One year after celebrated high school coach Tony DeMatteo was inducted in the Roosevelt High School Early College Studies (RHS-ECS) “Wall of Fame”, one of his celebrated football players, Jimmy “Grizz” Kennedy was inducted and a plaque honoring him and his career sit side-by-side with Coach DeMatteo’s in the hallowed hallway they both had walked. Kennedy, who played for Coach DeMatteo on the then Roosevelt Indians football team helped lead the school to the 1996 New York State High School Football Championship. Under DeMatteo’s guidance, Kennedy went on to set records at Penn State under coach Joe Paterno before embarking on a nine-year pro NFL career with the Rams, Broncos, Bears, Jaguars, Vikings and ended his pro career with the Super Bowl winning 2011 New York Giants.
In speaking before the assembled crowd in the library of RHS-ECS which included his parents, wife and children, Yonkers Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Edwin Quezada, School Board President Reverend Steve Lopez, RHS-ECS Principal Edward DeChent and the student of teacher Marc Roennau’s Business and Media Studies program, Coach DeMatteo said, through tears,
“Jimmy is my greatest accomplishment, as a coach, and as a human being.”
He went on to speak about their first times together where he said, “Jimmy can out for football in the 9th grade, and quit. But he was in my gym class. I have never recruited anyone to play football for me in 50 years better than Jimmy Kennedy because I wasn’t going to let a 6’5”, 300 pound 9th grader slip through my fingers.” He went on to say how hard he fought to have Jimmy taken out of the special education program he had been placed in, and succeeded. Coach DeMatteo went on relate how, “in his junior year, Jimmy was recruited by schools all over the country, and it came down to Penn State. And I wouldn’t let him sign until Joe Paterno flew up here to meet in my office with Jimmy and his dad, and I asked Joe, ‘how are you going to get this guy a degree?” He told how Joe Paterno had his wife, a former professor, tutor Jimmy on weekends and that Jimmy graduated Penn State with a 3.4 index!
And then Jimmy addressed the gathering, also, occasionally through tears. “You guys are what shaped me and I appreciate you honoring me and I accept it. I wouldn’t have done any of it without you being in my corner. And, it’s kind of hard to accept something that’s not complete, this is just a game. And I know what it’s like to play the game that I love and go get ready after winning the Super Bowl, and find out my heart won’t stop beating fast. I know what it’s like to have a doctor tell me, ‘hey, you’re in A-Fib (atrial fibrillation)’, and not want to tell my family and my friends because I’m sick. I know what it’s like to be retired for seven years right now and have eight heart surgeries. I know what it’s like being 305 pounds and wake up 444 pounds and hearing them say…’you have lymphedema and you’re just gaining weight. And I know what it’s like to not want to have this man [pointing to Coach Tony DeMatteo], who had my back, throughout my life, hear the pain in my voice. I know what it’s like to wake up this year, and have my wife standing over me, and not want to tell my son that under my last surgery, they kept screaming ‘Code Blue’. At 39 years old. I can’t wait to close this chapter and hit 40.” ” “I appreciate you guys honoring me, but moments like this become great because of who you guys are. It’s not because of the game. It’s not about football. It’s about being the best you can be."
Above Left: Jimmy Kennedy's Twitter page boasting his Yonkers heritage. Above Right: Jimmy with his family and Coach DeMatteo
Look to MetroSports Magazine on more of the interview with Jimmy Kennedy conducted by RHS-ECS student JaDonna Williams.