Anthony Chickillo’s destiny was to play football at the University of Miami.
His legacy has yet to be written.
Chickillo, the first third-generation player to don the Hurricanes’ green and orange, will begin his senior season at 8 p.m. Monday in the nationally-televised UM opener at Louisville.
“They go by fast, they go by real fast,” said Chickillo, the 6-4, 277-pound strong-side defensive end who anchors the Hurricanes’ line and moves inside to tackle on most third downs. “It’s crazy. I feel like I just came in.”
But soon enough, as sure as Papa John’s Stadium will overflow in black for the “blackout” to celebrate the Cardinals’ inaugural game in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Chickillo will leave Coral Gables with a degree in hand — and an expected NFL future.
“He has put himself in position to not only be a leader,” UM coach Al Golden said, “but to have a big season. … I’m real proud of him. He’s doing the little things, the tough things right every day.”
After a bumpy career with a defense that was often shredded, and consistently maligned because of it, “Chick,” as he’s known, is counting on leaving Miami with a draft status higher than the projected fourth-to-fifth round he was given at the end of 2013.
“I just want to keep getting better,” he said. “I’m as strong as I’ve ever been. I’m as fast as I’ve ever been. … My knowledge of the defense has increased dramatically.”
And this season he hopes to stay healthy, though he conceded that “it’s a violent game” and “there are no options to sit out.”
For a young man who has sustained his share of injuries — from a broken collarbone in high school to back pulls, neck strains, sinus infections, a broken foot bone and most recently, plantar fasciitis — he has always fought through them. Chickillo has never missed a game as a Hurricane, starting the past 37 after playing his first three as a reserve.
“The first thing I think of when I think of him is durability,” defensive line coach Jethro Franklin said. “When it mattered most, Anthony Chickillo has always been there. He has done everything we’ve asked of him, and from a conditioning standpoint he’s unbelievable.
“He’s had a very good camp.”
Chickillo said he was “always going to come” to Miami, despite Randy Shannon’s dismissal as coach in Chickillo’s senior season as a five-star All-American end at Tampa Alonso High. He is the son of former UM nose tackle Tony and grandson of the late former first-team All-American lineman Nick.
Because of the NCAA-related suspensions on the defensive line during Chickillo’s freshman season in 2011, he was forced to play as an undersized 238-pounder, never being given the chance to redshirt and grow into his body. The pressure to succeed, not only because of his lineage but because of his teammates’ transgressions before he arrived, was at times unnerving.
He went from 38 tackles and five sacks his first season to 45 tackles and four sacks his second season to 46 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks last year. The Canes were ranked 77th nationally in rushing defense and 89th in total defense in 2013.
“I worked really hard and played a lot of plays my freshman year,” Chickillo said, “and when you’re not at the physical place you need to be, it really takes a toll on you and you start breaking down physically. Then it can start affecting you mentally. I’ve played the most plays on the defensive line every year, but now my body has changed for the better.”
Where he once was unsure and unsettled about having to play tackle, he said he made a commitment in the offseason to upgrade his attitude and game.
“I said to myself, ‘I’m going to make each day a great day, and pretty soon it will become a great month,’ ” Chickillo said. “I love the game of football. This is my life. I got refocused, got a renewed attitude and no matter, I’m giving everything I have and always staying positive.
“As I’ve gotten older and wiser, I’ve realized how versatile I am now. I can play inside. I can play outside. Definitely happy I returned.”
Behind Chickillo in the 4-3 formation is freshman Chad Thomas. Opposite him are rush ends Al-Quadin Muhammad, Tyriq McCord and Trent Harris.
“We want to be a physical defense, stop the run and get after them on third down,” he said of the Cardinals. “Louisville is going to be a great challenge.”
No matter what his future holds, Chickillo said he always will savor being a Hurricane.
“I’m living my dream every single day here.”