Before the tenures of Mike Norvell and Justin Fuente, the Memphis football program was one of the worst in the nation. Lacking resources, community support and talent, those teams did all they could to scrape three or four wins a season.
Now, in Norvell’s fourth year at the helm, they are back-to-back west division champions and find themselves sitting at 4-0 while ranked 23rd in the Amway Coaches Poll. For Memphis native and senior tight end Joey Magnifico, knowing where the program has been in the past makes his role in the most successful run in school history even sweeter.
“It’s incredible to see how far the program has come,” Magnifico said. “Growing up, I knew I always wanted to play at Memphis, and the love I’ve gotten back from the city is amazing.”
Magnifico, who attended high school at St. Benedict at Auburndale in Cordova, TN, has started 29 games at tight end in his career with the Tigers so far, including all 14 games in 2018. In this era of the sport, it is critical that players at the position cannot only set the tone with their blocking but make plays with their hands and athleticism in the passing game, something the senior is very comfortable with.
“Blowing somebody up on a block is a great feeling, but I’d rather catch a touchdown,” Magnifico said. “If the ball gets thrown my way, it’s gonna get caught.”
As his senior campaign nears its halfway point, Magnifico is not too far off from etching his name in the program’s record books. Former Tiger great Alan Cross, who is now a graduate assistant on Norvell’s staff after playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two seasons, holds the record for touchdowns in a career by a tight end with 14.
As it stands, Magnifico has 10 for his collegiate career. While he has yet to find the end zone this year, there are eight more regular-season contests and potentially two postseason outings, assuming they secure bowl eligibility and make it to the conference title game. While the record would be a massive achievement for a hometown kid, Magnifico is focused on the bigger picture for his team.
“It’s really cool being close to the record, just knowing it’s Alan’s,” Magnifico said. “I’ve learned a lot from him, so even being close is honestly amazing. But, to be honest, I’m not as worried about it if I can just help the team win. My goal is for us to go undefeated and win the AAC championship, so I’ll do whatever I have to for us to get back there.”
Although the goal of an undefeated season seems lofty, it is a testament to how drastic of a culture change the program has undergone this last decade. For a local guy like Magnifico, who has been here his entire life and seen the program’s struggles firsthand, it must be a great feeling to have the chance to elevate the Memphis program to unprecedented heights.
If all goes according to plan for Magnifico, that may mean helping to lead his team to an AAC title and new year’s day bowl game.