Marco Battaglia’s legacy at Rutgers University, Piscataway, N.J., is well known among the college football community.
And now, that legacy will be on prominent display at the university’s newly renovated football complex.
The Marco Battaglia Football Practice Complex was officially dedicated Aug. 6 and opened just in time for the start of the Big Ten football team’s training camp.
The complex features two new grass fields with enhanced drainage and irrigation, an LED lighting system, new field goal posts, two permanent film towers, a 3,000-square-foot storage unit, a new video board, two new scoreboards and six game clocks.
Battaglia’s ties to the Diocese of Brooklyn run deep. He grew up in St. Helen’s parish, Howard Beach, and played his youth football with the New York City Lynvets Sports Association.
He went on to St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows, where in addition to playing wide receiver and free safety on the football team, he manned first base on the baseball team and power forward on the basketball team.
Battaglia’s mom, Maria, could tell football was in her son’s future after having conversations with Marco’s coach, the late legend Vince O’Connor.
“Coach O’Connor just adored him, and I adored Coach O’Connor of course,” said Maria, who was a member of the St. Helen’s choir for 27 years. “He was such a special person.”
With O’Connor guiding the way, Battaglia excelled on the gridiron for the L’il Terriers. As a junior, he amassed 31 receptions for 542 yds. and six touchdowns, which earned him a berth on the All-City team. The next season, he was voted CHSFL Player of the Year after compiling nine interceptions and three fumble recoveries as a free safety. His teams won back-to-back CHSFL city titles in 1989 and 1990.
When it came time to choose a college, Maria recalls that her son received letters of interest from 50 colleges nationwide. Marco, a 1991 Prep graduate, wanted to stay close to home, so Rutgers was the perfect fit.
He enjoyed a stellar college career that included being named the first-ever consensus First-Team All-American in Scarlet Knights’ program history in 1995. As a tight end, he caught 69 passes for 894 yds. and 10 touchdowns and was also named Big East Offensive Player of the Year that season.
When his college career concluded, Battaglia ranked first in the Rutgers’ record book amongst tight ends in reception yards (2,221), receptions (171), touchdowns (16) and 100-yd. games (seven). Years later, Sports Illustrated would name him as the top college football tight end on the All-Decade Team of the 1990s.
Each step of the way, Marco’s mom was by his side. She was a member of the Rutgers football women’s group and was a regular at Scarlet Knights’ games.
“I was very involved in Rutgers,” she said. “It’s just a beautiful school. They did so much good for my son. They really did.”
Battaglia was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals with the 39th overall pick in the 1996 NFL draft. He went on to play eight professional seasons and was a member of the Super Bowl winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers team in 2002. Since she worked for the Belgian airline Sabena, Maria was able to attend Marco’s games all over the country.
After he retired, Battaglia settled at Our Lady of Hope parish, Middle Village, and began working in the Rutgers’ athletic department. He is currently an assistant athletic director for development.
Though he has received plenty of recognition for his football achievements – including inductions into the Rutgers Hall of Fame and St. Francis Prep’s Ring of Honor – having a facility named after him is quite the accomplishment.
The dedication came about due to a $5 million donation from Jeff and Amy Towers, who chose to honor the former All-American tight end for his contributions to the Scarlet Knights community. It was the largest private donation in the history of Rutgers athletics.
Each day when current and future Rutgers football players see the name “Marco Battaglia” on their practice facility, they will be inspired to follow Battaglia’s track record of excellence on and off the football field.
Adding to the excitement for the Battaglia family, Marco is set to fulfill a promise he made to his mother back when he signed with the Bengals: earn his college degree. He will be graduating from Rutgers next year.
Maria said she is so grateful that God blessed her with a son like Marco and that she is so proud of him for receiving this honor from Rutgers.
As the Scarlet Knights take the field this fall, they’ll be looking to the example Battaglia set during his playing days to guide them toward excellence.
We have St. Francis Prep to thank for setting that excellence in motion.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.