From Bristol Boys to Storrs, UConn football’s Victor Rosa and UConn basketball’s Donovan Clingan have each found their own paths to success

Victor Rosa had an idea that he was going to forgo his senior basketball season at Bristol Central to work out and get more explosive for football.

That was when his father, Glenn Rosa, who made it a point to never step in and control his son, stepped in.

“Are you crazy?”

“You’re going to win a state championship with this team,” Glenn said. “Whether you’re the main man or not, you go along for that ride. It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

Glenn was right. That team went undefeated for a second straight year and did win the state championship, its 43rd consecutive victory. And Victor wasn’t the main man.

When the team posed with the trophy, Rosa was down on a knee in the first row holding a sign that read “2022 Champion.” His 7-foot-2 best friend, Donovan Clingan, stood gleefully in the back with his pointer finger raised and a gold medal clenched in his teeth, a head and shoulders above the two rows of kids and coach Tim Barrette in front of him.

Before Rosa became the leading touchdown scorer for Jim Mora’s bowl-bound UConn football team and Clingan made an immediate statement on the UConn men’s basketball team, they were always competing, both with and against each other.

Now, each has found success at UConn. Rosa has rushed for 561 yards and scored nine touchdowns this season as the Huskies prepare to face Marshall in the Myrtle Beach Bowl on Monday (2:30 p.m., ESPN). Clingan is averaging 10.5 points in 16.3 minutes for the No. 3 Huskies. He claimed MVP honors in the Phil Knight Invitational in November and has been named Big East Freshman of the Week twice.

The future Husky stars met as first-graders when they played T-ball together on the upper field at Bristol Central High School.

And they were good.

And they were always competing.

“Especially in Little League, we always used to hit home runs and have competitions on who will hit more home runs in a season,” Rosa said.

“They played against each other in Little League and it was just like, ‘You see how far mine went today?’ How many home runs did you have today?’ ” Bill Clingan, Donovan’s father, remembered. “I mean Victor was ridiculous — if he got on first base, he would steal all the way home he was so fast. He was unreal. And Donovan would just hit bombs. Like bombs you’ve never seen. It was really fun to watch those two, no matter what they did.”

They played baseball together as freshmen at Bristol Central, but it wasn’t long before the developing Division I athletes stepped off the diamond to focus on their main sports.

As they grew up, Rosa and Clingan were typical best friends. They played Wiffle Ball in the neighborhood, hung out and played video games in the basement, rode bikes in the woods. Clingan even invited Rosa to join him fishing a few times.

And, of course, there was driveway basketball.

Rosa’s father remembers Clingan running around “like a baby deer” as the two played one-on-one. Rosa always thought he was better.

“We always talk junk to each other, especially on the basketball court,” Clingan said. “He was always telling me he’s the best, and he always tried to prove me wrong. It’s one of those friendships where we’d always just joke with each other, say each other is bad at their sport, say they need to get better at it. But in reality, he’s having five, six touchdowns a game and I’d still talk junk and say, ‘That’s it?’ ”

Winning mentality

Rosa and Clingan were attracted by similar ambitions. When they were younger and had Halloween events in school, Rosa always dressed up as a football player and said he wanted to play in the NFL. Clingan always dressed up as a basketball player and said he wanted to play in the NBA.

“Just seeing our dreams slowly coming true, it’s a blessing,” Rosa said. “We always said we wanted to go D-1 and now we’re here, both at UConn. It’s just amazing to see us both achieve that dream.”

When he was in middle school, Clingan would go to Bristol Central games and sit behind the bench.

“Obviously when you see a sixth- or seventh-grader who’s already 6-foot-3, you’re like, ‘Who’s that kid?’ ” Barrette said. “But that, coming to the game, wasn’t anything more than he loved Bristol Central and he loved the game of basketball.”

When his mother, Stacey Porrini Clingan, died of breast cancer in 2018, Clingan got “really into it,” his father, Bill, said. Stacey was inducted into the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame in 2016 after a record-setting career on the basketball court that led her to play at the University of Maine.

Clingan wears the number she wore, 32, in her honor.

“It was like a switch. He just became …” Bill said, exhaling. “I never had to tell him to get his [butt] out there and work. Never, ever. I’ve never had to wake him up to go, never. Not once. He’s always had that motivation to get out there and do it.”

“What happened in games is what you saw, what you don’t see is the four to five times a week at 5:15 in the morning we were in there in the gym doing the workout that he needed to get ready for the collegiate level,” Barrette said.

Barrette remembers one time, after Clingan scored 50 points and grabbed 32 rebounds in a game against Windsor, he still received a text that night.

“Hey coach, we’re still on for tomorrow morning.”

“It didn’t change anything of what he did,” Barrette said. “That meant tomorrow was lifting and shots up at 5:15 a.m. We’re going to still go into work, just because he scored 50 doesn’t mean anything.”

With Rosa, it was the same thing.

When COVID hit, the duo would get together to work out using the weight set in Rosa’s basement. They also had a local gym membership where they would work out together.

“A lot of the high school students go out, partake in activities that some would probably deem questionable, but not them,” Barrette said. “Victor’s lifting weights on a Friday night, Donovan’s doing homework on a Saturday. They kind of fed off each other, like ‘Hey, let’s make the right decisions because we have a future ahead of us that we need to focus on.’ ”

Storrs or bust

As recruiting began, it wasn’t the plan for Rosa and Clingan to land together in Storrs.

