Northeast Times

In Full Bloom

— Irv Sigler, a former Wash­ing­ton foot­ball star, has over­come ad­versity to earn an in­duc­tion in­to the Blooms­burg Foot­ball Hall of Fame.

Irv Sigler, a former play­er for Wash­ing­ton High School, vis­its the high school’s foot­ball. His daugh­ter, Taylor, 5, plays in the back­ground. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Start­Frag­ment

The Heis­man Trophy rep­res­ents the pin­nacle of in­di­vidu­al suc­cess in ma­jor col­lege foot­ball and is one of the most re­cog­niz­able awards in sports. The dis­tin­guished list of re­cip­i­ents in­cludes three Phil­adelphia metro area products, Monsignor Bon­ner’s John Cap­pal­letti, Woo­drow Wilson (N.J.) star Mike Rozi­er, and Over­brook (N.J.) product Ron Dayne.

In its 76-year his­tory, no mem­ber of the Phil­adelphia Pub­lic League has ever taken home col­lege foot­ball’s most coveted prize. Frank­ford’s Blair Thomas was a fi­nal­ist on the 1989 bal­lot after a very pro­duct­ive ca­reer at Penn State, but he lost out to An­dre Ware.

Des­pite the lack of a Heis­man win­ner, the Pub­lic League does have its share of foot­ball suc­cess stor­ies on the col­legi­ate level. Irvin Sigler, a 1994 George Wash­ing­ton High gradu­ate, reached the pin­nacle of in­di­vidu­al suc­cess as a mem­ber of Blooms­burg Uni­versity at the Di­vi­sion II level. In 1997, Sigler was awar­ded the Har­lon Hill Trophy after a re­cord-break­ing seni­or cam­paign for the Huskies.

Dur­ing his ca­reer, Sigler set or tied 29 na­tion­al and school re­cords. He rushed for a com­bined 3,802 yards over his ju­ni­or and seni­or sea­sons and scored 45 touch­downs in that span. He ended his ca­reer as the Pennsylvania State Ath­let­ic Con­fer­ence (PSAC) all-time lead­ing ca­reer rush­er with 5,105 yards. Over his four years, he helped lead Blooms­burg to four con­sec­ut­ive PSAC East­ern Di­vi­sion titles. In win­ning the Har­lon Hill Trophy, Di­vi­sion II’s Heis­man equi­val­ent, Sigler capped off a re­mark­able col­legi­ate ca­reer.

Sigler, a North­east nat­ive, first made a name for him­self on the grid­iron as a mem­ber of the Far North­east Raid­ers youth pound ball team loc­ated at Thornton & Comly Roads in Mill­brook. From there, he moved on to George Wash­ing­ton.

“I kind of had a good repu­ta­tion from youth foot­ball be­fore I stepped on the field as a fresh­man,” Sigler said re­cently dur­ing a phone in­ter­view. He made a good first im­pres­sion on the coaches in all as­pects of his game, ex­cept one. “I ran a ter­rible 40-yard dash time,” Sigler ad­mit­ted. “Thank­fully, the coaches wer­en’t turned off. I like to be meas­ured once we have the pads on.”

Sigler stead­ily moved up the crowded run­ning back depth chart throughout his fresh­man and sopho­more sea­sons. Des­pite his ath­let­ic prowess as a run­ning back, Sigler was not afraid of con­tact and quickly proved to coaches that he could also con­trib­ute on the de­fens­ive side of the ball.

“Wash­ing­ton has al­ways had a good stable of run­ning backs,” he said. “I wanted to get in the game and con­trib­ute wherever I could fit in. If that meant switch­ing to the de­fens­ive side of the ball so I could get on the field, then so be it.”

Head­ing in­to his ju­ni­or year, Sigler was penciled in as a ma­jor con­trib­ut­or, but neither he, nor his coaches, knew ex­actly where he would be lin­ing up. Long­time head coach Ron Co­hen wasn’t afraid to move Sigler around the field from game to game.

