By Harold Raker
— As alluded to in last week's column, another Valley gridder, this one a Shikellamy graduate, has ties to the National Football League.
For those who didn't figure it out, former Braves defensive back Keenan Chesnick, who played at Bloomsburg University until two knee injuries ended his career, is the nephew of former New York Jets and Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini. The latter is now an analyst for ESPN.
Chesnick's mother is Pamela Steffen, brother of Mangini, and his father is Edward Chesnick, both of Northumberland.
His mother and her family are from Hartford, Conn. His mother is the oldest and Mangini the youngest of the siblings.
"My earliest memories come long before he was on TV. I remember him at family events such as Christmas. My biggest memories came from him and my other uncles taking me and my siblings to see movies at the theater," he said. "This was something they always did when they came to visit. I am a huge Star Wars fan and he took me to see Episode 1 when it first came out. I was 11," Chesnick said.
It was primarily his uncle's doing that he fell in love with football.
Although Chesnick can no longer play, he is still involved with the game, and the Huskies team.
"I am a volunteer student assistant, working on video and the defensive backs. Much like my uncle did when he started," Chesnick said.
Chesnick was about 7 when his uncle Eric started working with an NFL team "and even then I remember Sundays being a big deal.
"It was like the world stopped to watch. I really got to know more about him when he worked with the Patriots (he was Bill Belichick's defensive coordinator).
"I got to go to see Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston. He had me with him during media day. I remember during those years getting to be on the field after games and seeing the facilities. This helped cement my love for football," he said.
As a high school player, Chesnick spent preseasons right up until the opening of Shikellamy camp with his uncle at the Jets training camp.
"I was about 15 and traveled there for two to four weeks, only leaving to go back to my high school camp," he said.
Chesnick said he worked as a ball boy, sleeping in the same hotel or dorms as the players. After a few years, he said, he had the same responsibilities as the college interns.
"It was a very big growing-up experience for me because, although my uncle's family was nearby, it was really the first time I ever spent without a parent," he said.
Chesnick said his uncle used to spend those camp nights sleeping in his office and he would meet with him almost every night and discuss what happened during the day.
"He was always a stickler on what I learned that day. He knew I enjoyed reading and would have me read books for him and write a report back to him, knowing they might not be ones he would get to."
He said the books ranged from a biography on Jerry Rice to Sun Tzu's "The Art of War."
Chesnick also occasionally got to sit in on player meetings
"I especially remember sitting in on one with (then quarterback) Chad Pennington and then years later with the Browns, one with Rob Ryan, the defensive coordinator at the time (and now the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator).
"I got to work out for football in their facilities and eat what the players did. I was at training camp when Brett Favre signed with the team and remember seeing him when he arrived at the preseason game and meeting him the next day. The work was tedious but some of the most amazing and rewarding times of my life," he said.
Chesnick said his uncle was always big on learning. "He often advised me on college and life. His biggest thing he always told me was 'study, study, study.' Whether it was for football, school or life. He was a huge fan of quotes and one that has always stuck with me is 'Every day you must choose between the pain of discipline and the pain of regret.'"
He said his uncle always stressed the importance of hard work and how you can make up for your weakness with hard work, no matter what it is you do. "He told me to look at the big picture and have high goals."
Chesnick grew up a Dolphins fan, thanks to his dad, but eventually would just root for whichever team his uncle was with.
Today he is back to rooting for the Dolphins, although, he said, "I would instantly change if he were to find a new team."
Chesnick said his uncle has always been a big role model for him and is the most football-intelligent person he has ever met.
"He would be able to recognize and understand plays faster than anyone I have ever met."
The ex-Brave and Huskies defensive back added that he has always been compared with his uncle, one reason being that he looks a lot like him.
He said, in large part because of his uncle, he wants to pursue a career in coaching after he graduates from Bloomsburg.
"After my injury at Bloom, they offered me a job filming and editing film, without even knowing my dream. I told them since then and my responsibilities have increased.
"I hope to one day use what I have learned and would be honored to follow in his footsteps, or even be half as good a coach as he is," the Bloomsburg University senior added.
n Harold Raker covers high school football. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org