Paul Napoli, Class of 2008, proves it's never too late to find your passion; that life lessons learned in football pay huge dividends; and that inspiring your three younger brothers is more about humility than being the best
Q: How does a freshman saxophonist playing in the marching band at halftime become a starting left tackle?
A: You trust the advice of people you like and respect. JT Turner was my freshman basketball coach. He was a great guy who had these terrific stories about his professional football playing days and his life. One day, Coach Turner told three of us that we would really love playing football for him and we should give it a try, so we came out as Sophomores. The other two guys didn't stick it out “I was hooked."
Q: Did success for you in football come fast?
A: No. I never played so it was tough at first; learning the game and the roles and responsibilities of each position. I was in great shape and big but it took practicing with the freshman and varsity scout team the whole year before it clicked. Football, like life, takes determination and I was determined to be a starter.
Q: Your first year of football Westwood won a State Championship, was that a memorable experience?
A: It was a great learning experience and thrill being in Giants Stadium when we beat PV. But my most memorable experience was a play that basically ruined our chances to win States my senior year. Late against Englewood, we ran Counter Right, one of our best plays. I was pulling and when I came through the hole no linebacker showed so I turned up field for a safety. James "JT" Taylor was behind me -- I knew it by the cheers coming from the fans. Then, I heard a "POP" and a scream. JT blew out his ACL.
Q: How was such a horrible play memorable?
A: Well, when you lose an All State player it isn't memorable - it's catastrophic - but I thought it was my fault, that the linebacker I didn't see had gotten to him. But JT, Coaches Turner and Straub and then the game film told me that I did my job - JT cutback on that crappy Ketler Field and it just happened. I suppose, knowing this validated that I made the right decision to trust Coach Turner and leave the marching band.
Q: You mentioned determination, what other life lessons did football teach you?
A: Teamwork. I used this exact analogy when I interviewed for my current job. In football you work over and over with your position coaches, then other positions merge, and then you work to execute as one unit. This happens in life and the workplace everyday. You need to work well with others, know your role and know how that role fits into the big picture - this is teamwork and football teaches it everyday.
Q: So, why TCNJ? Why college football? And why Civil Engineering?
A: With a 3.9 GPA I had options but TCNJ is a highly accredited Engineering School and is reasonably priced. With three college bound brothers coming up I couldn't bankrupt my folks - it was the right decision. I played football at TCNJ because I didn't have enough of it in high school. I was a role player and even though an injury sidelined me senior year when I was starting, I contributed by mentoring my back-up and healed for some late season playing time - it was a great experience with relationships I'll keep for life. I have always been fascinated with how cities and bridges are built. Historically, civil engineers are hired in bad economies which is evidenced by me landing a great job in a firm that's helping rebuild New Jersey.
Q: You graduated in 2008, AJ was '09, Chris was '12, and your brother Nick is class of 2014. Four boys, one family, each making their own mark as Cardinals - who is the best player?
A: Chris is the most athletic by far. The dedication he put into what he did on the field his senior year was amazing. I'm pumped that he has playing years ahead of him to finish what I started at TCNJ. AJ was a solid receiver who also had a key role on special teams. Nick is becoming quite a two-way lineman; wrestling has toughened him up and since none of us Napolis won States our senior year, he better get it done!