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Dave Spadaro; Photo courtesy Philadelphia Eagles

At roughly 5 pm on Sunday, Sept. 24, two celebrations of the same event played out in distinctly different ways. Corey Clement, a 22-year-old running back in his first season for the Philadelphia Eagles, regaled reporters who approached his locker at Lincoln Financial Field with stories of growing up in nearby Glassboro, of driving past the stadium as a kid and dreaming of playing there one day.

Meanwhile, the coaching staff and the players at Glassboro High School had just come off the practice field as they prepared for their game a few days later. Word spread quickly that Clement, a 2013 graduate who ran for a South Jersey-record 6,245 yards at Glassboro, had scored on a 15-yard touchdown run for the Eagles in an epic 27-24 victory over the New York Giants.

In the locker room, Clement played it cool and talked about how it was “just another step toward proving that I belong in the NFL,” while the kids and coaches at Glassboro went crazy.

“Corey scored! Corey scored! That’s pretty much what everyone was saying,” says Greg Maccarone, a long-time member of Glassboro’s coaching staff. “Word spread quickly. Practice was over, and we were getting texts and the news was out that Corey scored a touchdown.”

“Everybody knows Corey. Everybody loves Corey. I cannot tell you how much pride and happiness we all felt. Everyone was watching the replays on our phones on YouTube, and it was like, ‘Yup, that’s our Corey.’”

This is a story of how a local kid came back as a young man and “done good.” After his highlight-reel career at Glassboro High School that included a South Jersey Group 1 Football Championship, Clement played at the University of Wisconsin and became one of the greatest runners there. Clement rushed for 3,902 yards and scored 36 touchdowns and, surely, with numbers like that, a long and prosperous NFL career waited.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Watson/WISN-TV

Clement went through the pre-draft process – all the interviews, all the testing, all the poking around his life on and off the field. And he was confident that his name would be called at some point during the three-day, seven-round NFL draft. Clement hosted family and friends at his home for a barbeque waiting for the moment. He would hear his name broadcast to millions of NFL fans watching. He would see his name scrolled across the bottom of the big screen.

A kid who grew up as a Dallas Cowboys’ fan (sshhhhh, nobody is supposed to know that…but in fairness he says he declared himself a Cowboys’ fan to “tease my dad and my family, just to have fun with it”) would find out soon where he would actually be paid to play football.

In the NFL.

For real.

Except it didn’t happen. Nobody called his name.

“Yeah, it was real disappointing,” Clement said in May after the Eagles signed him to a rookie free-agency contract with no guarantees and no security at all. “I hoped to hear my name. That was something that was important to me, but it didn’t happen, so I have to keep my head up and work hard and create my own opportunity.”

“We felt at the time,” says Maccarone, whose brother Mark was Clement’s head coach at Glassboro, where he remains the head coach, “that the Eagles were the perfect spot for him. They didn’t have what you would call a marquee running back. So Corey signing with the Eagles turned out to be a blessing for him. He was going to get a fair chance.”

The path to making an NFL roster is a difficult one, indeed. Teams are limited in their practice time to one padded practice per day in training camp as well as a walkthrough, where the players literally walk through the plays. For a player not drafted, it’s hard to make an impression with the limited on-field time.

So the best way is to play 100 miles per hour and then make the coaches sit up in their chairs and notice you when they watch tape of each practice and the four preseason games. And then maybe – just maybe – the team will have the guts to keep you, say, over a drafted player or a veteran who has a presence in the locker room and who has actually done something in an NFL game.

Clement showed up on tape, all right. And Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley, who played for seven seasons in Philadelphia and ranks fifth in franchise history with 4,807 ground yards, took notice.

Clement with his Glassboro High School assistant coach Greg Maccarone and head coach Mark Maccarone

“Right away, Corey had the vision you like. He had some power, and he could get to the edge,” Staley says. “He had a lot to learn, but he picked things up quickly. He came in here, and he worked his butt off. Nothing was given to him. He earned everything, and believe me, we threw a lot at him.”

“It wasn’t just playing running back for him,” he adds. “He went there on special teams, kick coverage, and he busted it. He beat other guys out. He won his roster spot.”

And then you know what Clement did when the regular season started? He ran down FedEx Field on a perfectly gorgeous late-summer day and he crashed through a wedge of Washington Redskins blockers and made the tackle on the game’s opening kickoff. It was a picture-perfect tackle.

The high school football star from Glassboro had arrived.

“Here’s the thing,” Clement says, “making it to the NFL is one thing. Staying here is another. So I know I have a lot of work to do. This is just the beginning for me. I’m loving every minute of it.”

Clement commutes over the Walt Whitman Bridge every day from his South Jersey home, and he glances over at Lincoln Financial Field, just as he did those times when he was a kid. But the feeling is totally different now, right? Clement is an Eagle. He’s in the NFL. That stadium is his work office.

“That kid is special,” Maccarone says. “When we got him as a freshman at Glassboro, we had heard about what kind of player he was. He actually played quarterback in eighth grade (Clement said he started his youth football career as an offensive lineman, too) and we thought we had a good player. We saw right away that he was going to be very good.”

“By the time he was a sophomore, Corey was special. So seeing this now isn’t a surprise to us. He’s going to work for everything he gets. He will never forget where he comes from. He’s one of us. I love him. He’s the kind of kid you would want your daughter to marry. I don’t think I can give higher praise than that.”

November 2017
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