When the Philadelphia Eagles host their local day on the 17th April, there will be a familiar name on the list of attendees. Back in the 1970’s Vince Papale stole the hearts of the city of brotherly love. His story of making the Eagles roster, at 30 years old, inspired the movie “Invincible”. However, don’t expect Vinny Papale to lean on the family name as he carves his own path to the NFL Draft.
“Obviously I know people are watching me just because of my name, I know that’s going to happen. I’ve never really let my name get the best of me or let people watching me create that pressure. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. It is what is, people are going to know who I am and people are going to know my name, but to me it’s just another chance to go out there, workout, and showcase my skills”.
Introducing Vinny Papale…
Vinny Papale’s path to the draft started as a kid growing up in New Jersey. With a father who was a former NFL player and a mother who had been a member of the USA World Gymnastics team, you could say it was inevitable that Vinny would be drawn to sport. However, it was a pure love for the game of football that grabbed his attention.
“I started at the age of five, so, I was pretty young. Ever since then I had a love for the game and I had the dream of playing in the NFL. I didn’t really know what my Dad had done, I was just drawn to the game and had a love for the game”.
One player in particular caught his eye. As a shorter kid, Vinny found inspiration in an NFL player who overcame his height limitations to succeed at the highest level in the game.
“I guess my idol growing up was Wes Welker. He played for the Patriots when I was younger. He was always someone I looked up to ’cause he was always considered a smaller guy. When I was younger, I was a smaller guy. Not so much anymore! But, yeah, definitely Wes Welker when I was growing up. I definitely modeled my game on him because he was quick, he could go across the middle and make the catch, he’s tough”.
Balling At Bishop…
Vinny took his football talents to Bishop Eustace High School. He also competed in lacrosse and track and field but it was on the football field where he excelled. As a smaller school, he had to play on both sides of the ball. He lined up as a wide receiver on offence then as a defensive back on defence. His play earned him first team all conference honours and a call up to the Blue-Grey All American Game.
“The Blue-Grey Game was really really cool because you get to see how I stacked up against kids across the country. I think the coolest part was being able to play in Tampa Bay Buccaneers football stadium. That was a really cool experience, it made that dream more strong of being able to play in the NFL”.
Vinny also found himself representing the USA in the International Bowl versus Canada.
“There’s nothing like wearing the name of your country across your chest so that was a huge honour to do that…that was down in Texas, and the coolest part about that was I signed my national letter of intent in “Jerry’s World”, Cowboys Stadium. That was a really great experience”.
Building Houses and Character…
Bishop Eustace didn’t just provide a foundation for Vinny’s football career. It began to shape the man that Vinny Papale would grow to be off the field. During his time there, he participated in many charitable concerns that he continues to be actively involved in today.
“My high school was a Christian school, so a lot of it was based around community service, serve other people. I really believe I did that at every chance I could get. One year we went to New Orleans and built a house for a family, helped build a house as we were only there for a week. Even just to do that and still see the damage that was done by the time I got there was pretty crazy to see”.
From Interest to Injury…
Despite receiving plenty of interest from colleges as a defensive back, Vinny was committed to playing wide receiver at the next level. His one opportunity came with an offer from Delaware. He saw action in 2015 as a true freshman but then had his college career derailed by injuries.
“You go in to college thinking that it won’t be as hard as it was I guess, because you were almost a star in high school. The injuries made me feel like I wasn’t that player that I used to be almost. Right when I got there in training camp I developed a stress fracture in my left leg, playing on it during the start of the season. Someone ended up falling on it in a game, and my fibula ended up fully broken. That was frustrating of course. You want to go out there as a freshman and contribute as much as you can and I never felt healthy that entire time”.
“I came back healthy that spring. I had a really good spring ball, lead the receivers I think. Made it through training camp, felt really good and started my sophomore season. We had our struggles for sure, and then in the fifth game of the season maybe I tore my ACL and MCL. That’s one of those injuries where it just knocks it out of you almost. Just to hear someone say you did that is sort of just a shock, and disbelief. At that point, I felt like I hadn’t really played football in two years, and I didn’t see myself as the person I envisioned I was going to be”.
Hitting the Comeback Trail…
After the best part of two years out of the game, Vinny hit the comeback trail. Playing in all 11 games in 2017, he finished his junior year with a 70 yard performance versus Villanova. It was the catalyst to a breakout season in 2018. He snagged six touchdowns and 618 yards as the Delaware Blue Hens reached the FCS post season for the first time in his career.
“Honestly, it was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders ’cause I always saw myself performing at that level. To not be able to those first couple of years, really was, honestly, frustrating. To actually go out there and do it, see it happen, was pretty awesome. There’s no words really to describe it after the previous three years”.
His last game for Delaware would come in the FCS Championship first round. Unfortunately for Vinny and the Blue Hens, they lost out in a close one against James Madison University. As he heads out of college towards the NFL Draft, he reflected on his greatest achievement of his time at Delaware.
“I wouldn’t say it was so much on the field. I mean, on the field stuff obviously is cool, having a good game, but it’s more off the field stuff. Impacting people’s lives. We had a kid on our team, Danny, who was a cancer survivor, he was like a little brother on the team, just to impact his life was a big achievement of mine. To have big games is fun and all but it’s more off the field stuff that will last a lifetime”.
Pro Day, Show Day…
The months between the end of the college football season and the NFL Draft have been spent getting himself in shape for every opportunity that presents itself. The latest opportunity to showcase his talent for the NFL was at the Delaware Pro Day.
“I think it went really well. I’m pretty happy with how I ran my 40 yard dash. I think a lot of the scouts were expecting to run slower and I think I shocked a lot of people with how I ran. I’m definitely excited by how that all unfolded”.
Growing Up Invincible…
With the Eagles local work out once again thrusting the Papale name in to the Philadelphia spotlight, Vinny took some time to talk to me about what the experience of growing up around his father’s story.
“When I was a kid at five years old, I had no idea my Dad played in the NFL. I had no idea of the severity of what had happened, at that age. Even when the movie was being made, I knew it was happening, but again, I didn’t really understand the severity of what was going on until I got older, going in to high school and I was like, OK that was pretty crazy what he did. Then I got to college and I started playing college football and I think that’s when it really hit me. I was playing college football and I realised, wow my Dad didn’t even play college football, that’s pretty insane”.
“When the movie was being made, that was a really cool experience for me. It was made in the summer…most kids went to summer camp and I would just go and watch the movie being filmed and basically spend all the days of the summer watching the movie being filmed”.
Staying Humble And Bringing Passion…
As he moves forward towards the NFL Draft, has his dad had any words of advice and guidance for him?
“I think the biggest thing is, always stay humble. With the whole movie coming out and everything, there was a time for him where everyone knew who he was. It was a pretty crazy time but through that all, and all the attention he got, he stayed humble. I’ve met people from where he grew up, who say he never changed a bit and he sorta passed that on to me. To never change and to always stay humble and treat everyone the same”.
With the family connection to the city, and the Eagles local day coming up, it would be natural to assume that Philadelphia would be a prime landing spot for Vinny Papale. However, he’s here to make his own story.
“Just to even wear the NFL emblem on my chest, no matter what city, anywhere. I’d just love to play in the NFL, it would be surreal to me. I just think if I was to go to any city, I would bring to that city, passion. I think they would see that with how I play on the field. Just to create a spark in that city, just with the way I play and the passion I bring to the game”.
Photo Credit: William Bretzger (The News Journal)
Thanks to Vinny Papale for taking the time to speak to me. Thanks to Case Donahue of The Institute For Athletes for arranging the interview. Finally, to Vince Papale who put us all in contact.