Penn football players remember teammate

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Penn coach Al Bagnoli presided over the team's media day yesterday at Franklin Field. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

Four months after he committed suicide, defensive end Owen Thomas' presence was felt Monday as Penn's football team met with the media at Franklin Field.

Senior fullback/tight end Justin Cosgrove and senior quarterback Keiffer Garton held up the late cocaptain's No. 40 jersey where he would have been sitting during the team picture. Thomas would have been seated to the right of Garton, another cocaptain.

Then Thomas' jersey was held up in all of the other pictures he would have been in. Senior cocaptain Joseph D'Orazio, a St. Joseph's Prep graduate, clutched his former teammate's jersey while addressing the media.

"He would want us to come out with business as usual and play football," said D'Orazio, a third-team preseason all-American at center, according to The Sports Network.

For Penn, business as usual often involves contending for Ivy League championships.

The Quakers (8-2 overall and 7-0 in the Ivy last year) return 15 starters from a squad that won its 11th outright league title and 14th overall. Eight of this season's returning starters are on offense. Five return on defense. Placekicker Andrew Samson and punter Scott Lopano also are back.

To a man, the Quakers will tell you they are rallying around Thomas' death.

"He was the heart of this team," Garton said. "He was a great guy, great leader, great player, a great friend, everything. We all miss him. Love him.

"We do want to [win a championship] for him, definitely."

Penn opens the season against Lafayette on Sept. 18 at Franklin Field. The Quakers plan a tribute to Thomas before kickoff. In addition, players will wear No. 40 decals on their helmets this season and Thomas' jersey will hang in the locker room.

"You try to turn everything that's tragic into the best possible thing that you can," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "So if that means our kids are going to play a little bit harder, because he is in their memory and they want to do it for him, that's just another motivating chip that we have."

Penn also will dedicate this season to former assistant coach Dan "Lake" Staffieri, who died in April of bladder cancer.

Thomas is the second Quaker to take his life in less than five years. Running back Kyle Ambrogi, who also starred for St. Joseph's Prep, committed suicide in October 2005.

 


Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 610-313-8029 or kpompey@phillynews.com.