By now, the story of Joe Flacco’s rise from a starting quarterback at Audubon High School to NFL quarterback is pretty well known. What may be overlooked, though, is that Flacco is not the only South Jersey native competing in the Super Bowl on Sunday. In fact, he is one of three players on the Ravens who hail from the Colonial Conference playing for a Super Bowl ring.
Bryant McKinnie, who spent just two seasons at Woodbury High School, is the Ravens' starting left tackle, while Alex Silvestro, who played for Paulsboro High School, is on the Ravens' practice squad as a tight end.
The success of the trio is a clear demonstration that a player doesn’t have to come from a giant football powerhouse to reach success at a sport’s highest level.
“I think it is great for South Jersey football and for the great players that come out of South Jersey,” said Triton Regional High School coach Pete Goetz. “ … All three come from small high schools and just show what hard work can do for you. Everyone knows the story of Joe leaving Pittsburgh and paying his
own way at University of Delaware for a year; Bryant going to a junior college and then University of Miami, then NFL stardom; Alex being on practice squads. It’s just awesome for South Jersey football.”
South Jersey well-represented on a big stage
At Cherry Hill High School West, first-year head coach Brian Wright actually has a tie-in to McKinnie. Wright was an offensive tackle at Lackawanna College and graduated just before McKinnie entered the program. In fact, McKinnie stepped right into the left tackle position that Wright had occupied.
“His number is now retired and I like to joke around that he was the only the second best player to wear 78 at Lackawanna," Wright said. “Bryant’s story is an awesome one and one that is not spoken of too often. He was a kid that only played a year or two at Woodbury, was actually in the band. He went to Lackawanna worked with the O-line coach there almost every day. Coach Mac would train him at his own gym and prepared Bryant to become the nation’s best offensive linemen in college football during his career at Miami. Now he is starting in the Super Bowl.”
Wright also believes that the achievements of the local trio sends a clear message of how much talent the South Jersey football landscape has to offer.
“To me, I think seeing guys from the area achieving success at the highest level validates the level of football not only in the state but specifically in South Jersey,” Wright said. “It just goes to show that no matter where you come from and no matter what odds are stacked against you, hard work and perseverance go along way to determining success. If you look at both Flacco and McKinnie, they both took indirect routes to where they are now. … Both of these guys are tremendous role models for South Jersey high school football players, showing that the level of competition which they face every week prepares them for future successes.”
'It doesn't matter where you play'
Over at West Deptford, veteran head coach Clyde Folsom remembers his team’s last encounter with Flacco. The Eagles recorded a comfortable 64-35 victory, but Flacco rewrote the South Jersey record books. He completed 37 of 55 passes for 471 yards and three touchdowns.
Count Folsom in as someone who would be happy to see a player with local ties hold the Lombardi Trophy.
“I would love to see a hometown figure win the Super Bowl,” said Folsom.
Timber Creek head coach Rob Hinson is getting accustomed to having top high-school recruits on his roster, but understands its not always about where you start. He uses the success of Flacco as a tool to motivate his players.
“I think it's awesome that we have local guys playing in the Super Bowl,” Hinson said. "McKinnie played at Miami which is a powerhouse, but he definitely didn't take the traditional path. Also, he's had to rededicate himself and his career to get back to the level where he currently is. Flacco, on the other hand, is a person I often use as an example because kids get caught up on where they play as opposed to why they’re there and doing their best wherever they end up.”
The message seems to be sinking in.
“One of my players, Adonis Jennings, tweeted the other day, 'It doesn't matter where you play, it matters what you do when you get there!'" Hinson said. "I think that sums up things perfectly.”