When Mariano Kemp stood in front of his nonno's (grandfather's) childhood home in Pueblo, he was moved.
"Never forget where you came from," he said to his mother, Jennifer Pagano.
True to his word, Kemp, a senior at Fairview High School, announced late Wednesday night that he will sign to play football at Colorado State University-Pueblo. He indicated that he had a preferred walk-on offer from the University of Colorado and a couple of others, including from Indiana State, but decided in the end that the ThunderWolves were the best fit.
"This is my best option, my best route to showcase my abilities," the 5-foot-10, 235-pound running back said. "How they treated me and saying how much they believed in me was huge and really meant a lot to me."
Nonno is Italian for grandfather and Kemp's is Sam Pagano, a legendary hall-of-fame and championship coach at Fairview, and well known throughout the state's prep community. He's also patriarch of one of the great football families in Colorado annals, with sons Chuck and John as former collegiate players and NFL coaches, as well as another grandson, Carlo Kemp, a defensive lineman for coach Jim Harbaugh at Michigan.
Playing near those dear to him was important for Mariano Kemp, a first-team BocoPreps.com All-Region selection who will make it official with the ThunderWolves Feb. 7 on national signing day. And he said he wasn't ready to commit during the first-ever early signing period, late this past December.
"I did want to stay home and be close to my family and where I could see them at any given point of the day," he said.
Jennifer Pagano said her family is well-versed with members playing or coaching far away from home, from Sam coaching previously in NFL Europe and Carlo playing with the Wolverines.
"Having one (son) out of state is hard enough and they never talk about that in recruiting," she said.
Kemp's game involves power and skill, and he has shown some speed. He said the CSU-Pueblo staff likes his versatility. He didn't fumble in 230 carries the past season, when Fairview finished 10-2 in making the Class 5A semifinals. He gained 1,485 yards and scored 24 touchdowns. He also had 17 receptions for 137 yards and two TDs.
The Thunderwolves staff, Kemp said, considers him as "a bowling bowl with knives around me and once I get going downhill, no one wants to touch it ... they just get out of the way."
He credited Fairview's Tom McCartney for being "more than a coach and just as a real influence on me as far as being a leader and what it takes to be a man. And what would I be doing without football?"
Plus, he said he consulted with his older brother and said "he was happy for me ... watching him (in the recruiting process) I saw that it was a learning curve to show how hard you work and how other people want to play just as badly as you."
With a 3.5 grade-point average, Kemp said he'll major in business and entrepreneurship.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said.