New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
A special bond for pair of state’s top athletes
BRISTOL — They met on the baseball field.
Where else would the state’s No. 2 football recruit meet the state’s No. 1 basketball recruit?
“It was tee ball, AA baseball, we were like 6 or 7,” said Victor Rosa, Bristol Central’s senior dual-threat quarterback and athlete for all seasons. “I’ve known Donovan all my life. Baseball, basketball, always together in school. He’s literally my best friend.”
“Victor grew up down the street from me,” said Donovan Clingan, Bristol Central’s basketball big man and the biggest name in Connecticut high school athletics in 2021. “We’ve always lived really close. Ever since I can remember, Victor has loved working out and wanting to play football his entire life.”
Rosa, as fast as any kid around, played center field and pitched.
Clingan, as tall as any kid around, played first base and pitched.
“In Little League, we’d have competitions who could hit the most home runs and stuff,” Rosa said. “He played until freshman year and called it quits. I played freshman year, too, and was going to run track as a sophomore before COVID hit.”
Baseball was in their rearview mirror, but not football, basketball and track for Rosa. Not basketball for Clingan. And certainly not their friendship. That’s for life.
“We’ve been best friends since we were little,” Clingan said. “I feel like we’ve been through it all.”
Quarterback/safety in football, point guard in basketball and 2021 Class L 200-meter dash champion … it’s fair to say there is no better three-sport star in the state than the 6-foot, 195-pound Rosa. He can run a 4.4 in the 40 and has gone under 11 seconds in the 100.
It’s also fair to say no one is any better at one sport than the 7-1, 265-pound Clingan. After averaging 27.3 points, 17.2 rebounds, 5.8 blocks and 3.8 assists as a junior for undefeated Bristol Central, the
Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year committed to UConn in July.
“Growing up playing when we were young, Donovan was always the huge one, but he was, like, chubby,” said Rosa, who also has committed to UConn. “He got serious after his mom passed way. He locked in. Everything changed.
“He has taken basketball very seriously. He learned how to use his body throughout high school. He began working out. He lost weight. All that stuff. Now look where he is.”
A four-star recruit, ranked No. 44 nationally by 247 and No. 58 by ESPN. Sought by scores of schools, Clingan picked UConn over Syracuse, Michigan and Ohio State.
The Clingan and Rosa families live in the southwest corner of Bristol, near Cedar Lake. Victor and Donovan would go over to each other’s houses. Olivia Clingan, now a junior volleyball player at Bristol, was often around. And Mrs. Clingan?
“Stacey was an amazing person,” Rosa said. “She was really supportive. She’d always come to our AAU games. She loved working with kids. My parents (Glenn and Deanna) were friends with Donovan’s parents and still are with
Stacey taught first grade at Greene-Hills School. At 6-4, she also had been a terrific basketball player as well as a swimmer. She remains Bristol Central’s all-time rebounder at 1,032 and among its top scorers. After graduation in 1993, she played at Maine and amassed 1,128 points and
Rosa remembers getting a phone call in the eighth grade that Stacey was back in the hospital. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and underwent 17 weeks of chemotherapy. Five years later the cancer returned. She fought it bravely for three more years until March 2018.
“A couple days after that phone call, the unfortunate news came,” Rosa said. “Both Olivia and Donovan, they were young. Middle school. It was hard. Everyone knew Stacey around town, and everyone was there for them. It’s crazy for those two kids to go through something like that. The whole town came together.” And Victor Rosa?
“He always has been there for me,” Clingan said. “He got me out of the house to work out. He was by my side.”
That’s what best friends do.
Because of COVID-19, there were no CIAC basketball championships at Mohegan Sun last winter. The games stopped after the conference championships. Yet in amassing 101 points and 79 rebounds in victories over No. 4 Windsor, No. 2 Northwest Catholic and No. 1 East Catholic for the CCC title, Bristol Central deserved every bit of its final No. 1 GameTimeCT ranking and unofficial COVID state title.
With six seconds left in overtime and the Rams down by 1, Rosa threw the ball high into the low post to Clingan. Triple-teamed, Clingan still managed to bank in the shot. Final: Bristol Central 69, East Catholic 68.
