Back before it was 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, Sacca completed 96 of 176 passes for 1,665 yards and 24 touchdowns in 1987. At the time, the touchdown mark was a single-season South Jersey record. (The current record is 40 by Holy Cross's 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 one the next season and 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. To this day, he is living in Delran; teaching in Willingboro, where he serves as the team's offensive coordinator; and 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 the next year in 1988. The passing craze has continued today.
Yet it was Sacca who was one of the original trailblazers. His place in South Jersey history has long been established, but now we're reminded of his excellence with Sacca's impending induction to the South Jersey Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
The induction ceremony will be June 29 at Masso's Caters in Glassboro. This event is held the night before the Adam Taliaferro Foundation all-star game, which will be held at Rowan.
"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 still resides with his wife and four-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."
And he admits to one day wanting to run a high school program of his own, although Sacca 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."
And the sport helped him earn a college education and a pro salary and, literally, 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."