketball coach and I said, ‘Welcome to Dallas.''
That's right: Mike's brother had coached DiNucci's brother back in Pittsburgh.
But there's more: DiNucci's coach at James Madison is Curt Cignetti. Cignetti’s brother Frank is the offensive coordinator at Boston College. But guess where Frank Cignetti was working in 2018?
Some of this is a "who-you-know'' business, of course; the fact that Frank Cignetti and McCarthy were grad assistants at Pitt in 1989 and then coached together in with the New Orleans Saints 2000 and 2001) and then in Green Bay is significant. But the 6-3, 209-pound DiNucci has some credentials of his own, too, as the Offensive Player of the Year in his conference. In his two seasons with the Dukes, DiNucci completed 70 percent of his throws for 5,716 yards, rushed 1,002 yards and accounted for 61 total touchdowns with a 45/18 TDs-to-interceptions ratio.
And who comes to mind for the Cowboys braintrust when they play the "comparison game,'' as owner Jerry Jones surely loves to do?
Said COO Stephen Jones: "(McCarthy) said he's a baller. He's very athletic. Certainly no one is saying he is (the next Tony Romo), but if you remember, (Romo) was a college free agent. (DiNucci) has some of those type of tools, instinctive and seems to make plays."
DiNucci is excited to have a shot. “Just seeing my name pop up on that TV and having Mr. (Cowboys owner Jerry) Jones call me and tell me they were picking me,'' he said, "I haven’t cried like that in a while.”
“(DiNucci)’s a young man that played the position his whole life,” McCarthy continued, “and is going to be an excellent addition to our quarterback room and we’ll continue to develop that room with our other two young guys, and Dak (Prescott).”
DiNucci isn't yet guaranteed a spot, or, obviously, success. But McCarthy knows something about drafting and developing QBs.
In the 14 NFL Drafts (13 in Green Bay and one in Dallas) McCarthy has been part of as head coach, his teams have chosen six quarterbacks, including DiNucci. The idea here is "development'' - just as it was 17 years ago when Dallas grabbed a UDFA from Eastern Illinois named Tony Romo, who possessed similar small-school credentials.
“The confidence they had in me,” DiNucci said, “and them being able to say, ‘We want this kid enough to draft him,’ it meant the world to me.''
At this moment, he's no Tony Romo? But Ben DiNucci has taken one tiny step toward making the 53-man roster, having established that he's a little bit better than Clayton Thorson.