I won’t ever forget the impression Tony left on me as a young man. This event took place back in 2003, at the time Tony was attending Eastern Illinois and had just won the Walter Payton award. I saw him throwing the football and he just looked really really good (of course) but we were building our team for the Paradise Bowl which we held in St. George, Utah. I reached out to his coach and we got him into the game as 1 of 3 Quarterbacks we brought to play on the east side. He wore #17 during the game which looking back now is something I won’t ever forget seeing him play in, especially with the significance of that number in the Eastern Illinois Hall of Fame.
At the Paradise Bowl we had a week of practice, the game, and then the banquet. Tony did something after the banquet that has stuck with me to this day and in the moment, it told me a lot about Tony’s character. During that entire week I had spent time getting to know Tony’s father who was a really cool guy from Burlington, Wisconsin, super easy to talk to. He was so proud of Tony and grateful that he had the opportunity to come prove himself against some of the best in the nation. Well after the banquet, Tony came up to me and put his hand out to shake my hand.. and he then thanked me for the way I treated his father during that week. I love that he placed value on those interactions and really showed me where his priorities were at.
Tony was a guy who wanted to distinguish himself from others, and he did a really good job at doing so. The Paradise Bowl served as additional resume information for his career. We had 28 of the 32 NFL teams attend that game, including the Dallas Cowboys.
2003 Paradise Bowl Roster-