While the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons get ready for the Super Bowl, the other 30 NFL teams are preparing for next season. Clubs look to improve through free agency and trades but most franchises sink or swim based on how well they evaluate college talent. The first few rounds of the NFL Draft are usually pretty predictable. It’s those hidden gems that are discovered late in the draft that often put teams over the top. The crown jewel this year may be located in the Garden State.
Anthony Cioffi started at Rutgers University for almost all of his four years with the program. Playing in the secondary, this ball hawk was a true play maker. His stats were gaudy as he registered 168 career tackles and intercepted eight passes. Cioffi had some big time highlight reel plays, too. The 6-foot, 203-pounder worked hard on the field to get to where he is now. He’s put in the effort in the gym and at practice. But what seems to fuel him the most, is a close knit family that has been behind him every step of the way.
Faith, family, food, and football. That’s the best way to sum up the make up of Cioffii. A Christian athlete who savors every moment he spends on the gridiron. “It’s a blessing to be in that spot,” Cioffi told sarahpalin.com. “Not many people can say they started four years and contributed. The four years went by way too fast. It was a very exciting journey.”
It’s a journey that Cioffi hopes is far from over. After starring on Saturdays, Cioffi’s next stop, if things go as planned, will feature lots of busy Sundays. “”That is the goal,” Cioffi said. “We are taking the initial steps to begin the next chapter as we’re calling it.” Notice the use of ‘We’. It’s no mistake. For Cioffi, a career in the NFL would not just belong to him but to his entire support system–La Familia.
“I do it for my family because they really pushed me to be the best I could be, not only in football but in life as well,” Cioffi said. “Having my parents, grandparents, cousins, and aunts and uncles there is huge. You look in the stands and when you see everybody it gives you that extra push. That’s something I really wanted to keep with me.”
Cioffi had that family fan base throughout his college days because he chose to take his talents to Piscataway, New Jersey. The home of the Scarlet Knights is only a little over a half hour from Cioffi’s hometown of Springfield. So, the entire Cioffi clan got to witness much of the defensive back’s tenure with Rutgers.
Cioffi’s looks back at his time at RU fondly. Along with a slew of personal accomplishments, the team participated in two bowl games, beat Michigan, and played in some of the most iconic venues in all of sports. “”It was surreal”, Cioffi said. “There were 104,000 fans there when we played at Penn State. Michigan and Ohio State were incredible places to visit. You felt like the field was shaking on big third down plays.” Now, he’s looking to shake up the NFL and instead of Wolverines and Buckeyes Cioffi yearns to tangle with Lions and Browns.
The victory over Michigan was the best team moment for Cioffi at Rutgers. But it always comes back to family with him. “Having my little cousins at home games was incredible,” he said. Usually those little cousins and other family members of all ages and sizes, were decked out in #31 jerseys rooting on their Anthony. He made them proud.
The NFL hopeful is not the only Anthony Cioffi. The Rutgers star’s grandfather shares his name–and while the younger Cioffi certainly admires fellow football players like Harrison Smith, Eric Weddle, and Kam Chancellor, it’s his family patriarch that tops his list of real heroes.
“He’s a tremendous individual,” Cioffi said. “He’s as selfless as it gets. He’ll be carrying big boxes, fixing things, going back and forth to and from the deli. I want to model myself after him as I get older because he’s such a strong man.”
There’s no question how the older Cioffi acquired that strength. It was through something his grandson knows a thing or two about–hard work. “Coming from Italy at 18, it wasn’t easy. I give him all the credit in the world. Forget about football. That was life and it hit him real hard at a young age.”
Cioffi’s grandfather arrived in the States with no money nor a place to stay. He didn’t look for hand outs, however. Instead he busted his back and made things happen. Along the way he used some creativity, too. The legal immigrant moved in to a room upstairs from a pizza parlor after he told the owner he could make pizza. He couldn’t. But he learned fast. He went on to work in the food business, eventually opening up his own family-run deli. The place has thrived ever since.
“He’s been out to seek the American dream from the moment he touched the U.S.,” Cioffi said. President Trump talks about making America great again. You could say it was men like Cioffi’s grandfather who made America great all those years ago.
The deli Cioffi mentions is the iconic Cioffi’s in Springfield, New Jersey. The family business has been serving pro golfers, other athletes, and regular folks in Union County for three generations. Cioffi’s uncle, Joey Cioffi, a former Monmouth University football player, also owns and operates other restaurants and eateries in the same area. The faith, family, food, and football theme is unmistakable.
Besides his grandfather, Cioffi is also inspired by his father and the heavenly Father. Tim Tebow may wear his Christianity on his sleeve, but Cioffi wears it on his arm. A tattoo of Cioffi’s favorite Bible verse is emblazoned there. The words ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ stuck with him through the years. Cioffi’s dad would read Phillippians 4:13 to him. It taught Cioffi to trust in Him. Now when things get tough on or off the field, Cioffi can simply look at his own arm for God’s word. Of course, thanks to his dad he’s known those words by heart since he was a little boy.
A product of Jonathan Dayton Regional High School before his Rutgers days, Cioffi has the speed, size, and athletic ability to compete at the next level. His nose for the ball however may be the trait that catapults him into the pros. He is seemingly almost always in the right spot at the right time. In fact, his favorite play during his time at Rutgers featured a turnover. Cioffi harkens back to 2013 when he sacked and stripped then Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. That forced fumble tops Cioffi’s top plays list because he believes the play helped “jumpstart a successful career”. Now he’s looking to join Bridgewater in the NFL. The signal caller happens to play for Cioffi’s favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings.
The other thing about Cioffi that should turn some NFL heads is his durability. He played in 47 of 48 contests at Rutgers. That’s saying something considering the mammoth wide outs and bruising backs he had to face week in and week out in the Big 10. So the question becomes, what’s not to like?
The guy can run. He makes tackles. He is a ball hawk’s ball hawk. In a league with so many teams depleted in the secondary, Anthony Cioffi would be a fine addition to any squad. His character, work ethic, and family values should only make him all the more appealing.
Tom Brady was selected in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. In a matter of days, the future Hall of Famer will be gunning for his fifth Super Bowl ring. The Patriots gobbling up Brady with the 199th selection will go down as the biggest heist in NFL Draft history. There’s another potential steal waiting for his chance in this year’s draft. Like Brady, he’s also out of the Big 10. He’s the grandson of immigrants and the son of supportive, loving parents. For years he’s watched his hard working family bring joy to so many through the food they serve at their dining establishments. Now, will the NFL place an order? Try the #31. It’s Anthony Cioffi–and he is ready.