Rick Orio was destined to play football for Gabby Price, and Price was destined to coach Orio. The way each gushes over the other, that much is obvious.

“Football is very precious to him, and he’s a coach’s dream in that respect,” Price said of Orio, a three-year starter at safety and captain for the Eagles.

Orio, in turn, described his own leadership style with words like enthusiasm and passion. That, Orio said, is Price’s influence.

“I honestly think that’s why we’ve had so much success,” Orio said. “It all starts with Gabby Price and the culture he’s created… We definitely have a strong bond. He’s one of the best men I’ve ever known.”

A 2010 Cony High School graduate, Orio took the roundabout route to Husson. Now a senior, Orio can also take some of the credit for Husson’s success. When the Eagles play at Western New England in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs Saturday afternoon, it will be the third straight season in which Husson reached the postseason. Last year, the Eagles played in the ECAC Chapman Bowl. In 2014, Husson hosted MIT in the first round of the Division III playoffs.

Through all of Husson’s success, Orio has been a key contributor on defense. This season, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound safety is fourth on the team with 37 tackles, 16 solo. Orio has one interception, 2.5 tackles for a loss, a forced fumble, three fumble recoveries, and four pass breakups. Price praises Orio’s speed, instincts, and knowledge of the defense, but said Orio’s intangibles are what make him a valuable player.

“He has tremendous leadership, tremendous passion,” Price said.

As a senior at Cony in 2010, Orio won the Class A state championship in the 300-meter hurdles, and was a member of the Rams’ state title-winning 4×100 relay team. Initially, Orio accepted a track scholarship to Eastern New Mexico University. However, he decided being so far from home wasn’t a good fit.

“I wanted to be close to home and I wanted to play football,” Orio said.

Orio joined the National Guard in 2011. Then, in 2013, he walked on to the football team at the University of Maine. The problem at Maine, however, was because he had accepted a scholarship at Eastern New Mexico, Orio’s eligibility was cut. If he wanted to play four years of college football, Orio had to play in Division III.

Ryan Stroud, who was a captain of the East squad along with Orio in the 2010 Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl, was at Husson, and suggested Orio come and talk to Price. It was an instant match. The work ethic instilled into Orio by the late Taylor Harmon, his track coach at Cony, would serve him well under Price.

“After meeting with him an hour, I knew I had to play for coach Price,” Orio said.

Initially, Price and his coaching staff slotted Orio at wide receiver. As a senior at Cony, Orio caught 11 touchdown passes.

“I was a wide receiver for two weeks,” Orio said.

The coaches began moving players from one side of the ball to the other. When Joe Seccareccia moved from safety to quarterback, Orio moved to safety.

“We just thought we needed him on defense and it fit his personality,” Price said. “He was dedicated, intense.”

Orio played in six games his freshman season with Husson, making 29 tackles with one interception. In the offseason, Orio’s teammates voted him a team captain as a sophomore, a job he’s held since.

“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” Orio said.

In starting every game over the last three seasons, the hallmark of Orio’s play is his consistency. In 2014, Orio had 39 tackles. Last season, he made 33 stops. Orio has six career interceptions.

“He just has a great passion for football. He loves working out. He loves coming to practice,” Price said.

This season, Orio is a key member of a defense that ranks first in Division III in yards per game allowed, 152.4. That’s 43 yards per game better than second place Saint John’s of Minnesota. The Eagles (9-1) know they’ll be tested by Western New England. The 10-0 Golden Bears average 41 points per game. Western New England’s offense is split evenly, 209 yards per game through the air, 252 yards per game on the ground. The Golden Bears offense reminds Orio a lot of the Husson offense he faces every day in practice.

“They’re very similar to us. What they do, they do well. They’re well-coached,” Orio said.

A win at Western New England likely sends the Eagles back to Western New York and Alfred, the site of their only loss of the regular season, on Sept. 3.

Orio is pursuing a degree in Health Care Studies, with a minor in Coaching. His mother is a native of Montreal, so Orio is working on the paperwork for dual citizenship between the United State and Canada. He hopes to earn tryouts with Canadian Football League teams, and has had preliminary contact with a few, he said.

Now, Orio is getting ready to lead the Eagles in the postseason again. When he arrived at Husson in 2013, Orio saw a lot of potential in his teammates. Over the last four years, with three postseason trips and a record of 29-11, that’s come true.

“I knew we could be something special my freshman offseason. I knew the group of guys we had could be special,” Orio said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM