Norristown gradaims­for mem­o­rable fi­nalsea­son

The Colonial - - SPORTS - By Tom Lay­berger

At the top of An­thony Robey’s bio in Tem­ple’s 2014 foot­ball me­dia guide is an icon of a grad­u­a­tion cap and diploma. Among the ca­reer tid­bits that fol­low is one that re­veals he is one of only three play­ers on this sea­son’s ros­ter who par­tic­i­pated in the Owls’ most re­cent bowl game, a New Mex­ico Bowl vic­tory over Wy­oming fol­low­ing the 2011 sea­son.

As a red­shirt se­nior ath­let­i­cally and a grad­u­ate stu­dent aca­dem­i­cally, Robey has ex­pe­ri­enced a lot on and off the field at Tem­ple. Still, as he pre­pares for his fi­nal sea­son wear­ing the cherry and white, there is much un­fin­ished busi­ness to tend to.

While the Owls dis­played prom­ise as last sea­son moved along, they spent much of the off-sea­son seek­ing to re­move the stench left from a 2-10 cam­paign that yielded plenty of heart­break. Tem­ple lost seven games by 10 points or less, four of which were de­cided by no more than three points. On three oc­ca­sions the Owls lost in the fi­nal half minute. A com­mon theme of the late-game col­lapses was the de­fense’s in­abil­ity to fin­ish the task.

“It is some­thing that we worked on dur­ing the spring and dur­ing (off-sea­son) work­outs,” said Robey, who says he is close to 100-per­cent in re­cov­er­ing from a groin in­jury. “Fin­ish­ing is some­thing that we have preached and it is some­thing that we will con­tinue to work on dur­ing summer camp.”

With 28 ca­reer starts to his credit, much of the re­spon­si­bil­ity for get­ting that straight­ened out falls on the shoul­ders of the for­mer Norristown High stand­out. That is es­pe­cially the case given the se­condary has only one other player that has started at the ma­jor-col­lege level. That player, ju­nior cor­ner Tavon Young, has started only eight games.

“What we need from An­thony is for him to step up and make plays,” said Tem­ple foot­ball coach Matt Rhule. “We have gone from a team that was, ‘Hey, we need to hang in there’ to a team that now at the end of

Sign­ing Day in Fe­bru­ary be­cause he had not yet met the NCAA’s ini­tial eli­gi­bil­ity stan­dards.

The Owls, perNCAArules, could only sign 25 play­ers that day and the staff ex­plained to Pat­ton that it would have to wait to see how things played out over the rest of his se­nior year to find out if they could bring him in this month or in Jan­uary of 2015.

So over the next five months, Pat­ton im­proved his grades and his SAT score by 110 points, gain­ing the ex­act 10 points he needed the sec­ond time around in May. And when he was vis­it­ing his mother a few weeks ago, they got the call they were wait­ing for

Tem­ple tight ends coach Ed Fo­ley was on the other end with the news that the Owls had a schol­ar­ship avail­able for him and that he would be able to join the team in time for pre­sea­son camp.

He wouldn’t have to wait. He wouldn’t have to walk on or en­roll at a prep school. Ev­ery­thing, fi­nally, had come to­gether.

At Tem­ple, Pat­ton joins a trio of for­mer Norristown foot­ball play­ers in wide re­ceiver Bran­don Ship­pen and de­fen­sive backs An­thony Robey and Ikeem Boyd, one of his clos­est friends.

“They’re like a sec­ond fam­ily along with the team, and it’s great,” Pat­ton said af­ter Tem­ple’s Mon­day morn­ing pre­sea­son prac­tice. “I’m here now, and it’s time to go to work.”

That was Pat­ton’s men­tal­ity last fall. In the midst of an 0-11 sea­son for the Ea­gles, Pat­ton stood out be­cause he was will­ing to play any­where at any time even when things were not go­ing well. On de­fense, the 6-foot5, 230-pound Pat­ton forced eight fum­bles and col­lected four fum­ble re­cov­er­ies and five sacks. He played quar­ter­back and even some run­ning back, too.

“It reached a point where he’s such a good ath­lete that on of­fense, we moved him to tail­back,” Pat­ton’s for­mer coach at Norristown, E.J. Smith, said. “And then on de­fense, he played de­fen­sive end and against some fronts, we’d move him to line­backer. We strug­gled and our main goal was to just try to win foot­ball games and he was will­ing to do what­ever it took to win.”

The wins never came, but Pat­ton’s film stood out to Rhule and the Tem­ple staff. And now he has a shot at the Owls’ tight end com­pe­ti­tion that, at least for now, has no clear front-run­ner.

But it al­most never turned out that way.

When Pat­ton re­turned to Norristown at this time last year to live with his grand­par­ents, Robert and Sheilah Wright, he had fallen out of love with foot­ball and in­stead was more fo­cused on bas­ket­ball.

But some 11th-hour urg­ing from his team­mate, Rashon Lu­sane, con­vinced Pat­ton to give foot­ball a try once again.

“Rashon said, ‘Bro, you might as well come out for foot­ball,’” Pat­ton re­called, “and I said, ‘I don’t know.’ Then I thought, ‘I might as well.’ I went to camp and it started from there.”

And it wasn’t long be­fore Pat­ton stood out to his coaches.

“It was dur­ing our scrim­mage against West Chester East,” Smith said. “He was play­ing de­fen­sive end. They had a good of­fen­sive tackle and the young man couldn’t block him at all. All the tech­nique with rip­ping, club­bing and swim­ming — he put all that into play.”

