WATERVILLE — Zach Padula regrets his choice to stop playing football in high school.

“I made the worst decision of my life,” Padula said.

Luckily for Padula and Colby College, it was a decision that was easily reversed.

After hanging up his shoulder pads as a sophomore and junior at Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, R.I., Padula rejoined the team as a senior. Now, he enters his senior season at Colby as a captain for the Mules.

“I don’t even know if, until we actually recruited him, we knew he didn’t play the previous year. When we first started talking to him, we just knew he was a good player,” Colby head coach Jonathan Michaeles said.

Padula and the Mules open the New England Small College Athletic Conference season Saturday afternoon at Trinity.

Last season, Padula was fifth on Colby with 39 tackles. His three interceptions tied for the conference lead. Padula also was Colby’s primary kick and punt returner, averaging 25.2 yards per kick return and five yards per punt return.

“As a player, he’s gifted physically. He’s tough. He can run. But I think more than anything, he’s a very good student of the game. He works at it. He understands the game. He’s a football player,” Michaeles said.

Not long ago, Padula gave up football to focus on baseball.

“I wanted to pursue a baseball career in college,” Padula said.

Padula’s closest friends played football and tried to get him to come back. The Bishop Hendricken coaches called him each summer to ask if he was interested in rejoining the team. “Nah,” Padula said. “My heart’s not in it.”

Watching his friends win a double overtime game in the state semifinals his junior season changed Padula’s mind.

“I thought, ‘I don’t know why I’m not out there with all my boys,'” Padula said.

Padula didn’t consider playing college football until he took a call from former Colby assistant coach Eric Garcia. After visiting Colby, Padula knew he’d fit in.

“I grew up with (football). I played it as a kid, all my life. I was a big football fan,” Padula said. “I thought I loved baseball. It just wasn’t for me. Just the fun I had with the guys on the team, I had the itch to keep playing. I found a great school here.”

In three years at Colby, Padula has missed one game. After three years at cornerback, Padula moved to strong safety, helping fill a need in the Mules’ secondary.

“It has been a seamless transition, just because he understands the defense, and he works at it,” Michaeles said. “We were young at the safety position. We felt like, in an effort to find the best four (defensive backs), moving somebody back there was necessary. Given his understanding of the defense and the game, he was the logical candidate.”

“You definitely have to have a better command of the playbook. As a corner, I relied a lot on my communication from the safety, but now as the safety, I see myself as the general on the field. I’m the furthest guy back, so I have to have eyes all over the field,” Padula said.

Along with his new position, Padula will continue to be a key to Colby’s special teams.

“It’s the adrenaline rush. Guys are flying down the field, and you want to get upfield and put the offense in good field position,” Padula said.

“He’s been the (return) guy the last two years. We’ve got some young guys who look pretty good at it too, but you’re going into week one, you go with the guy that you know,” Michaeles said.

An Economics major with an Administrative Science minor, Padula hopes to get a job with a financial services company after he returns from a trip to Europe next year. Before that, he wants to help Colby play for a conference title and reclaim the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin crown. Last season, the Mules lost the CBB when Bowdoin completed a Hail Mary pass with three seconds remaining in the game.

“We had the CBB stolen from us last year. That hurts. It’s been a driving motivator for us all offseason,” Padula said. “It was painful. I haven’t seen that trophy since I got here. It’s been too long.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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