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The Pro Athlete Next Door
Eagles players call South Jersey home, even after retiring
By Dave Spadaro

Trent Cole spent 10 seasons as a defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles, hunting quarterbacks with a ferocity rarely seen. His desire to be great helped him grow from an undersized player with speed off the snap of the football to a sturdy 270-pounder who finished his career second in franchise history at taking down opposing quarterbacks.

And almost every day when he packed his shoulder pads away, tucked his cleats and hung his helmet in his locker at the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia, he would drive his truck across the Walt Whitman Bridge and find some way, any way, to get outside and do what he really loved to do.

“Give me a chance to do some hunting, and I’m in heaven,” says Cole, who on Christmas Day prior to the Eagles’ game against the Oakland Raiders officially retired as an Eagle, ending a wonderful 12-year NFL career. “When I was drafted here I looked for a place to live and wanted to get as far away from the city as possible. South Jersey was, and always will be, perfect for me. I’m an outdoorsman, and South Jersey is a sportsman’s paradise. It is awesome here.”

Cole is one of dozens of former Eagles who dot the landscape in South Jersey, a movement that began way back in the late 1960s with players like wide receiver Ben Hawkins giving up the bright lights and party life in Philadelphia for a gentler approach to living in South Jersey. There wasn’t a whole lot of development in South Jersey then, but the presence of the Cherry Hill Mall and the growth of community neighborhoods attracted players who didn’t want to deal with all the hustle and bustle of the city.

“I lived in the city for three years, and I enjoyed it there. Honestly, I saw that from some guys who lived in Jersey, it was easier to get from Jersey to Philadelphia than it was to get to Philadelphia from Philadelphia. It was faster to get from Cherry Hill to Veterans Stadium than it was to get from The Towers on Delaware Avenue to the Vet,” says former Eagles wide receiver Harold Carmichael, who joined the Eagles in 1971. “That’s one of the reasons I moved. Ben was one of the first, and I would go see him and I loved it. I lived in Camden, then in Cherry Hill. I moved down near the casinos when I worked there and finally to Glassboro.”

“South Jersey has everything I need, and it’s easy to get into the city if I want to go there for some reason. But I prefer a quieter life. Don’t get me wrong, I love Philadelphia, but I always liked South Jersey. I grew up in Florida and I always liked trees, and there are just more of them on the other side of the bridge than in Philadelphia. And living in the Philadelphia suburbs, it was just too tough with all the traffic. We always called it PhillyJersey.”

Carmichael has been instrumental in facilitating the flow of former players to South Jersey. As the Eagles’ director of player development from 1998 through 2014, long after his playing days ended, he would help players find the right fit for living. Neighborhoods in South Jersey were first stops.

“New Jersey was the first place I was shown when I was a rookie,” says former linebacker Ike Reese, who played with the Eagles from 1998-2004, finished his NFL career in Atlanta and then moved back to South Jersey after his playing days ended. Reese has lived in Maple Shade, Voorhees, Sicklerville and is now in Clarksboro in East Greenwich Township.

Former linebacker Ike Reese lives in Clarksboro

“Harold was in charge of the Player Development Program, and he took me and [former linebacker] Jeremiah Trotter around, and we both just really liked New Jersey. I grew up in a city and had been down that road before, so I wanted to do something different. I saw it and loved it. I moved there, and I’ve never moved back,” says Reese.

Jason Avant played eight seasons as a wide receiver with the Eagles and then finished his career with Carolina and Kansas City. But he kept his home in South Jersey and returned once he was finished his NFL career in 2015, opened a trampoline park business in Deptford and is here for the long haul.

Avant grew up in Chicago and played football at the University of Michigan. He could have retired in either place. But the South Jersey/Philadelphia region, Deptford specifically, called in more ways than one.

“I love the community, and it’s close to the stadium and the city and, of course, the fans. The people here have always been so supportive and great to me throughout my career,” Avant says.

“I knew that because of the Eagles and the career that I had here, I would have opportunities here that I wouldn’t have in other places. I could have gone back to the University of Michigan or Chicago, where I grew up, but I just felt like this area was more family for us.”

“South Jersey is a great place to raise children,” he continues. “It has a suburban feel and community. It’s not very far from the beach, it’s not very far from the city, it’s not far from New York and it’s not far from Washington, D.C. The location is unique, and that variety is very important to us. It’s worked out perfectly.”

So that big guy you see in the convenience store, the one who looks familiar but … you … can’t … quite …? It’s probably him, even if he isn’t wearing a numbered jersey and a helmet with Eagles wings any longer. From the 1960s to now, as South Jersey grows, so does the community of former Eagles who are raising generations of family who call “that place across the bridge” home.

“It’s funny, because when I played and I would go somewhere, to the mall or wherever, I would get recognized by my face and it was cool. The people have always been so nice,” Reese says. “Now I’m a little older. People kind of look at me, and I can tell they’re thinking, ‘Don’t I know you?’ Then I speak, and it all comes together” (Reese has a uniquely gravelly voice on the radio).

“It’s taken some time to get used to, but that’s fine with me,” Reese adds. “These people are all my neighbors, and I love them.”

 

February 2018
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