Indianapolis Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett, the pride of Glassboro High and a man who has more inner strength than most of us, will be the only South Jersey representative in next Sunday's Super Bowl against the Chicago Bears.
Brackett, a Rutgers graduate who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 235 pounds, was once deemed too small to play major-college football. After Brackett made Rutgers' team as a sophomore walk-on and had a successful collegiate career, NFL scouts filed the same report: too small to withstand the punishment.
That explains why he wasn't drafted.
Brackett signed as a free-agent with the Colts in 2003 and received a signing bonus of about $2,000 - enough, perhaps, to buy a beat-up Ford Pinto.
Now he's starting - and the second-leading tackler - for the AFC champs and one win away from a Super Bowl ring.
Seems to me like a lot of college recruiters and NFL scouts looked at size, not the ability and heart of a man whose brother, mother and father died in about a 11/2-year span that started late in 2003.
Size doesn't measure the character of a man who could write a book on perseverance - on and off the field.
It's not true that a McAneney has been gracing a South Jersey high school football sideline since the days of leather helmets.
It just seems that way.
Vince McAneney coached at Cherry Hill West (nee Cherry Hill) from 1967 to 1969, then coached at Pennsauken from 1970 to 1994. His son, Tim, was usually on the sideline, serving as ball boy and soaking in his dad's wisdom.
Tim McAneney later served as a Pennsauken assistant for one season, then spent nine years as Bishop Eustace's head coach before resigning recently and becoming an assistant at Holy Cross.
By my computation, Vince and Tim McAneney have spent 38 years coaching in South Jersey. In addition, Vince was the head coach at Philadelphia's West Catholic for eight seasons, starting in 1957.
All told, that's almost a half-century of coaching.
Charlie Pirrello, who spent 24 seasons at Northern Burlington before becoming Holy Cross' head coach last year, is thrilled to have the younger McAneney on his staff.
"He has more experience at a parochial school than I have, so he has insight that I don't have," Pirrello said. "It's exciting to have him. The way he handled himself through the lean years and the way he handled himself when he was successful, well, it speaks a lot about him. He was gracious when he lost and it made him more motivated to work harder, and he was humble when they won."
Tim McAneney is a winner in his father's mold, Pirrello said.
"One thing he inherited from his father, besides the ability to coach, is his ability to talk," Pirrello said with a smile. "He never runs out of words."
The two sat together at the Philadelphia Sports Writers' Association banquet on Monday and chatted nonstop during the three-hour event.
"Actually, I did most of the listening," Pirrello noted.
Based on the number of major-college men's basketball players it produces, Mount Laurel is the unofficial hoops capital of South Jersey.
The Burlington County town has six residents playing at the Division I level: Jason and Ryan Thompson at Rider, Matt Betley at Lafayette, Stan Greene Jr. at Howard, Kraig Peters at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and James Ulrich at Wagner.
Ulrich attended Camden Catholic, while the others went to Lenape.
The NJSIAA boys' basketball tournament cutoff date is Saturday. Teams need at least a .500 record at that date to qualify for the single-elimination tournament.
Atlantic City (Group 4), Deptford (Group 3), Haddonfield (Group 2), LEAP Academy (Group 1), Christian Brothers Academy (Non-Public A) and Wildwood Catholic (Non-Public B) are the defending champs.
The NJSIAA has declared LEAP ineligible for the next two tournaments, citing recruiting violations. LEAP has appealed to the state commissioner of education.
It would be a major surprise if LEAP won the appeal, and it says here that Group 1 will be the most wide-open of the six South Jersey sections.
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