October 3, 2012

On the sidelines, but on a roll

More news about: St. John Fisher
Bobby Greco has been a football fan since an early age. But his journey to the sidelines at St. John Fisher has been extraordinary.
Greco family photo

Bobby Greco had seen it before -- his offensive linemen weren't rolling their hips correctly on blocks. It was a common, but easily remedied technique issue.

So Greco calmly called his linemen together and explained it to them.

"I said, 'Every time you make a block, think of Happy Gilmore.' You know, Chubbs teaching him, 'When you putt, it's all in the hips.'"

At first, they laughed. But you better believe those hips were rolling from that point on.

Maybe the analogy doesn't come standard in playbooks. But then again, Greco is far from your average football coach.

The 23-year-old Greco, now in his fifth season as a student assistant with St. John Fisher, suffers from a rare congenital disorder called arthrogryposis. The condition, according to WebMD, causes "the development of nonprogressive contractures affecting one or more areas of the body." What this means is that, at birth, all of Greco's joints were locked, and most of them were out of place. 

As he describes it, his hips were locked in an outward position, his legs stuck out "like frog legs," his arms were turned out in such a way that he couldn't bend his elbows, and he had club feet.

Greco underwent 21 surgeries by the time he was 14 years old -- most of them within the first three years of his life -- in an effort to correct these problems. Doctors have been able to get his hips in place, fix his feet and turn his right arm to a point where he can bend it, but Greco is still confined to an electric wheelchair and has only limited movement in both hands.

But the physical handicap doesn't even begin to tell the story of Greco. It's what football has given him, and what he's given back to the game and the players that play it that defines him.

Greco, a native of Geneva, N.Y., grew up a Buffalo Bills fan, just like his father. Sundays weren't complete without the Jim Kelly-led Bills on the TV and his dad, Bob Greco Sr., by his side. Back in the early days, Greco always dreamed of playing in Orchard Park. He was too young to understand his condition would never allow him to walk, let alone play the game he was falling more in love with every day.

Greco Sr., now the lead singer in the Bob Greco Band, was the lead singer in the Buffalo-based party band Nik and The Nice Guys for 18 years. The band played Super Bowl parties and Super Bowl pregame parties for the NFL, among other events. The band also regularly played for various Bills-related functions, be they player parties, charity events or other gatherings.

So when Greco was 5 years old, he got to meet Kelly, his hero and football idol, at one of Kelly's celebrity softball tournaments. Kelly, whose 8-year-old son Hunter died of globoid cell leukodystrophy in 2005, ended up talking to Greco. The minutes seemed like hours to the young Greco, who decided that day that he wanted to be involved in the game of football. If he couldn't play, he knew he wanted to coach. It was that simple.

Therese Forton-Barnes runs an event planning and management company in Buffalo, N.Y. Forton-Barnes, now Greco's manager, met Greco through his father, Bob Greco Sr. Forton-Barnes has set up an online fund to raise money for Greco. To help out, or read more about Greco's condition, visit: http://www.indiegogo.com/BobbyGreco

In eighth grade, Greco got his first chance on the sidelines. Joe Davis, Greco's cousin and in-school aid, was going to be coaching the modified team that fall. He suggested Greco to the varsity coach, who OK'd it. In that first year, Greco was mostly a spectator. Greco paid particular attention to the coaches and their methods. It was at this point, however, that Greco realized he faced an uphill battle.

"Watching all the coaches demonstrate things made me realize I had a lot on my plate, because now I had to find out a new way to figure this stuff out, because I can't demonstrate it," Greco said. "That was a big thing because it's a pretty tough thing, being able to explain everything to the players."

At Geneva High School, Greco helped coach the JV team as a freshman, and then spent his sophomore, junior and senior year working with the varsity offensive line. Geneva won the state championship in Greco's senior year. 

When Greco decided in the spring of his senior year on St. John Fisher, he set up a meeting with coach Paul Vosburgh. Vosburgh, whose son Dave played at East Rochester High School against Greco's Geneva squad, already knew who Greco was. Vosburgh told Greco up front that it wouldn't be easy, but that he'd love to have the aspiring coach on his staff.

Adjusting to the college game wasn't as difficult for Greco as adjusting to college life was. For the first time in his life, Greco was on his own. His father and his mother, JoAnn, weren't there. It was draining.

"Sometimes I say college is the first time I realized I was handicapped," said Greco, who now makes the 45-minute commute from Geneva to Pittsford. "It was tough, but I just fought through it. I'm still [here] and I'm still coaching."

