Greg Ferrucci was just trying to have some fun on a summer day. Fun, in this case, meant messing around on a diving board at the new pool in his hometown of Huntersville, N.C.
Ted Hautau, a club diving coach in nearby Charlotte and also a consultant when the pool was being designed, happened to have his team doing two-a-day practices in Huntersville that day.
"We were in the break between the practices and one of my divers came running up and said, 'You've got to see this kid on the 1-meter; he's a gymnast,'" Hautau said. "Sure enough, Greg was down there. I think he was doing front-doubles or something. So I talked to him about it and he said yeah, he used to do gymnastics."
Ferrucci, then 11 and feeling "burned out" on gymnastics, accepted Hautau's invitation to give diving a try.
"He started diving with us in the wintertime and I told his dad, 'He's going to make the nationals in the spring; be ready,'" Hautau said. "And his dad said 'no way.' Sure enough, he made the nationals; he was top three.
"And then I said, 'For the summer, he's also going to make the nationals.' And he's like 'No way, that's the full nationals.' Sure enough, he went on to Stanford and he made the nationals there as well. That's kind of how it started off. Very talented."
Now, Hautau is in his sixth season as diving coach at Kentucky.
Ferrucci, now 23, is a UK senior and a three-time All-American. He's also the Male Diver of the Week in the Southeastern Conference, an award he's won nine times in his career. The award came after he posted season-high scores of 398.25 for six dives on 1-meter and 374.33 on 3-meter against Cincinnati.
Next up, Feb. 18-22, is the SEC Championships at Georgia.
"He's a great athlete. We're looking forward to some great things at SECs," said Lars Jorgensen, UK's swimming and diving head coach. "He's one of the best divers in the country, but he hasn't won SECs yet, so I think that's kind of the next challenge for him as an individual champion. I think he's got a great shot."
The 5-foot-7 Ferrucci placed second on both the 1-meter and 3-meter boards at last year's SEC meet, and eighth on platform. He went on to place fourth in all three events at the NCAA Championships and, at the CATSPY Awards, was named UK's Male Athlete of the Year.
"At least one gold medal would be awesome to go out with for my senior year," Ferrucci said. "But as far as the course of the year, I'd just like to improve my score and stay consistent."
His career-best scores, all school records, are 422.70 on 1-meter, 453.20 on 3-meter and 435.50 on platform.
Ferrucci said 3-meter is his favorite event but, lately, he has been more comfortable on the 10-meter tower. Imagine being comfortable diving from nearly 33 feet up.
"Yeah. It's hard," he said. "Flipping 3½ times, heading toward the water at like 35 mph, can be pretty frightening. But it's also the rush that makes it fun, so that's what keeps me coming back for it."
Coming back despite a rash of injuries, most related to the tower. He's battled a shoulder injury all four seasons as a Wildcat; hit his toes doing a somersault; slipped on a board and strained a quadriceps; twisted an ankle. And then there's this: "My thumbs are basically about to fall off because hitting the water that fast just mangles those ligaments and joints in there."
But, ah, the rush does keep him coming back.
Coming back for something he never could have imagined before being discovered by Hautau in Huntersville.
What's the biggest lesson learned from his coach?
"That I should have way more confidence in myself," Ferrucci said. "I never thought that I would be this good. I never thought I would learn the dives that I have or have the courage to do the dives that I have. Because a back 3½ , reverse 3½ on 10-meter, I never thought I would be able to do physically or mentally because those are scary dives. So mainly just to let go, trust myself and go for it."
A lesson learned well.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.