YONKERS, N.Y. – New York Giants defensive lineman Jimmy Kennedy, one of three current Westchester County natives playing the National Football League, joined Somers High School football coach Tony DeMatteo in a visit to Roosevelt High School in Yonkers Thursday where he shared his successful personal story.
“This was something I’ve always wanted to do, but I was unsure of what I would say to kids since I never thought of myself as a role model,” said Kennedy, who was a reserve lineman for the 2011-12 Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Kennedy struggled growing up on the tough Yonkers inner-city streets and was a special education student with academic problems that were difficult to overcome. With the help of DeMatteo, who coached Kennedy at Roosevelt in the mid 1990s and is the all-time winningest coach in Section 1 (Southern New York) football with 292 victories, Kennedy grabbed on to the discipline of football and DeMatteo’s paternal hand, regenerated his academic career and eventually went on to get his degree at Penn State University.
“Jimmy worked hard to get to where he is in life because he wanted to be a success,” DeMatteo said. “He was the best player I ever coached at Roosevelt. He got a scholarship to Penn State and went on to be the No. 12 overall pick in the NFL Draft. But when he showed up at my door so we could train together to prepare him for the NFL, he stood at the door with his diploma his hand and that meant more to me than anything he could achieved in football.”
Kennedy, who had not visited his alma mater since graduating in 1997, was presented with his No. 73 Roosevelt jersey after speaking to an assembly of old teammates, coaches and current players and students.
“I’m really happy I finally came back,” Kennedy said. “My goal was to have the kids think of me as one of them. I saw myself in their faces. I remember being a kid that didn’t have a future. I wanted them to see that a regular guy from Yonkers – if you work hard enough – can achieve a vision.”
Kennedy’s dreams have come true – a college degree, a 10-year professional football career, a Super Bowl ring and a successful business outside of the game.
“I never cared for the fame. I have a lot more to do in life,” Kennedy said. “I have my vision of being successful so my kids won’t have to struggle. And I want to help other kids like me to be successful.”
DeMatteo also spoke to the crowd and professed his motivation for having Kennedy come back to speak to young people.
“For better or worse, athletes are role models,” DeMatteo said. “They have a responsibility to share with young people. Kids don’t always see that they can be successful in life. They watch these guys on television and respect them. Jimmy shared with them and that’s very important for him and for the kids.”