Setbacks defined the beginning of Donald Liotine’s Stony Brook football career. Those hurdles define it no longer.
The Seawolves running back is in his sixth year after injuries derailed his first two seasons. He tore his right labrum in his first scrimmage as a freshman in 2013, then tore his left labrum days before the season opener in 2014.
As a walk-on, that clouded his status with the team. But he learned the playbook. He learned the schemes. He recovered and became a force, posting the fifth-most all-purpose yards in a single season in program history last fall with 1,486.
He was awarded a full scholarship after a 2015 season in which injuries to teammates opened the door for him to play. Now, he’s one of the key cogs out of the backfield for a Stony Brook team with playoff aspirations.
“Everybody’s journey is different, obviously, to get where they want to be,” said Liotine, who is pursuing an MBA in finance. “Mine was a little tougher than most people have seen from the outside, but I just always knew I loved football.
“Through the injuries, usually you kind of get lost if you miss two years. They always believed in me. I believed in myself.”
Liotine, from Medford, played football at The Stony Brook School, a small boarding high school that played in the smallest classification before the program folded after the 2014 season. Liotine dominated there – he rushed for 1,666 yards as a senior – but graduated without any Division I offers. He was small, standing at 5-9, and didn’t garner much interest.
Someone who showed faith in Liotine was Omar King, the current Stony Brook running backs coach, then at LIU Post in the same position. He tried to recruit Liotine to Post, but Liotine sought to play Division I.
“I think from the outside looking in, a lot of people might kind of diminish him because he’s not the tallest guy, he’s not the biggest guy,” King said. “There’s an ‘It’ factor. He wanted to be that, and he developed himself into that, what he wanted to be.”
Liotine used his two injured seasons to study the playbook inside and out. Now, he knows the pass protections, “probably better than me,” King said.
“Who knows?” head coach Chuck Priore said. “If he never got hurt, who knows if he would’ve had this development because he’s had the chance to do this for six years as opposed to four.”
Because he was able to participate in spring workouts in his first two years, Liotine said he adjusted to the speed of the game despite never seeing game action. He said he spends a “majority of my time in the football offices” and watches about five hours of video per day, so one could say Liotine used his downtime to his advantage.
In Priore’s opinion, Liotine’s success was unexpected. He went from an unheralded walk-on to a program staple who has rushed for 1,678 yards combined the last three seasons. He’s found the end zone 17 times on the ground and once through the air. He used what he called his “underdog mentality” to continually prove people wrong.
“People like me, you come in and people don’t expect much from you,” Liotine said. “And then when you give them a lot, it’s even better. If you’re the prized recruit coming in and you have a good game, you were supposed to have a good game. When you’re a walk-on and you come in and you’re laying people out and running hard, you get that opportunity and it works out for you, everybody’s excited.”
He said he’s not sure if opposing teams ever underestimated him – if they did, they certainly don’t anymore – but Liotine thrives from playing with a chip on his shoulder. He still has lofty aspirations of playing professionally, but if it doesn’t work out, he said he loves finance like he loves football.
Coaching could be in the cards down the line, but he acknowledged how hard coaching can be on a family. For now, his focus is on this fall, his final season with Stony Brook.
“I did everything that everyone said I couldn’t,” Liotine said. “I’m content. Actually, not yet. Still need a national championship, but we’re working on it.”