Camden football coach Dwayne Savage, who guided his community through the trauma of a deadly shooting at a playoff game this season, has been nominated by the Eagles for a national award.

Savage is a finalist for the Don Shula high school coach of the year award, named after the winningest coach in NFL history.

Savage, along with 31 other nominees representing NFL teams, will participate in week-long events in Orlando, Fla., culminating with the 2020 Pro Bowl on Jan. 26.

“I was hoping for Hawaii, but I’ll take Florida,” Savage joked.

The winner will receive $10,000, and his high school football program will be awarded $15,000.

“It’s such a huge honor because I’m such a huge Eagles fan,” Savage said. “That really makes it special for me.”

Savage was honored for his “character and integrity, devotion to serving the community, commitment to player health and safety, and on-field success,” according to a statement from the Eagles.

“Over the past two decades, Dwayne Savage’s dedication to high school football has greatly impacted the lives of his players, their families and the South Jersey community,” Eagles’ director of community relations Julie Hirshey said in a statement. "His ability to get the very best out of his players, both on and off the field, has played an instrumental role in their academic and athletic achievements in college and beyond.

“Dwayne represents everything that is great about high school football, and we are proud to nominate him as our coach of the year.”

Savage was one of eight local coaches honored by the Eagles as coaches of the week. Also honored were Chester’s LaDontay Bell, Upper Merion’s Victor Brown, Northeast’s Phil Gormley, Imhotep’s Nick Lincoln, West Deptford’s Jason Morrell, Kensington’s Steve Quigley and Garnet Valley’s Mike Ricci.

The group was on the field at the Eagles’ Dec. 22 game against Dallas when Savage was announced as the Eagles’ nominee for the national award.

“Guys started shaking my hand, so I knew I won,” Savage said. “I didn’t even know I was on the big board.”

In his eighth season as the Panthers’ head coach, Savage led Camden to an 8-4 record this season and a berth in the Central Jersey Group 2 finals.

Camden was playing at Pleasantville in the sectional semifinals on Nov. 15 when the game was halted in the third quarter by gunfire in the stands. Three people were shot, including 10-year-old Micah Tennant, who died five days later.

The Eagles said Savage was instrumental in working with the NFL team, Pleasantville officials and the NJSIAA to work out a scenario for the resumption of the game on Nov. 20 at Lincoln Financial Field.

Camden completed a 22-0 victory that afternoon but only after Savage had the team bus detour and make a stop for a moment of silence in front of Cooper Medical Center, where Tennant had been pronounced dead earlier in the day.

Camden High School head football coach Dwayne Savage (center) at a prayer service in Camden following the Nov. 15 deadly shooting at a playoff game in Pleasantville.
Camden High School head football coach Dwayne Savage (center) at a prayer service in Camden following the Nov. 15 deadly shooting at a playoff game in Pleasantville.

“Nov. 15. That changed me a lot,” Savage said. “I’m not the same coach, not all that worked up about things on the field anymore. I don’t know if that’s a good thing as far as coaching, but I realize now how much more important other stuff is.”

Savage said he was struck during the aftermath of the shooting by the resiliency of his players.

“That situation, I never thought it would happen,” Savage said. "But to see the kids go through what they went through, playing three games in nine days, making the finals, playing on Turkey Day, it really showed me how resilient they are.

"They worked so hard and played so hard and kept at it. It made me so proud.

“I think as a coach, you see yourself through your kids.”