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His Way

Joe Licata made a statement by staying close to home

Photo of Joe Licata by Paul Hokanson

By David J. Hill

“When people look back, I want them to see a team that fought hard and had a lot of pride in the name on their chest, and someone who had fun out there playing for the city, his family and friends.”
Joe Licata

UB football fans know Joe Licata (BA ’15) as the guy in the helmet throwing touchdown passes. Most don’t know that this record-setting passer is just as comfortable sporting a fedora and singing along to Frank Sinatra.

Licata proudly hails from a “100-percent Italian” family, one that has a deep admiration for Ol’ Blue Eyes. Last summer, he organized a gathering at the family cottage in Crystal Beach, Ontario, to celebrate Sinatra and, simultaneously, the day a half-century earlier when his grandmother bought the place where they vacation each year. Licata posted a picture on Twitter of his parents, three sisters and him—all clad in fedoras—posing with a cardboard cutout of Frank. He included the hashtag #MyWay.

Licata graduated in May 2015 but had one year of eligibility remaining, allowing him to play this past fall. He left UB as the program’s all-time leader in career passing yards (9,485), touchdowns (76) and wins as a starter (he went 21-19). He led the Bulls to their third bowl bid in program history in 2013; they lost to San Diego State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. He threw a school-record 29 TD passes his junior year.

“When people look back, I want them to see a team that fought hard and had a lot of pride in the name on their chest, and someone who had fun out there playing for the city, his family and friends,” Licata said in January by phone from New Jersey, where he planned to spend eight weeks training in preparation for showcasing his skills to pro scouts at UB’s Pro Day this spring.

After excelling in both football and basketball at Williamsville South High School, practically in UB’s back yard, Licata received scholarship offers from Syracuse and North Carolina, among others. But he wanted to stay home, close to the support network of his family, and make a statement that the region’s best players don’t have to leave to play at college football’s highest level. He took the reins as starting quarterback near the end of his redshirt freshman season in 2012, going 3-1. For the next three seasons, he started every game.

His family was there to witness it all. “My parents never missed a game. At least one of my three sisters was at every game except for the one at Baylor,” Licata says.

If he could do it over, would he leave Buffalo for the limelight of a more prominent program? Licata quotes his alter ego—“Regrets, I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention”—and then gets serious. “I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. My only regret is that we didn’t bring a championship back to Buffalo.”