Now Pat­ton will have much more to learn — a new of­fense, the nu­ances of be­com­ing a col­lege stu­dent and ev­ery­thing that comes with it. And Pat­ton said Tem­ple de­fen­sive line coach Eli­jah Robin­son told him he could come over to the other side of the ball if he’s in­ter­ested in be­com­ing a pass rusher again.

He could end up play­ing this year or red­shirt­ing. Ei­ther way, he’s grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity.

“I’ve called Rashon ev­ery day af­ter train­ing camp and tell him what’s go­ing on,” Pat­ton said, “and I thank him. If I had just kept go­ing to bas­ket­ball, who knows where I’d be.”

And Pat­ton talks to his mother just about ev­ery day, too — some­times just to up­date her on what’s go­ing on or other times just to tell her he misses her. She’s raised him as a sin­gle mother and the two left Norristown to move to the At­lanta area when Pat­ton was in sec­ond grade.

Al­low­ing her son to re­turn home last summer wasn’t easy for Wright, but she’s grate­ful for how ev­ery­thing worked out.

“I was very sad be­cause he’s my only son,” Wright said. “It’s just been me and him for so many years. It’s been hard. It’s been chal­leng­ing. He’s been in three dif­fer­ent schools and had so much tran­si­tion. But Kip is just an awe­some kid and no mat­ter what sit­u­a­tion you put him in, he just goes af­ter it and suc­ceeds.

“When he got up there at first, it was ‘Mom, I just want to con­cen­trate on bas­ket­ball right. Then it was, ‘OK, Mom. They keep ask­ing me and ask­ing me to come over to play foot­ball. I think I’ll just try work­ing out with them.’ And the next thing I knew, ev­ery time I turned around, he was in the news­pa­per.”

And Pat­ton’s name would have been in the pa­per again back in Fe­bru­ary had he signed his na­tional let­ter-ofin­tent then. Like any­one else, Pat­ton said, he would have en­joyed all the no­to­ri­ety that comes with that mo­ment.

“But,” Pat­ton added, “I think I needed that, to be com­pletely hon­est with you. I needed to see other peo­ple sign­ing with the school I was go­ing to so I could pull my­self to­gether and get things to­gether. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t think I’d be here right now.” a game is, ‘Hey, who will make the play?’ As a se­nior we are hop­ing that An­thony can do that for us.”

When asked about be­ing by far the most ex­pe­ri­enced player in the se­condary, Robey viewed the col­lec­tive youth and in­ex­pe­ri­ence around him in a pos­i­tive light be­cause of the com­pe­ti­tion that will con­tinue to play out in pre­sea­son prac­tice.

“When younger play­ers come along the more the com­pe­ti­tion amps up, so that gets all of us go­ing,” he said. “All the play­ers are help­ing each other, so it is good that they have come along be­cause we need them. They will just con­tinue to grow as they go through their ca­reers.”

Robey has gone through his ca­reer play­ing for three head coaches and in three dif­fer­ent con­fer­ences. That is pretty hard to do es­pe­cially when con­sid­er­ing he has re­mained with the same pro­gram. It un­der­scores how the land­scape of Tem­ple foot­ball and col- lege foot­ball in gen­eral has shifted dra­mat­i­cally the last few years. Robey red­shirted in 2010 in Al Golden’s fi­nal sea­son as coach and with the Owls re­sid­ing in the MidAmer­ica Con­fer­ence. Robey then played two sea­sons un­der Steve Ad­dazio, 2011 in the MAC and 2012 in the Big East, be­fore Rhule took over last sea­son with Tem­ple be­ing part of the newly-for­mer Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence.

“One thought that goes through my head and that it is crazy how fast it has all gone by,” he said. “You can’t take any­thing for granted and you need to take ad­van­tage of ev­ery­thing you can.”

Robey, who will turn 23 in Septem­ber, has cer­tainly taken ad­van­tage of the aca­demic op­por­tu­ni­ties at Tem­ple. En route to com­plet­ing his un­der­grad­u­ate stud­ies in crim­i­nal jus­tice he earned var­i­ous hon­ors for his work in the class­room, in­clud­ing be­ing a two-time mem­ber of his con­fer­ence’s aca­demic team.

“An­thony is an in­tel­li­gent person that al­ready grad­u­ated and is a grown man with the way he car­ries him­self and the way he han­dles ev­ery­thing,” Rhule said. “That in and of it­self is in­valu­able to the young guys com­ing in. They say to them­selves this is what Tem­ple foot­ball is all about be­cause they see An­thony is a good player and a good person who has done a lot off the field.”

Robey, who in the fall se­mes­ter will have a full load of grad­u­ate cour­ses in Adult Or­ga­ni­za­tional Devel­op­ment and wants to ul­ti­mately pur­sue a ca­reer in law en­force­ment, likes what he sees as he en­ters his fi­nal sea­son as a Tem­ple foot­ball player.

“We just need to build on what we started in the spring,” he said of what was an en­cour­ag­ing few weeks of spring drills. “I think we look good and we just need to con­tinue to com­pete and con­tinue to get bet­ter.”

Tem­ple kicks off its sea­son Thurs­day night Aug. 28 at Van­der­bilt. The first home game is Sept. 6 ver­sus Navy.

Photo courtesy of Michael Murphy

Glad­wyne res­i­dent Greg Stefan Jr. (age 45) and his daugh­ter Ni­cole (age 17) suc­cess­fully de­fended their ti­tle in the Fa­ther-Daugh­ter Race at the re­cent In­de­pen­dence Day Regatta in Philadel­phia.

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