Greco, now in his sixth year at the school, has been forced to take time off at various points when health issues pop up. He's hoping to finish up necessary electives in order to complete his sports management degree and graduate this coming spring. 

Bobby Greco met Jim Kelly at a young age and coaches at his camp now.
Provided photo

Greco's coaching experience at Fisher has largely mirrored his high school days. He spent his freshman year mostly watching and picking up techniques from other coaches. From there, he's risen from helping out the JV squad to coaching the JV offensive line to working with the varsity offensive line. Greco works closely with Fisher assistant head coach/offensive line coach Jim Scacchetti and tackles/tight ends coach Bud Sims.

Over the past two summers, Greco has also coached at the Jim Kelly Football Camp in Buffalo. At the camp, Greco usually works with the offensive line, but two summers ago he was tabbed to coach the quarterbacks.

Greco said he prefers to use analogies whenever possible in coaching. In his mind, it helps him visualize something else, so he can have something to compare it to. It's his goal, he said, to get that same visualization into the players' heads. To do that with virtually no ability to move even your arms might be enough to discourage most people. But comparatively, Greco has overcome much worse in his life.

"When I was born and they kind of figured out what was wrong with me, one doctor actually told my parents they should just put me in a home because I would never talk, I would never show emotions, that I would just sit and be a vegetable my whole life," Greco said. "... Obviously the doctor was wrong."

Greco is a role model for people with and without disabilities. He does what he loves, no matter the cost. When he comes home after summer two-a-days and sores on his legs are bleeding from being in the wheelchair for hours on end, Greco just brushes it off.

"He goes through so much hell to get on that field," Greco Sr. said.

It's hardly ever been easy for Greco, but that doesn't matter. That's why he's met people like Kelly, Dan Marino and Drew Bledsoe over the years. That's why he'll get phone calls from people like Andre Reed and Chris Berman. And it's why there's currently preliminary discussions about a movie based on his life taking place.

Greco is only child that Greco Sr., once a stand-up comedian who lost out on a role in "About Last Night..." to Jim Belushi, and JoAnn, a former RN at Geneva General Hospital, have ever had. The road has been long and difficult. All along, people have told the Grecos what their son can't do. And he continually defies them.

For example, just go ahead and try to play him in Madden. He'll beat with you with just his right pinkie knuckle, according to Greco Sr.

Greco said his dream job is NFL head coach. The odds are stacked against him, but he's made a habit of beating the odds.

"I told Bobby, I said, 'You know, you kind of one-upped me. I always wanted to have a hit album, which is hard to do. And you decided to go after a job that there's only 32 in the whole world,'" Greco Sr. said.

Where Greco goes after Fisher is undecided. He said he'd prefer to coach at the college and, eventually, professional level, as opposed to high school. Vosburgh, who has seen Greco grow as a coach over the last five seasons, has no doubts Greco will make a name for himself.

"I think Bobby will make it because he'll find a way to make it," Vosburgh said. "Being where he is today is amazing."

Delaware Valley not going anywhere

You remember Delaware Valley, don't you? You know, the four-time defending MAC champion? The team that went 11-1 and won a playoff game just a year ago? Doesn't ring a bell? Well, perhaps we wrote the Aggies off too soon.

After a surprising 0-2 start to the season, Delaware Valley has rattled off three straight wins, including a 42-21 thumping of Albright this past weekend. Quarterback Aaron Wilmer was nothing short of exceptional, throwing for 282 yards and a school-record six touchdowns. Wilmer also rushed for 67 yards. If the sophomore can consistently pile up points like this, the Aggies will be nearly impossible to slow down.

Delaware Valley's defense bent, but never broke. The Aggies gave up nearly 400 total yards, but held Albright to 21 points and forced three interceptions. One of Albright's scores came on a fumble returned for a touchdown.

The key to the Aggies' success is Wilmer. In early-season losses to Rowan and Lycoming, both teams were able to, for the most part, rein in the talented sophomore. If he is playing at a consistent level, Delaware Valley is dangerous. One needs only to look to last season for proof of that.

The schedule sets up nicely for Delaware Valley to gain some momentum, with matchups against King's and first-year program Misericordia in the next two weeks. That sets up what essentially becomes a do-or-die three-week stretch against Lebanon Valley, Wilkes and Widener to close the regular season. Don't be surprised if Delaware Valley forces itself back into the playoff picture.

Hobart dominates, but Union looks strong, too

This writer is running out of ways to declare Hobart the team to beat in the Liberty League. At this point, we know the Statesmen are one of the 15, maybe even one of the 10 best teams in the country.

