For most of his life, senior wide receiver Casey Cegles has made it a habit of proving skeptics wrong. When the Tigers host Coastal Carolina in their home opener on Saturday night, he will be hoping to provide further proof of how much he has been overlooked.
When he was a senior at Eastern High School in New Jersey, the 5-10, 185-pound wide receiver was recruited by a number of NCAA Division II and Division III programs. But, Casey believed he was better than that and he wanted to play at a higher level.
Fortunately, the Vikings' head wrestling coach and assistant football coach, Gary Worthington, was a Casey Cegles fan.
A Towson graduate who played linebacker and was a team captain in 1991, Coach Worthington made a call to Gordy Combs, the Tigers' head football coach. He told him about Cegles and invited the Tiger coach to meet him when he was recruiting in Southern New Jersey.
"Coach Combs met me and we got along well," says Cegles. "I think he sensed the passion I have for playing football. He offered me an opportunity to come to pre-season camp as a 'walk-on' and I felt he would give me a real shot.
"He kept his word and gave me a chance," he adds. "I will never forget the day that Coach Combs called me into his office and told me that he was putting me on scholarship."
Although he comes from an athletically-oriented family, Casey is virtually the only football player. His father, Vic Cegles, is the Director of Athletics at Long Beach University and he played baseball and basketball at Bucknell University. His older brother, Vic, played baseball at Rutgers and currently works in the athletic department at Virginia Commonwealth.
"I have always loved to play football," says Casey. "I think my grandfather is the only other member of my family who played football. Nobody else was interested. My mother didn't even want me to play. But, I love the team concept and the camaraderie of a football team."
A Business Management major and a good student, Casey traces his love of football to the time he spent at Arizona State. For the first 16 years of his life, Casey lived in Arizona while his father was an Associate Athletic Director at ASU.
"I'm a Sun Devil for life," admits Casey. "It was great to grow up in Tempe as the son of an Assistant A.D. at Arizona State. Those were the days when ASU was really good and went to the Rose Bowl. Jake Plummer was the quarterback and I would watch the games from the sidelines. After the games, we would go on the field and throw the ball around. Those were great times."
Prior to his junior year at Mountain Pointe High School, Casey and his family moved to New Jersey because his father had been named as an Associate Athletic Director at Temple University.
"With my father's career, we were always ready to move," says Casey. "So, it wasn't a big deal. He has worked at Rutgers, Arizona State, Temple and now Long Beach."
Since joining the Tigers, Casey has shown improvement every year. As a sophomore, he took advantage of injuries to Tiger receivers and saw some playing time. In the second game of the year, he helped the Tigers to a 28-21 win at Morgan State with two receptions for 35 yards and his first career touchdown. In the third quarter, he caught a 22-yard TD pass from Sean Schaefer, giving the Tigers a 21-13 lead.
In Towson's 23-21 come-from-behind win over 14th-ranked Richmond, Casey caught three passes for 44 yards and a touchdown. His 17-yard TD catch gave Towson a 14-6 lead in the third quarter. He finished the season with 21 catches for 317 yards and two touchdowns.
Casey entered his junior season as one of Schaefer's favorite receivers. The Tigers' career passing leader had developed a good rapport with Casey and Schaefer looked for him when he was in trouble.
In the season opener at Navy, Casey did his best to try and help the Tigers spring an upset. He caught six passes for a career high 98 yards and scored the Tigers' first touchdown of the season on a 22-yard pass. His TD catch pulled Towson to within 14-7 in the second quarter.
In the Tigers' home opener, Casey gave them an early 7-0 lead over Morgan State when he caught a 55-yard touchdown pass. However, he suffered a serious ankle injury in the second quarter and was sidelined.
After missing four games, he returned to the lineup for the Homecoming Game against Rhode Island. Schaefer was pleased to have him back. In fact, on his first play from scrimmage, Casey caught a 24-yard TD pass, helping the Tigers to a 37-32 win.
Over the final five games of the season, Casey caught 26 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns. At New Hampshire, he had seven catches for 75 yards and he caught a 15-yard TD pass at Delaware. With his father in the stands watching him, Casey had a big game at Villanova. He caught nine passes for 95 yards as Towson nearly upset the sixth-ranked Wildcats.
Despite missing four games, Cegles ended the season as the Tigers' fifth-leading receiver with 36 receptions for 450 yards and four touchdowns.
But things changed soon after the season ended. Coach Combs was relieved of his duties and Casey knew what to expect.
"Being around intercollegiate athletics for most of my life, I knew what happens when a new coach is hired," Cegles explains. "My father was working at Temple when they hired Al Golden to be the new head coach. He came to Temple to turn a losing program around and the first thing he did was instill discipline. While he was doing that, he would challenge his players to find out which ones were committed to working hard to turn things around."
Although many of his teammates were surprised when Towson changed coaches, Casey admits he wasn't shocked.
"I liked the coaching staff but I knew what might happen," he recalls. "I have the advantage of knowing the business of college athletics. I knew many of our players had grown complacent. There were too many guys who had accepted losing and were only worried about themselves. They weren't ready to do the work was needed to turn the program around.
"Many of my teammates weren't prepared for the challenges that we would face," he adds. "From the start, Coach (Rob) Ambrose made it clear what was expected. I was determined that I was going to work hard and do everything I could to help turn this thing around."
For someone considering a career in college athletics, the coaching change presented Casey with a unique opportunity. He says, "I may want to become a coach and now I have two different perspectives on how to coach a football team."
Of course, an entirely new coaching staff presented Cegles with the opportunity to prove himself again.
"I like it when people tell me I'm too short or I'm too slow," he says. "The new coaches did that but it's OK. It motivates me when I'm told that I can't do something. I see it as a challenge and I work even harder to prove them wrong."
While many of his teammates privately complained about the work load that the new staff brought to Towson, Casey enjoyed it.
"Coach Ambrose was just who we needed," he says. "It's been hard work but I feel that this team is committed to getting better. We have a much better team attitude and I think it showed at Northwestern. No matter what the score, this team is never going to give up."
Although the Tigers lost to Northwestern, Cegles came out of the game feeling positive about the team.
He says, "Northwestern was probably the best team Towson has ever played. But, I thought we played pretty well. Our defense hung in there. When we fell behind by 30-0, we kept playing hard. That said a lot about this team. We didn't quit and some good things happened.
"In past years, we probably would have given up when we were behind by 30 points," he adds. "The final score could have been embarrassing."
It's probably no surprise that Casey lists Wes Welker of the New England Patriots as his favorite athlete. Many Tiger football fans have compared him to Welker, an All-Pro receiver who gets the most out of his ability. Like Welker, Cegles always gets open and rarely drops a pass.
"What makes me effective is that I study football," he says. "I have learned how to read defenses and I never give up on a play. By studying the defenses, I know where to find the open spots and I run to them."
Casey has high hopes for the rest of his senior year. He says, "The last two years have been frustrating. I know we haven't played as well as we can. But I like the direction we are going and we may surprise some people."