Clingan was the No. 56-ranked boys basketball player in his recruiting class. Some would say that was too low, that his ranking may have been affected by his decision to remain at Bristol Central instead of taking the popular prep route.

It was a decision Rosa also made.

“Those two guys stayed loyal to their hometowns, to their friends that they’ve grown up playing with,” Bristol Central football coach Jeff Papazian said. “And choosing to do it here, I think was a special thing that both those guys did.”

Clingan’s recruitment began earlier than Rosa’s. He was a 7-footer who went viral for outrageous stat lines and the size difference he had over the three or four defenders that circled him in the paint.

UConn men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley went to a few of Clingan’s early-morning workouts at the high school and noticed immediately how natural the game came to him.

“It’s very rare that you get a kid from the state of Connecticut who is almost like a must-get recruit from the time he’s a sophomore in high school,” UConn assistant Tom Moore said in UConn’s “Part of the Pack” video series. “He had become such a huge story in the state, his name and his recruitment became so well known in the state of Connecticut, there was a lot of pressure on our whole coaching staff to make sure that we landed Donovan’s commitment.”

Clingan’s final four schools included UConn, Syracuse, Michigan and Ohio State. He wasn’t locked in on UConn until his third visit.

“That’s when he was like, ‘OK, I’m doing it tonight,’ ” Bill Clingan said.

Glenn Rosa remembers seeing Bill Clingan at Bristol Central after news of Donovan’s commitment came out.

“Any decisions yet?” Bill asked.

“He wanted to kind of feel where Victor was going to end up and he goes, ‘Wouldn’t that be so cool?’ ” Glenn said. “We were talking about it and just the way it’s panning out now, it’s just like a perfect storm.”

Rosa didn’t commit to UConn until the summer of 2021, before he ran for 2,728 yards and 41 touchdowns and passed for 849 yards and made 50 tackles on his way to the 2021-22 Gatorade Connecticut Football Player of the Year award as a senior — the banner still hangs in Bristol Central’s gym, just below the two that Clingan won back-to-back as the Gatorade Connecticut Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

Rosa played quarterback, because Papazian, much like Barrette with Clingan, wanted the best athlete on his team to touch the ball every play.

Rosa’s recruiting process was “crazy,” he said, with the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out his junior season.

Then-UConn football coach Randy Edsall offered first, but Rosa originally wanted to go to Stanford and had offers from schools like Boston College, Army and Air Force.

Shortly after he committed, the Huskies’ coaching staff was overhauled. The Rosas were worried, but, after meeting Mora and his staff on one of their first weekends in Storrs, Victor told Papazian, “Coach, I’m good. This is where I’m gonna be.”

His decision had nothing to do with Clingan — that was just a bonus.

“Our goal growing up was to get ourselves to the Division I level and better ourselves and just take it as far as possible,” Rosa said. “Going to the same school is not gonna benefit each other when it comes to speaking about our sports. My decision had nothing to do with him, and his decision had absolutely nothing to do with me. It’s crazy that it worked out this way, and we’re both grateful for it.”

Bristol Boys

Deanna Rosa, Victor’s mother, received a text from an excited neighbor shortly after the designs were put on sale for Donovan and Victor’s collaborative NIL merchandise.

“Look what came in the mail today!” it said.

The design features Clingan and Rosa in uniform with their arms crossed, overlaid atop the “Bristol Boys” lettering.

When they’re at work, people will approach Deanna and Glenn Rosa andsay, “Oh, you’re Victor Rosa’s parents!”

One time, Glenn’s sister-in-law went to the dentist and the dots were connected immediately. “There was a girl there and she asked, ‘Oh your last name’s Rosa? Are you by any chance related to Victor?’ ” he said.

Bill Clingan is constantly tagged in social media posts by people with their Bristol Boys shirts.

“It’s good to see other people buying it, that makes you feel good, you know?” Glenn said. Deanna was in agreement. “It’s a really heartfelt gesture when people can do that because they’re pulling for your son, as well as Donovan.”

The support was always there in Bristol and has now spread throughout the state. When Clingan checked into his first game in a UConn jersey, at the XL Center in Hartford, there was a roaring ovation. Hurley joked that he wasn’t sure if UConn legends Ray Allen or Rip Hamilton had entered the building.

“That was all Bristol people,” Bill Clingan said. “There were so many Bristol people at that game, it was insane.”

Rosa scored his first touchdown in the football team’s home opener and had a similar response. He came into the season toward the bottom of the depth chart, but a slew of injuries accelerated his development to the point where he became the main running back.

Against UMass, a must-win game for the Huskies, a 13-10 halftime lead had fans on the edge of their seats. Rosa scored two touchdowns in a span of 13 minutes to clinch the win that kept bowl hopes alive and declared the Huskies “Kings of New England.”

The best friends haven’t been able to hang out as much as they used to with the time commitments that comes with being Division I athletes and their seasons overlapping. Though they still talk every day.

“It’s always someone to go to,” Clingan said. “If I’m down on myself or something one day, I can just text Vic, meet up with Vic one day and just hang out, same for him. Just to know that I have my best friend a five-minute walk from me on campus is good to know.”

“They just feed off each other,” Deanna Rosa said. “They both didn’t choose UConn because of each other, but they’re there for each other.”