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Rowan player to meet man whose life he helped save

Rowan senior defensive end Matt Hoffman has been recognized as one of the top Division III players in the country, but the greatest statistic he compiled had nothing to do with football.

Rowan senior defensive end Matt Hoffman has been recognized as one of the top Division III players in the country, but the greatest statistic he compiled had nothing to do with football.

For all the sacks, tackles for loss, and forced fumbles that the lineman has generated, there is no greater statistic than this: lives saved - one.

On the same night he will be with the other three finalists for the announcement of the Division III player of the year award, Hoffman will meet the man who received the blood stem cells that he donated through the National Marrow Donor Program.

Warren Sallach, 59, was suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma before the donation, which occurred on Nov. 16, 2009.

Hoffman, who had 211/2 tackles for loss, 81/2 sacks, and 65 tackles this season for the 9-1 Profs, will attend the banquet in Salem, Va., on Thursday, where the Gagliardi Trophy will be presented.

According to Rowan University, the Gagliardi Trophy is presented annually to a Division III student-athlete who excels in three areas - football, academics, and campus/community service. Besides his football and several community-service projects, Hoffman carries a 3.237 grade-point average as a health and exercise science major.

The other finalists for the Gagliardi Trophy are senior quarterbacks - Kyle Ray of Franklin College in Indiana, Ben McLaughlin of Louisiana College, and Eric Watt of Trine University in Indiana.

As it turns out, Hoffman will get to meet the man he helped, as Sallach; his wife, Becky; and their 9-year-old son, Travis, will travel from their home in Brenham, Texas, for what promises to be an emotional gathering.

Warren Sallach and Hoffman spoke by phone for the first time on Dec. 7.

"It was awkward on my part, and he handled it rather well," Sallach said in a phone interview, discussing his conversation with Hoffman. "When a guy comes and saves your life, thank you doesn't cover it, and I stumbled along, and he kind of carried me along in the conversation."

Hoffman spoke with Warren and then his wife for about an hour-and-a-half. During the conversation, Hoffman told them that he was attending the award ceremony in Salem and in passing invited the Sallachs to come as well.

"I didn't think they would be able to come, but when he said he was checking the flights and then told me he'd be there, I was really excited," Hoffman said.

A graduate of Burlington Township, Hoffman signed up for the National Marrow Donor Program's Be the Match Registry during the football team's "Get in the Game Save a Life" drive in the spring of 2009.

The national bone-marrow registration program was started by Villanova football coach Andy Talley in 2008. Talley has been encouraging players and others to register since 1993. He said 29 college football teams participate in the spring, with players from each team encouraging people to come to bone-marrow testing.

"It includes a simple cheek swab and takes 20 seconds to do, and you fill out paperwork and you are on the donor list from the age of 18 until 61," Talley said.

The test costs $100, and Talley said the Be The Match Foundation donates about $500,000 to the program to have people tested.

Last season, Talley won the Division I Football Championship Subdivision national title, and this year the Wildcats are in the semifinals, where they visit Eastern Washington on Friday.

More impressive, Talley said that over the years four Villanova players have saved lives through bone-marrow donation. The most recent was senior Matt Szczur, who donated peripheral blood cells to a 19-month-old patient he never met.

The donor rules prohibit contact between the donor and the recipient for at least a year.

"I found out the girl is doing better, and it's awesome to be able to be part of something like this," said Szczur, a Lower Cape May graduate who was drafted in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball draft and signed with the Chicago Cubs, who allowed him to return to Villanova and finish his senior year on the football team.

Szczur hasn't met Hoffman but feels a kinship with a fellow donor.

Hoffman missed the final game of his junior year, against the College of New Jersey, because of his duties as a donor.

"It's unbelievable for him to do something like that," Szczur said.

The magnitude of his act hit home after Becky Sallach expressed her deep gratitude.

"She said that I gave her son more time to spend with his father," Hoffman recalled. "That was a powerful statement, and to touch somebody that much is a good feeling."

Rowan coach Jay Accorsi said Hoffman eagerly accepted the challenge when he found out he was a match to be a donor.

"He said, 'Coach, I have to do this,' " Accorsi said. "It shows what a special young man he is."

Warren Sallach said he was feeling better, but he is still working on regaining his strength. The 6-foot-2 Sallach said he went from 170 to 120 pounds from November 2009 to May 2010. Since then he has gradually been gaining weight and now weighs 142 pounds.

"I can't say I'm getting better daily, but it's pretty darn close," he said.

Hoffman says he has a dream of playing professional football and will participate in a few combines, where players pay to be scouted. He is also scheduled to graduate this spring, finishing his education in four years.

If football doesn't work out, he hopes to attend graduate school and receive a master's degree in nutrition. Hoffman said he'd like to work either as a personal trainer, a nutritionist, or a strength and conditioning coach, and possibly also pursue coaching.

For now he's going to enjoy attending the awards banquet that runs in conjunction with Saturday's Division III championship game. And, of course, he is very eager to meet the man for whom he proved to be a perfect match.