Stony Brook's Infantino to receive 2018 Doris Robinson Award
By CRAIG HALEY
(STATS) - Chris Infantino was learning too much about the brain at far-too-young an age.
He was only 11 when he was diagnosed with ADEM - acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. Following a vaccination, a brief, but widespread attack of inflammation on his brain caused him to slip into a coma for about 10 days.
The brain healed itself before he came out of the coma. He then went through several months of rehabilitation before all returned to normal, including his standout football skills.
A passion for science and medicine ensued, and in 2016, Infantino attended a conference presented by the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Not only did he learn about CTE and its impact on the lives of football players, it narrowed his career direction toward treating disorders of the brain and spinal cord.
Infantino recently completed his final season at Stony Brook University as the starting right tackle for the top rushing offense in the Colonial Athletic Association, all while pursuing a master's degree in biomedical sciences with a concentration in neuroscience. He earned his undergraduate degree earlier this year with a 3.31 grade point average as a double major in biology and psychology.
On Monday, Infantino was announced as the 2018 recipient of the STATS FCS Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete Award, which is presented to an FCS student-athlete who excels not only in the classroom, but in the community and beyond.
The native of Valley Stream, New York, will be honored with the fourth-year award, named after the late school teacher and wife of legendary Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson, at the STATS FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation Jan. 4 in Frisco, Texas - on the eve of the national championship game in college football's Division I subdivision.
Infantino, 23, looks back to his traumatic experience in childhood and remembers "the only question on my mind was, 'Why is this happening?' At that age, I didn't have the tools or the knowledge to expand on that as much as I would have liked, so I started really getting into psychology and just understanding the inner workings of the brain."
During the summer of 2017, Infantino had a clinical internship at New York University, studying autism. Last summer, he interned at the University of Kentucky's Sanders Brown Center for Aging, part of a team researching Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia. He researched the molecular pathways the disease shares with other disorders, including CTE.
As a graduate student, he has studied molecular mechanisms of the cells that are crucial for brain and spinal cord functioning. He plans to attend medical school and has pledged to donate his brain after he dies.
Although Infantino has never suffered a concussion, he feels the importance "to provide everything I've learned to my teammates. I feel like I've had that hands-on experience and influence."
His academic experiences also include being an ambassador for the Concussion Legacy Foundation, attending meetings and conferences; participating in Uplifting Athletes, a fundraising event to raise awareness for rare disease research; and volunteering with patients at Stony Brook Children's Hospital.
Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore said "every coach wants and needs a young man like Chris Infantino in his football program," raising the bar in so many ways. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound lineman is a former walk-on who took a leave from Stony Brook while his late father Carmen battled pancreatic cancer. After returning, he worked his way back up the depth chart to become a starter as a senior.
"To finally get the opportunity to play my senior year and to have a successful year individually and as a team, it was really something that I needed to do for myself," said Infantino, who won the CAA's Chuck Boone Leadership and Excellence Award.
It was a rewarding finish for a scholar-athlete who's working to positively change the lives of others.
The Doris Robinson Award included one finalist from each of the 13 FCS conferences.
The full list:
Big Sky Conference: Reggie Tilleman, Montana, DE, R-Sr. (business administration and finance degree, 3.90 GPA)
Big South Conference: Chandler Burks, Kennesaw State, QB, R-Sr. (sport management degree, 3.90)
CAA Football: Christopher Infantino, Stony Brook, OL, Sr. (degree in biology with a specialization in neuroscience and psychology, 3.31)
Ivy League: Jesper Horsted, Princeton, WR, Sr. (sociology major, 3.52)
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference: Nick Leverett, North Carolina Central, OL, R-Jr. (criminal justice degree, 3.37)
Missouri Valley Football Conference: Easton Stick, North Dakota State, QB, R-Sr. (sport management degree, 3.92)
Northeast Conference: Matt Fitzpatrick, Duquesne, OL, R-Sr. (finance degree, 3.79)
Ohio Valley Conference: Josh Poplar, Tennessee Tech, LB, R-Jr. (business administration degree, 3.97)
Patriot League: Alex Pechin, Bucknell, P, Sr. (biomedical engineering and management for engineers double major, 3.93)
Pioneer Football League: Tucker Yinger, Dayton, RB, R-Sr. (mechanical engineering major, 3.81)
Southern Conference: Alex Trotter, Chattanooga, RB, Sr. (mechanical engineering major, 3.29)
Southland Conference: Adrian Contreras, Sam Houston State, S, Sr. (business administration/accounting degree, 3.84)
Southwestern Athletic Conference: De'Arius Christmas, Grambling State, LB, Sr. (engineering technology major, 3.82)
Updated December 10, 2018