NFL star will tackle SCCC

Vince Papale became an inspirational figure in his small Pennsylvania hometown in 1976 when he defied all odds by attending an open tryout with the Philadelphia Eagles and making the team at the age of 30. Still the oldest non-placekicker rookie in NFL history, he played four seasons with the Eagles, during which time he was named special teams captain and became the subject of a Hollywood movie.

On Sunday, May 6, Papale will address this year’s Southwest Colorado Community College graduating class as its 2012 commencement keynote speaker, according to a written release from the school. Graduates of PCC’s East and West branch campuses in Durango and Mancos/Cortez will be recognized at the ceremony that will begin at 2 p.m. at Fort Lewis College’s Whalen Gymnasium.

The Disney movie “Invincible,” released in 2006 and starring Mark Wahlberg as Papale, was intended to inspire audiences to live their dreams. Based on the autobiography of the same title that he wrote, Papale said he intends his keynote address to have a similar message.

“I want them to know that this is their invincible moment but that it’s time for them to move on and realize their future dreams,” Papale said recently in a phone interview. “I hope to inspire them to use the spirit within to get to where they want to be.”

PCC President Patty Erjavec said the college is thrilled to have Papale as its speaker.

“I am so pleased that we were able to engage Mr. Papale in helping us to fulfill the ‘PCC Promise’ we make to our students to ‘celebrate your successes,’” she said. “Mr. Papale’s message will be sure to remind our students that, with the right amount of heart, anything is possible! I sincerely appreciate the numerous community partners who have joined us in bringing this incredible individual to the Pueblo Community College commencement.”

Papale’s athletic prowess and motivational attributes were evident in his high school days. A graduate of Interboro High School (1964) in Pennsylvania, he was a three-sport varsity letter winner (football, basketball and track) in his senior year, and he still holds the school’s outdoor pole vault record. But he only played football in his final year at Interboro, and that was because its new head coach then, who had been his mentor in middle school, asked him to come out for the team.

Papale attended St. Joseph’s College from 1964 to 1968 on a full track and field athletic scholarship but never played college football. In his senior year, he captained the track team and was the recipient of the Most Outstanding Senior Athlete award, and he still holds the school’s indoor pole vault record. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing/management science.

After college, Papale was a business education teacher at the middle school level in the Interboro School District from 1968 to 1974 and worked as a part-time bartender. He also served as high school track and field head coach and an assistant football coach.

But Papale left his hometown of Interboro in the spring of 1974 to try out for the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League, even though he hadn’t played organized football since his senior year of high school. He made the team as a wide receiver and played for two seasons for the Bell. Then came his life-changing tryout with the Eagles in 1976. He was voted “Man of the Year” by the Eagles in 1978 for his many charitable activities, but a shoulder injury ended his career in 1979.

After retiring from the Eagles, Papale worked as a TV and radio broadcaster for eight years. He then entered the world of commercial mortgage banking, which led to a position as a Marketing Executive and Special Projects Director for Sallie Mae, a national student financial aid company.

Today, Papale is a father, author and motivational speaker. He also is a colorectal cancer survivor who is often asked to speak in order to raise awareness of cancer prevention. He has served as chairman or co-chairman for various associations including the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans, Spina Bifada Association, Multiple Sclerosis Society and the American Heart Association.

Papale is currently working on another book titled “Invincible Kidz.” He is married to former U.S. World Team gymnast Janet Cantwell, and they are parents to daughter Gabriella, who attends Syracuse University, and son Vincent, who is a senior in high school. They live in Cherry Hills, N.J.