“I dipped it down to the big guy,” Rosa said. “Gamewinning shot. Undefeated season.”
When it was over that night in March, Clingan looked into the cameras and said, “I did it for my mom up above.”
“One hundred percent,” Rosa said. “Donovan does everything for his mom.”
Rosa was a youth state wrestling champion before he turned to basketball in the fifth grade. He and Clingan played at the Boys & Girls Club. Whatever sport is in season, he said, receives his total dedication. Rosa did allow himself one peek ahead.
“This year with Donovan and his exposure, we’re playing games at the XL Center and Mohegan Sun, bigger arenas,” he said. “Coach (Tim) Barrette and Donovan are getting the job done. It’s a nice ride to be along for.”
Rosa smiles, because he knows what it is like to do the heavy lifting.
All summer he was heavily into working out with Supreme Athlete and his mentor Stack Williams, and attending camps as a receiver. That’s what UConn recruited Rosa to play. Even during the season, he heads to the gym for positionneutral workouts. A position? Rosa says, “athlete.” Other schools recruited him at quarterback and defensive back.
Rosa broke off a 53-yard touchdown run in the first quarter against Bloomfield, but penalties and swarming defense kept the Rams bottled up the rest of the way in a 7-6 opening loss. He was fairly unstoppable rushing for 239 yards and three TDs and connecting on 7-of-13 passes for 77 yards and another TD in a 27-0 rout of South Windsor. He followed with 240 more yards on 26 carries and four touchdowns in the 28-18 win over Wethersfield. All this while opponents focused heavily on Rosa, the way they do on Clingan on the basketball court.
“That’s part of what he has to accept,” coach Jeff Papazian said. “Victor thrives on that. Offense, defense, special teams, he never comes off the field. He has been great for us.”
Rosa plays strong safety. He played slot receiver as a freshman and has done his camp work as a receiver. He is dual-threat force on offense. The knowledge he has accrued, the versatility, he is convinced will make for a less painful transition to receiver in college.
“Watching Victor get faster and faster, bigger and stronger over time, it is crazy,” Clingan said. “When I watch him play (for Bristol Central), I just feel he’s better than everyone.”
The two talked about living together at UConn. Clingan said he has decided to live with the basketball players. Still a year away from Storrs, he says, “I can’t wait to watch them this year. They’re going to be good. And that’s all I’m going to say.”
Rosa committed to
UConn over BC, Army and Air Force in June, but he kept it a secret until July to announce it on his mom’s birthday. The three-star recruit is actually the No. 1 CIAC ranked player. Only Loomis Chaffee prep lineman Alessandro Lorenzetti, a Michigan commit, is ahead of him.
With Randy Edsall out as UConn coach, Rosa is suddenly looking at a different landscape. Does it alter his plans?
“As of right now, no,” he said. “I’m going to take it day by day and see what happens. There are a lot of unknowns right now and I do have a very close connection with (assistant coach) Corey Edsall. We’re in touch every day. Nothing has changed.
“Football always (has) been my first love. I always dreamed of playing D-1 football. I committed to UConn for a reason. Obviously, the coaching staff I loved, but the chance to be a ‘hometown hero,’ there is more thought put in beyond the coaches.”
The new NCAA rule for name, image and likeness is a factor. A successful local athlete can now make money from sponsorship deals. Rosa, who plans to major in business, understands the bigger picture. It would be pretty humorous to see the 7-1 and 6-0 buddies do endorsements together.
“Donovan is chill, he’s always been chill,” Rosa said. “My girlfriend, his girlfriend, we all get along. We joke around, but we know when to be serious.”
“I’d say I’m more of the jokester,” Clingan said.
Clingan loves to fish. Rosa doesn’t. Video games? That’s a different story.
“We play NBA 2K, we’re on the same team, 3 v. 3 and 2 v. 2,” Rosa said. “We also play NCAA 2010. I whoop him in that.”
“Nah,” Clingan said, “he can’t beat me.”
Best friends never agree on who is better at video games. Never. It’s part of the unshakable bond.