Hobart flexed its muscles in a 61-8 rout of WPI this weekend. Quarterback Nick Strang (309 yards, three TDs) was sharp, while Conner Hartigan, Steven Webb and Bobby Dougherty combined for five scores on the ground. Top to bottom, Hobart's offense dominated the Engineers' defense. But the engine that drives Hobart is its defense.

The Statesmen rank third in the country in total defense (196.8 yards allowed per game) and 19th in scoring defense (12.4 points allowed per game). This is a smothering unit that excels in stopping both the run and pass, almost at an equal rate. WPI stood little chance on Saturday. The Engineers managed just six first downs, 55 rushing yards and a paltry 23 passing yards. Hobart got sacks from dynamic playmakers Devin Worthington and Tyre Coleman. Hobart has made it through the first half of the season unscathed at 5-0, and the second half features three home games. Look for Hobart to make another strong playoff push this season.

If one Liberty League is going to step up and challenge Hobart, it might have Union. The Dutchmen have won two straight after three straight losses to start the season (two of which came by just three points), including this past Saturday's 49-21 win against Springfield.

Springfield might not be a dominant postseason power this season, but it's still a well-respected, well-coached team full of talented players. For Union to notch a 28-point win against the Pride is nothing to scoff at. The Dutchmen's defense was active against Springfield, forcing eight fumbles (five recovered) and an interception. Connor Eck, Union's young quarterback, has had his ups and downs this season, but he made his seven completions count against Springfield (three went for TDs). And the team's rushing attack, led by Darnell Thomas, TJ Franzese and Tim Hersey, was virtually unstoppable. A strong running game is, as they say, a quarterback's best friend.

Union and Hobart don't meet until late October, but it's possible the Liberty League will be on the line when it happens.

Rowan, Cortland State stay perfect in NJAC

I get emails from fans almost every week. The topics always vary, but there's been one common thread in the messages I receive from Rowan supporters -- this team gets no respect. Is that true? Maybe. What I always tell them is, "Keep winning, and the respect will come."

Rowan did just that this past weekend, scoring a 17-3 win against Brockport State, a team that had emerged as a potential NJAC contender. The Profs, behind running back Keith Corcoran's 111 rushing yards and third-quarter touchdown, brought the Golden Eagles down a peg.

Rowan sits at 4-1 overall and a perfect 3-0 in the NJAC with wins against Delaware Valley, William Paterson, Western Connecticut and Brockport to its credit. The Profs' one loss came to Division II Merrimack. The win over Delaware Valley was impressive, no question. The win against Brockport was probably expected at the start of the season, but now stands as a stronger win, considering the Golden Eagles' start.

The wins over William Paterson and Western Connecticut, two lower-tier NJAC teams, were certainly expected. Detractors will point out the WestConn, in particular. Rowan hung on to win only by six points against a team that hasn't tasted victory since Nov. 7, 2009. But this isn't the FBS. Style points don't count. A win is a win. Rowan has Montclair State and Cortland State in its next two games. This writer would expect that, should the Profs win those two, more respect will follow.

Cortland, with its 20-0 shutout win against Montclair State this past Saturday, won its third straight game after a season-opening loss to Buffalo State. The Red Dragons stifled Montclair State, holding the Red Hawks to just nine first downs and 190 yards of total offense. Chris Rose threw for 258 yards and a pair of scores, but the story over Cortland's three wins has been its defense.

The Red Dragons have surrendered just 28 total points over the three wins. That kind of defense is what helps teams win in November and beyond.

Ithaca matches last season's win total

Ithaca improved to 4-0 after defeating Utica 40-22 last Saturday. The Bombers earned win No. 4 on Sept. 29 this season. They didn't see win No. 4 last season until Oct. 29.

No one's going to mistake the Bombers as a national championship contender, but this start is supremely encouraging for a proud program trying to find its way again.

For starters, Ithaca has now scored 40 points in back-to-back wins against conference opponents. For comparison's sake, the Bombers managed to score more than 30 points just twice last season. So, the offense, behind first-year offensive coordinator Ryan Heasley, has already shown marked improvement. Quarterback Phil Neumann has also improved. Neumann completed 25 of his 32 passes for 310 yards and two TDs against Utica. That stands as one of the junior's finest performances to date.

But perhaps the biggest improvement has come in the running game, where the Bombers have, at least so far, re-established their ability to punish teams. Clay Ardoin rushed for 139 yards against Utica. Overall, Ithaca has out-rushed its opponents 781-394 through four games. Last season, the team managed only 947 rushing yards for the entire season.

