KINGSTON, R.I. – May 15, 2012 – If you talk with University of Rhode Island senior Franco Lo Presti he might tell you he is a soccer player, public relations major, musician, actor and now a model.
But if you ask 10-year-old Will St. Germaine, of Charlestown, he will simply tell you Lo Presti is his friend. Lo Presti calls Will an inspiration, a boy with a developmental disability that prevents him from decoding words, and who learns through auditory processes.
When Lo Presti earns his bachelor’s degree from URI May 20, he will be flooded with memories of his time with his soccer mates, favorite professors, a member of the Ramettes who was largely responsible for launching his modeling career and the not-so-random encounter with Will.
The friendship between the 6-foot, 3-inch former captain and center fullback on the Rams’ soccer team began in October 2010 when the squad ran a clinic for the Chariho Youth Soccer Club.
“I saw this little boy practicing by himself and so I went over, and we began talking and kicking the ball,” said Lo Presti who hails from Toronto, Canada.
Since they met two years ago, Will has rarely missed a Rhody men’s soccer game.
“Will is like a little brother to me,” Lo Presti said. “When we met, we bonded, and I just love him. He is so polite, so nice. He has taught me so much, to appreciate the good moments in life and to appreciate people.”
Men’s head soccer coach John O’Connor said Lo Presti extends himself in so many ways.
“Many college students might feel uncomfortable working with a child with a disability, but Franco puts himself out there in ways other students wouldn’t,” O’Connor said. “I envision him keeping in touch with Will through phone calls and emails.”
Will’s grandmother, Carol-Ann King-Follett asked the day of the clinic two years ago whether she could take a picture of Will and Lo Presti. The following week, that same picture was autographed by Lo Presti.
“Will and I attended many soccer games at URI, always watching Franco,” said King-Follett. “Through Coach O’Connor, Franco and Will began to correspond. They have become such great friends. They meet each Wednesday after Will’s swimming class. They play chess, go for walks with the dog and just talk. They are such a great team and Franco is a wonderful mentor to Will. Our family has been blessed by his friendship.”
During his time at the University, Lo Presti extended himself in other ways too.
“He sings and plays guitar and regularly entertained us on road trips,” O’Connor said.
And when a student he knew only casually, Vanessa Villegas, a chemistry student and member of the Ramettes, approached him about modeling, Lo Presti took her up on it.
“I was walking to class one day when Vanessa stopped me on the Quad and asked me, ‘Are you a model?’ I laughed when she suggested a test shoot, but she encouraged me because she models in New York and knows the industry. So she took some shots and sent them to photographer Sean Patrick Waters. After a successful shoot with him, I had another opportunity to be photographed by Jason Michele. All three of them have been instrumental in helping me out.”
Since then, Lo Presti has been heading to New York most weekends for his own photo sessions.
“I have signed a contract with Click Model Management Inc. out of New York,” he said. “I had a recent casting with Givenchy, a French fashion designer, of France for the fashion shows in Paris in June. I haven’t heard yet whether I will be modeling in France.”
Coach O’Connor said modeling is a natural for Lo Presti. “His personality says ‘Look at me, I love life and I am going to go for it.’ I remember one year on the road in Richmond when the guys were badgering him to go sing to a bunch of sorority members. He went over to sing to the birthday girl and everyone had a ball.”
In the meantime, he is trying to build a career in professional soccer. So once he gets the modeling craziness settled, he’ll begin serious training.
“I am going to be like a soldier, training, training and training and spending time with my family,” Lo Presti said. “I am going to talk to my dad about all of the different things going on my life.
“My goal is to play professionally in Europe, but I won’t rule out playing for a team in Major League Soccer, or other professional leagues in North America.”
“He has a shot at pro soccer because when he puts his mind to it, he can do it. He wants to take chances and he is not afraid to fail,” O’Connor said.
As the weeks wind down in Kingston, Lo Presti has been thinking about his experiences at and because of URI, including a writing internship in URI’s Department of Communications & Marketing.
“I had some great professors like Alan Hawkridge, Richardson Smith and Regina Bell. These professors pay close attention to students and they really want them to succeed. I made so many great friends on the soccer team, and I am going to miss them. I have matured a great deal here, and staying positive has been the key to my success. I went through some difficult times when I wasn’t playing as much, but every single experience at URI has been rewarding and excellent.”
READY FOR GRADUATION: Franco Lo Presti of Toronto, Canada, poses for a portrait in advance of his graduation from the University of Rhode Island. URI Photo by Michael Salerno.
GREAT FRIENDS: Ten-year-old Will St. Germaine, of Charlestown, and Franco Lo Presti, of Toronto, Canada, a former captain and member of the University of Rhode Island soccer team, share a moment at the URI Soccer Complex.
IN POSSESSION: Franco Lo Presti dribbles the ball up the field during a URI soccer match. Photo courtesy of Mike Scott.