The Eagles honored more than 100 student-athletes, including 15 from South Philly schools, at a ceremony this month.
Shaquille Blackwell of Grays Ferry keeps his mind on the game when he’s on the football field, but makes sure to refocus and work hard in the classroom.
The Falcons’ senior linebacker at Edward Bok High School, 1901 S. Ninth St., was honored at the Eagles Youth Partnership and Philadelphia Futures’ Top Achiever Awards at the NovaCare Complex, One NovaCare Way, May 7.
“It truly means a lot to me,” Blackwell said about earning the award for the second consecutive year. “You have always got to keep sports second behind academics. Playing football will always be last for me because thinking about football all the time won’t get me anywhere.”
Blackwell, four of his teammates and 10 of his peers from Prep Charter High School, 1928 Point Breeze Ave., and South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St., were among 108 honorees spanning 29 schools from across the city who maintained a 3.0 GPA or higher.
“It encourages me to see the number of kids here because they are the top achievers in their classrooms,” Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who graduated high school with a 3.8 GPA before accepting a football scholarship to The University of Alabama, said. “I just wish that the energy that [the student-athletes] have can rub off on their other teammates and classmates.
“I’d like to continue to encourage those kids to keep doing what they’re doing. They don’t know it right now, but they are setting themselves up for the future to be very successful kids.”
Having the fellow linebacker as a guest speaker was special to Blackwell as he is a role model. Although Ryans inspired Blackwell that night, it was Natale that impacted him when times were tough throughout his high school days.
“Natale has stayed hard on me since ninth grade and has helped me since my mom passed away,” the resident of the 2200 block of South 27th Street said. “He would say, ‘Shaq, keep coming to school. Do what you need to do.’”
While the program has occurred each year since 1997, Eagles’ President Don Smolenski, who was among the speakers that also included Insider David Spadaro, General Manager Howie Roseman, Defensive Coordinator Bill Davis, said this year’s group was the largest since the creation of the ceremony, which has averaged about 75 student-athletes in the past.
“This is your moment, you should savor it,” Smolenski said to the crowd of student-athletes.
Representing Prep Charter and Southern, respectively, were sophomore wide receivers Dwayne Brooks and John Adeniran, of Southwest Philly, who both earned the ‘top’ top achievers award as the football player with the highest GPA at their respective schools.
“I’m pretty happy and honored to be here,” Adeniran, who didn’t learn he had topped his teammates until that night, said. “I have always loved football and I have also always been academically successful. I just make sure my grades are really high because the first thing the coaches look at is where your academics are.”
Each of the awardees earned an Eagles Top Achiever Awards certificate, T-shirt, group photo, tour of the Eagles’ locker room and Ryans’ autographed football while the top student-athlete from each team also will be invited to spend a day at the Eagles Training Camp this summer as a VIP.
“It is hard enough to be an athlete, but to be able to get it done in the classroom says it all,” Ryans said. “I wasn’t the best athlete on my football team in high school, but I was the best student-athlete on my team and that is what will set you apart from the rest.”
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