Ithaca faces Alfred, Buffalo State, St. John Fisher and Salisbury in its next four games, so it's unlikely an 8-0 start is in the future. But things are headed in the right direction.

Top 25: Widener, Rowan move up

Both Widener and Rowan climbed the rankings in this week's D3football.com Top 25 poll following wins over the weekend. Widener jumped one spot from No. 18 to No. 17, while Rowan (No. 25 to No. 23) rose two spots.

Salisbury (No. 7), St. John Fisher (No. 9) and Hobart (No. 12) held steady in the same spots from a week ago.

Ithaca, Brockport State and Alfred each received votes.

Quick hits

Joey Buckley blocked a punt and returned it three yards for a key second-quarter touchdown in Salisbury's 20-7 win against Buffalo State. Salisbury's John Dunbar rushed for 51 yards and connected on a 59-yard scoring pass to Michael Copenhaver in what was otherwise a defensive battle. Buffalo State dropped its second straight game after its shocking upset of then-No. 1 UW-Whitewater. ... Widener needed a late 64-yard interception return for a touchdown by Colin Masterson and a 33-yard field goal by James McFadden in OT to edge Lebanon Valley 40-37. Ameer Sorrell also returned an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter for the Pride, which improved to 5-0 on the season. Leo Kyte threw for 395 yards and a pair of TDs for Lebanon Valley, which undoubted gave Widener its toughest challenge of the season. ... Parker Showers and Craig Needhammer combined for 149 yards and three touchdowns on the ground as Lycoming defeated King's 33-10. Dwight Hentz had 10 tackles and two of the Warriors' six sacks on the day. ... Darius Kinney rushed for 242 yards and two TDs and Christian Bailoni tied a school record with five TD passes in Kean's 51-28 rout of Morrisville State. Kean improved to just 2-2 overall, but 2-0 in the NJAC with games against Western Connecticut and William Paterson coming up. ... Anthony Young caught 10 passes for 122 yards as Frostburg State thwarted a Hartwick rally in a 28-26 win. Frostburg led 28-14 in the fourth quarter, but Hartwick came up short on a two-point conversion in the final minute. ... Calvin Garvin rushed for a career-best 162 yards and two touchdowns as Wilkes piled up a school-record 667 yards of offense in a 37-27 win against FDU-Florham. ... Alex Coviello rushed for 141 yards and three touchdowns in Merchant Marine's 34-31 win against RPI, the team's first Liberty League win of the season. RPI's Mike Hermann threw for 355 yards and three scores in the loss. ... Justin Doniloski piled up 170 yards from scrimmage and three TDs as TCNJ knocked Western Connecticut 55-27. Greg Burns finished with seven tackles and, in the process, became the all-time leading tackler at TCNJ. ... Dean Kennedy threw for 345 yards and one TD and rushed for two more scores in Rochester's 30-20 victory against St. Lawrence. ... German Decena returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown late in the first half to help William Paterson notch a 21-14 win against SUNY-Maritime. ... K.K. Smith collected 234 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in Stevenson's 35-7 win over Misericordia, the team's first of the season and third in program history.

Looking ahead

Though it's only the first week of October, the Empire 8 may be decided when No. 9 St. John Fisher (4-0, 1-0) hosts No. 7 Salisbury (3-1, 1-0) at noon Saturday. This was the case last season when these two teams met, and both remain unbeaten in the Empire 8 so far. This should be a tremendous game.

Can No. 12 Hobart (5-0, 2-0) be challenged by a Liberty League team this year? The Statesmen will likely get their stiffest competition when they host Springfield (3-2, 1-1) at noon Saturday. Springfield is coming off a loss to Union, but is capable of at least hanging with Hobart.

No. 23 Rowan (4-1, 3-0) will look to stay undefeated in NJAC play when it travels to Montclair State (2-3, 2-1) for a 1 p.m. game Saturday. Montclair State has been inconsistent this season, and is coming off a loss to Cortland State. Rowan, at this point, looks like the favorite in the NJAC.

Other games of note: Cortland State (3-1, 3-0) at TCNJ (2-2, 1-1), noon, Saturday; Ithaca (4-0, 2-0) at Alfred (2-1, 1-0), 1 p.m., Saturday

Contact me

I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me atandrew.lovell@d3sports.com. You can also follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell), and be sure to get involved in the discussions on the Around the East thread on the message board.

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Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is an associate news editor for ESPN.com and a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has contributed freelance work to ESPN Rise and has been a regular contributor to D3football.com since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing. A native of Hyde Park, N.Y., Andrew currently resides in New Britain. 

2006-10 columnist: Adam Samrov 

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