Back before it was in vogue to be throwing the ball all over the field in high school football, Tony Sacca was ahead of his time.
During his senior year at Delran in 1987, Sacca completed 96 of 176 passes for 1,665 yards and 24 touchdowns. At the time, the touchdown mark was a single-season South Jersey record. (The current record is 40 by Holy Cross' Jason Amer in 1999.)
Sacca also led Delran to an 11-0 record and the school's first South Jersey Group 2 title.
Sacca became a four-year starter at Penn State, where he threw for 5,869 yards and 41 touchdowns, and he was drafted in the second round by the Phoenix (now Arizona) Cardinals and was with the team in 1992 and 1993. He threw only 11 passes in 1992 and didn't attempt any the next season; he later played two seasons with the Barcelona Dragons of the World League of American Football.
So football took Sacca to quite a few locales, but he never abandoned his roots. He is living in Delran and teaching in Willingboro, where he serves as the team's offensive coordinator, and he still enjoys his association with the game.
After Sacca, the passing gates flew open with the likes of Glenn Foley of Cherry Hill East and Al Mallen of Holy Spirit, both of whom were 2,000-yard passers in 1988. The passing craze has continued to this day.
Yet it was Sacca who was one of the trailblazers. His place in South Jersey history has long been established, but now we're reminded of his excellence with his impending induction into the South Jersey Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
The induction ceremony will be June 29 at Masso's in Glassboro. The event is held the night before the Adam Taliaferro Foundation all-star game, which will be held at Rowan University.
"It was around that era when it wasn't such a stretch to throw the football 20-25 times a game," Sacca said. "And what helped me is I had great receivers such as John Ellison and a coach [Jim Donoghue] who played quarterback in college."
Ellison would earn a scholarship to Michigan, and Donoghue, who had quarterbacked at Syracuse, was able to teach the intricacies of the passing game.
And Sacca was a willing pupil.
He was also among the more impressive athletes in South Jersey history. In addition to being The Inquirer's South Jersey player of the year in football, Sacca was an all-South Jersey basketball player and a first baseman and pitcher in baseball. He won South Jersey championships in all three sports at Delran.
Sacca will always be associated with the town of Delran, where he lives with his wife and 4-year-old son.
"We enjoyed it so much in Delran growing up and going to high school there," Sacca said. "It's a great place."
Sacca became a starter as a true freshman at Penn State. With all he has accomplished in the game, this latest honor has caught him slightly off guard.
"It's a humbling experience anytime you get an award like this," he said. "It is an exciting event and means a lot to the Adam Taliaferro Foundation."
It also means a lot to still be associated with the game. After Sacca finished playing football, he was a business owner for nine years before turning toward teaching.
"It's great, and if I had to do it over again, I would have gotten into high school teaching and coaching after playing," he said. "I just love doing it."
He admits to one day wanting to run a high school program of his own, although he says he is in no hurry.
"I really enjoy being an offensive coordinator, but at some point I'd like to be a head coach," he said. "I do realize that being a head coach is a year-round job."
Not everybody gets to set a goal at a young age and then achieve it, but Sacca always saw a future for himself in football.
"From the time I was a young kid, I always wanted to be a football player, even though I really liked basketball and baseball," he said. "But I always felt I could be a football player."
The sport helped him earn a college education and a pro salary and to travel the world.
"I feel so fortunate to have been able to travel, to play in college and a couple of years in the NFL," Sacca said. "It was a tremendous thing to go through and to be a football player, so to speak."
The South Jersey Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame's Class of 2011 will be inducted during a banquet at
6 p.m. June 29 at Masso's in Glassboro.
Among the inductees will be Bruce Lazaruk (high school coach), formerly of Hammonton, Rancocas Valley, and Riverside; Bryan McKinnie of Woodbury High and the Minnesota Vikings (named as the pro active player); and Tony Sacca of Delran (pro inactive player).
The post-playoff legend inductee will be Mike Koerner (Washington Township), who won two NCAA baseball championships at LSU, and the pre-playoff legend inductee will be Wilbur Fennal, who starred at Clayton before playing at Montana State.
Former Inquirer South Jersey player of the year Adam Taliaferro of Eastern will be inducted as a player and for achievement, with the success of the Adam Taliaferro Foundation.
Paul Mauriello, longtime assistant at Overbrook, Edgewood (now Winslow Township), and Timber Creek, will be the assistant coach inductee. Kathy Moscufo, a founding member of the Adam Taliaferro Foundation, will be inducted for distinguished service.
Tickets for the banquet are $30 and may be obtained by calling 856-582-0212. The banquet precedes the Adam Taliaferro Football Classic, which will be played at 7 p.m. June 30 at Rowan University.
- Marc Narducci