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Harvard graduate Iannuzzi smart enough to be patient in waiting for CFL chance

SURREY, B.C. - It was late in practice when rookie wide receiver Marco Iannuzzi finally got his chance with the B.C. Lions' first-team offence.

At the snap the Calgary-born Harvard graduate ran a crisp route, only to watch as the ball was thrown to the other side of the field.

The play over, Iannuzzi jogged back to the sidelines where he chatted with receivers coach Travis Moore.

Iannuzzi is smart enough to earn a degree in architecture and environmental science from an Ivy League school, so he understands the importance of patience in his first year with the Lions.

"Everyone is patient in their life at some point," the amiable 24-year-old said Monday after the Lions practice. "I don't really look at this as being a time of extreme patience.

"It's just what you have to do."

The Lions had enough faith in Iannuzzi they selected him with their first pick, sixth overall, in this year's CFL draft.

He is expected to be in the lineup when B.C. opens a two-game series against the Toronto Argonauts Friday at Rogers Centre. The teams, both owned by David Braley, have 2-6 records.

The Sept. 10 rematch in Vancouver will be the Lions final game at Empire Field. They will face the Edmonton Eskimos Sept. 30 at B.C. Place Stadium, which has undergone US$565 million in renovations, including a retractable roof.

The six-foot-one, 195-pound Iannuzzi started the season on the practice roster, but has played in the last two games on special teams and returned kicks.

He returned six punts for 49 yards when the Lions clawed the Eskimos 36-1 on Aug. 19.

Wally Buono, B.C.'s coach and general manager, said Iannuzzi has earned his chance.

"He's worked hard in practice," said Buono. "We're not afraid to put him in there. I think he has certain skill sets at this point that can help us.

"He's done a good job on teams, he has done a good job handling part of the return game. If he gets an opportunity to be a receiver I think he will do fine."

Combining patience with persistence not new for Iannuzzi.

He waited two years before finally being accepted at Harvard. At first he needed to improve his marks. He was then told to spend time gaining business experience.

There were other universities, but Harvard was where Iannuzzi wanted to go.

"Once that opportunity was thrown in my direction I thought I would be a fool not to pursue it to the fullest," he said. "I knew I was so close, I couldn't live the rest of my life thinking I just about got in."

While at Harvard, Iannuzzi combined innovation and science to make his life easier. Faced with a 90-minute drive from the university to his home, Iannuzzi was part of a group that developed a computer voice recognition system.

While driving, he could call his house, dictate a term paper, and the computer would write it.

Surprisingly, Iannuzzi became sheepish when talking about the system.

"There are lots of things do around (Harvard)," he said. "You can really get involved in what ever you want."

One thing Iannuzzi isn't shy talking about is his respect for Kamau Peterson. The veteran wide receiver from Los Angeles took the young Canadian under his wing at training camp, giving him advice on how to survive in the CFL both on and off the field.

The Lions released Peterson last week.

"K.P. was nothing but class," said Iannuzzi. "He didn't hold anything back, whether it was the business side of football to running routes.

"He would stay after practice with me and run routes. He never once didn't tell me something because he thought it would put him into a position where I could take his spot."

In his last year at Harvard, Iannuzzi had six catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns. He also averaged 34.5 yards on kickoff returns.

Before going to college, Iannuzzi played for the Edmonton Huskies of the Canadian Junior Football League where he earned all-conference honours as a receiver and returner.

Lions quarterback Travis Lulay said Iannuzzi has the potential to become a starter.

"He's fast and has good hands," said Lulay. "He's willing to learn and listen.

"During training camp he really showed he can make a tough catch. He has been learning the offence, but also is continuing to get better at separating himself against good defenders."

After struggling through the first eight games, the Lions are looking to turn things around in the second half of the season.

How much of a role Iannuzzi will play remains to be seen.

Lions fullback Rolly Lumbala, who attended high school in Calgary with Iannuzzi, has been impressed with Iannuzzi's dedication.

"Even though he's a rookie, he's such a professional already," said Lumbala.

"He wants to be here. He wants to be a football player. You wouldn't put yourself through all the workouts if he didn't want to."

Iannuzzi is one of those people who can do most anything if they set their mind to it. For the immediate future, football is his focus.

"Things don't always go the way you plan them," he said. "I don't really have a five-year plan. I know where I want to be. I don't know exactly how I'm going to get there.

"At this point I want to get on the field. If I can contribute and make big plays and help the team win, that's what we are here to do."

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