What do these people have in common?
Herb Orvis....Troy Davis....Scott Woerner
If you said, “I got no clue”, you’re probably not alone.
How about these?
Red Grange....Ron Dayne....Troy Aikman
Okay, that drew a “Hmmm”. Still not sure? Each of those six has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Okay, one more mini-quiz.
Alex Kroll....Homer Hazel....Paul Robeson
Too easy? Right, they are the Rutgers players - the only Rutgers players - in the College Football Hall of Fame. They join two RU coaches, George Sanford and Harvey Harman, as members of the HOF. From a school that has played the sport longer than anyone except that school down Route 27. And there begins our story.
The National Football Foundation (NFF) was founded in 1947 as a vehicle to promote the game of football and academics. Its early proponents were a significant who’s who of the era: General Douglas MacArthur, longtime Army football coach Earl Blaik, and journalist Grantland Rice. The Hall of Fame soon followed in 1951 to honor the greats on the field, and it was supposed to be....on the Rutgers campus. A chapter system for the NFF was started in 1959 to take the mission of the NFF to all parts of the country, and today there are over 120 chapters nationwide. In 1968, former South River (NJ) football players created a chapter, initially to honor Alex Wojiechowicz, a South River player and the first New Jersey resident to make the College and NFL Halls of Fame. Wojiechowicz insisted it be named after South River coach Bill Denny because he was a father figure to him and many other players. Denny is in the New Jersey High School coaches Hall of Fame.
Along with six other chapters in New Jersey, the Denny Chapter has recognized scholar athletes from Middlesex County and has awarded over $250,000 in scholarships since its creation. Over the last few years, the chapter had limited volunteer resources to call on. Enter the Rutgers Football Letterwinners Association (RUFBLW).
Dr. Lee Schneider is currently the Executive Director of the Rutgers Parents Association. But for his entire career, he has been a Scarlet Knight. It started as a football player, becoming co-captain of the 1969 squad. He then worked for Rutgers, going from Assistant to Associate Dean of Student Life and Academic Affairs at Cook College, to Dean of Students at Cook College. And somewhere along the way, he became involved with the Football Letterwinners.
His involvement, along with the efforts of other former RU players like Matt Allison, Don Heilman, and Rich Policastro, moved the Letterwinners to join with the Denny Chapter. Add to that the relationships that had been developed with local football coaches by RU’s director of high school relations Rick Mantz, and it was an easy step for the Football Letterwinners - and indirectly Rutgers football - joining forces with the Denny Chapter to reinvigorate the group. That effort culminated on Sunday with the most recent awards luncheon held in the Recruiting Lounge at High Point Solutions Stadium.
The connection of the two groups was a natural. Schneider said that the RUFBLW had researched other schools, including a number in the Big Ten, and found that a number of them were already doing this. And at Rutgers, promoting the sport and local athletes while also promoting the University’s football team seemed a natural fit.
In addition to the high school scholar-athletes, the Bill Denny/Rutgers Football Letterwinners chapter provides a scholar-athlete award to a Rutgers player. This year’s recipient was Julian Pinnix-Odrick.
The group also takes it beyond the student-athletes. Coaches, educators, and officials are all part of the honors that the chapter awards at the luncheon.
Of interest, members of the NFF are voters in the selection of members to the College Football Hall of Fame. Yes, I will be voting this year! And right now, one of the goals of the Letterwinners and the chapter is the selection of Marco Battaglia to the HOF. A consensus All American, Battaglia would be the first RU player selected for the College Football Hall of Fame since Alex Kroll entered in 1997.
While the Bill Denny/Rutgers Letterwinners Chapter currently serves Middlesex County, its charter allows it to expand to include high schools and athletes in Somerset, Union, and Monmouth counties. And that would allow RU’s sphere to expand a bit more.
If you’re interested in becoming a member - a voting member - of the NFF, it isn’t free; just letting you know. But it would get you involved in the sport and would allow you to vote on members to the college football Hall of Fame. Maybe even Marco Battaglia. You can click here for more information and choose a chapter near you.
2017 Middlesex County Scholar-Athletes
BISHOP AHR - ANDREW BRAZICKI
CARTERET - MARC JALEN HARRIS
COLONIA - TYLER LAYTON
DUNELLEN - ALAIN DIAZ
EAST BRUNSWICK - JAIR DAVIS
EDISON - NICK YANIK
HIGHLAND PARK - RYAN O'SHEA
JFK - KYLE HEANEY
JOHN P. STEVENS - LUKE JACOBI
METUCHEN - CAMERON McPARTLAN
MIDDLESEX - NAEEM MORGAN
MONROE TWP - CARLTON COLEMAN
NEW BRUNSWICK - GERMAN PIMENTEL
NORTH BRUNSWICK - BRYCE PRIESTER
OLD BRIDGE - NICK DiMEGLIO
PERTH AMBOY - DEONTE FREEMAN
SAYREVILLE - CHRISTIAN PLATON
ST. JOSEPH’s - LUKE YAKELY
SOUTH BRUNSWICK - JOSH LIAO
SOUTH PLAINFIELD - BENJAMIN LUNDY
SOUTH RIVER - LOUIS SASSO
SPOTSWOOD - NICHOLAS MO
WOODBRIDGE - DA'AVIAN ELLINGTON