Philly athletes to attend Hall of Fame game

JOHN CHANEY and football.

Local players heading to Pro Football Hall of Fame are (from left) William Fuller (Roman), Nyeem Thrones (Imhotep), Damon “D.J.” Brinkley (Wood), John Reid (SJ Prep), Renz “Rodeo” Compton (Frankford), John Chaney (Roman), Tim DiGiorgio (Frankford). (Ted Silary/Staff)

Bet you never figured that name and sport would appear in the same sentence, right? Chaney, of course, was the longtime basketball coach at Temple University and now owns a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Two generations later, John Chaney III is trying to make his mark as a gridder, and already has used his skill and character to earn what promises to be the experience of a lifetime.

On Aug. 4 at 7 p.m., at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio, a wide-eyed Chaney will be among the witnesses when the Pro Football Hall of Fame welcomes its 2012 inductees.

Twenty-five hours later, at the same site, he’ll get to watch the Arizona Cardinals battle the New Orleans Saints in the NFL season’s first exhibition game.

Chaney, a 5-7, 165-pound sophomore at Roman Catholic High who’s hopeful of seeing significant playing time this coming season at running back and/or defensive back, won’t be alone. At his side will be six other deserving members of the Philly Football Skills Academy — Roman wideout William Fuller (Penn State commit), Frankford’s passing combo of quarterback Tim DiGiorgio and wideout Renz “Rodeo” Compton and d-backs Nyeem Thrones (Imhotep Charter), Damon “D.J.” Brinkley (Archbishop Wood) and John Reid (St. Joseph’s Prep).

Since last winter, for 2?1/2 hours every Sunday morning, sometimes in ridiculous temperatures at either extreme, PFSA, headed by former Temple stalwarts Keita Crespina (Abraham Lincoln) and Brent Johnstone (Germantown), has offered free instructional sessions for any high school player who has cared enough to show up.

Early, Crespina, who played for the Soul and now assists at St. Joseph’s Prep, held workouts on Temple’s campus only for d-backs.

“But to give the d-backs proper work, I knew we’d have to get some receivers,” he said. “Then, when my arm started falling off, I knew we’d have to get some quarterbacks. The word started spreading, and kids at every position started showing up.

“In time, we couldn’t use Temple anymore because some of their sports teams would need the fields. The people here [Frankford Chargers’ youth-football facility, adjacent to Harding Middle School in East Frankford] were nice enough to welcome us.”

Roughly 125 players participated in Sunday’s workout, the next-to-last for 2012. Often, Crespina and Johnstone said, the number approached 200.

“We had a pretty strong group from Camden,” Johnstone said, “and even one from Staten Island [N.Y.].”

Now comes this: Thanks to their skill, dedication, academic prowess and character, Chaney and the others have been honored with this can’t-believe-it trip to Canton.

Frankford grad Jahri Evans, a first-magnitude guard for the Saints, is providing the game tickets. The players, accompanied by Crespina, Johnstone, fellow academy instructor Rasheed Muhammad (Frankford assistant), filming whiz Guy Fowler and ex-Pittsburgh Steeler Rian “Goo” Wallace (Pottstown/Temple), will do the transporting in minivans, then serve as chaperones.

Money for the journey — “The kids won’t pay one dime,” Johnstone assured — is being raised via raffles, special events and donations of money/memorabilia from Philly guys in the NFL such as San Diego Chargers running back Curtis “Boonah” Brinkley (West Catholic) and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain (George Washington).

Thanks to Evans and the Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald, a friend of Eagles running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy (also crucial to the cause), the PFSA kids will enjoy meet-and-greet sessions with the pros.

So, how did John Chaney III, whose dad was a starting guard at Frankford (class of ’76), get permission to turn his back on hoops?

“Well, I did play basketball, but I gave it up 2 to 3 years ago,” said the Mount Airy resident. “Compared to football, nothing else matters. I love the contact.

“Once my parents found out I could run and be agile on a football field, they were fine with me playing. My parents and grandpop, they respect my wish to do my own thing.”

Chaney learned he’d been selected for the trip at the July 8 session.

“Coach Keita told me,” he said. “I was surprised, but I know they’ve built good character in me, and I’m grateful for that.

“It’s going to be a great experience. I feel phenomenal about it all. It was wonderful just talking to my family about the fact that I’d been selected.”

Reid, who already boasts a year of starting varsity experience, learned of his selection from Crespina at an offseason workout.

“My dad [John] came to pick me from that and we talked about it all the way home [to Mount Laurel, N.J.],” Reid said. “Guys that he likes in the Hall of Fame. Guys that I like. The same guys we’ve always talked about. To think that now I’ll get to see all this stuff?…?”

Reid is most looking forward to meeting the Cardinals and Saints. With a laugh, he said, “I’ll be asking the d-backs a million questions.”

Crespina said he and Brent Johnstone — his brother, Lance, also of Germantown/Temple, played for 11 seasons in the NFL and now helps to assure former players’ future financial stability — formed PFSA to raise Philly’s football IQ. Beyond that, he wants the players to know what’s required of them as students and human beings. Into the fall, there’ll be sessions for life skills, SAT preparation, etc., in partnership with International Student Athlete Academy. That organization’s vice president, Carlos Bradley, was a star linebacker at Germantown (’77) and Wake Forest, then played for six seasons in the NFL.

Local players heading to Pro Football Hall of Fame are (from left) William Fuller (Roman), Nyeem Thrones (Imhotep), Damon “D.J.” Brinkley (Wood), John Reid (SJ Prep), Renz “Rodeo” Compton (Frankford), John Chaney (Roman), Tim DiGiorgio (Frankford). (Ted Silary/Staff)
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Bradley has made appearances at PFSA, as have Jon Clark (Bartram/Temple/NFL), Kevin Ross (Paulsboro, N.J./Temple/NFL), Central coach Rich Drayton, Imhotep coach Albie Crosby, Washington assistant Keith Kerrin, SJ Prep assistants Jimmy Wick, Mark Shaw, Tim Roken and speed/strength trainer Tony Fulton.

“We have a lot of people helping out,” Crespina said. “That’s what it takes.

We’re so excited about this trip. Our kids are going to see, even meet, all these guys they love and admire. We want them to know the same things are possible for them.”

How to help

The final raffle/fundraising session for PFSA’s upcoming trip will be 6 p.m. Sunday at Jackie’s King of Seafood Sports Bar, 5450 Large St. (right off Cheltenham Avenue) in Frankford. Available will be footballs, hats, T-shirts and posters signed by NFL players LeSean McCoy, Curtis Brinkley, Jamal Cheney and Jameel McClain.