“Irv nev­er com­plained when we shuffled him from line­back­er to de­fens­ive end,” Co­hen said. “He was a pleas­ure to coach and he did well in school.” Co­hen later ad­ded, “He’s just a great kid from a great fam­ily.” That fam­ily in­cludes moth­er Al­lis­on and fath­er Ron­ald, a star de­fens­ive end/tight end dur­ing his play­ing days at Ol­ney High.

Sigler’s ju­ni­or sea­son ended with the team cap­tur­ing their second straight Pub­lic League crown, and his brand of foot­ball star­ted to garner some col­legi­ate re­cruit­ing in­terest. At first, the at­ten­tion came from Philly schools like Temple and Vil­lan­ova; however, the most ser­i­ous looks were com­ing from Di­vi­sion II pro­grams. And while he was re­cog­nized at sea­son’s end as an All-Pub­lic choice at run­ning back, Sigler also re­ceived high­er hon­ors as an All-City pick at de­fens­ive end.

“I love con­tact so play­ing de­fense came very nat­ur­al to me,” Sigler said. “But I have to ad­mit, I love the at­ten­tion that comes with car­ry­ing the foot­ball.” Luck­ily for Sigler, the re­cruit­ers liked his of­fens­ive abil­it­ies, and he was re­cruited primar­ily as a run­ning back.

Blooms­burg was Sigler’s even­tu­al choice for a vari­ety of reas­ons, and he made be­liev­ers of the coach­ing staff right out of the gate. As a fresh­man in a lim­ited role, he reeled off some im­press­ive runs, and al­though he felt ready to take on more car­ries earli­er in his ca­reer, Sigler un­der­stood the coaches’ loy­alty to the up­per­class­men in the pro­gram. “I re­spec­ted the time the ju­ni­or and seni­or run­ning backs had put in to make them­selves and the pro­gram bet­ter,” he said.

As a sopho­more, it be­came in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to keep Sigler off the field. He opened his ju­ni­or sea­son as the team’s start­ing tail­back and nev­er looked back, turn­ing heads throughout the coun­try at the Di­vi­sion II level. By the end of his break­out sea­son, Sigler had earned All-Amer­ic­an hon­ors and was already be­ing men­tioned as a pre-sea­son Har­lon Hill can­did­ate.

As Sigler led Blooms­burg to its fourth con­sec­ut­ive PSAC title dur­ing his seni­or sea­son, the NFL began to take no­tice, as the Rams, Bills, Saints and Jets let Sigler know that they were mon­it­or­ing his pro­gress for the up­com­ing draft. However, there was one ma­jor obstacle in the way of his NFL dreams.

“I was picked to play in the Di­vi­sion II All-Star game,” he re­called. “In the week of prac­tices lead­ing up to the game, a make­shift scout­ing com­bine was set up to meas­ure the play­ers speed, strength and agil­ity. I ran a 4.8 (second) 40-yard time (his best re­cor­ded time yet) and I think that scared a lot of teams off.” The NFL draft and cor­res­pond­ing rook­ie free agent sign­ing peri­od came and went without any of­fers. Al­though dis­ap­poin­ted, Sigler kept him­self in peak phys­ic­al con­di­tion and weighed his oth­er pro­fes­sion­al op­tions. “I couldn’t watch NFL games on Sundays,” he con­ceded. “I knew I be­longed out there on the field if someone would only give me a chance.” Des­pite his reti­cence to give up on his dream, he knew it was nearly time to turn the page on foot­ball.

At 27, Irv de­cided that it was time to con­cen­trate on start­ing a ca­reer so that he and his wife, Som­mer, could start a fam­ily. He had earned a busi­ness de­gree with a minor in bio­logy while at Blooms­burg and was now look­ing to use his edu­ca­tion to start the non-foot­ball por­tion of his life…or so he thought.

He was hired by the School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia as a teach­er, but soon found an op­por­tun­ity to get back in­to foot­ball, as Sigler was offered the job as head coach at Thomas Fitz­Si­mons High School in North Phil­adelphia. The pro­gram was just get­ting star­ted and the ad­min­is­tra­tion was look­ing for an en­er­get­ic young coach who could ment­or the kids both on and off the field. Des­pite a lack of ex­per­i­ence, Sigler ac­cep­ted the po­s­i­tion, fondly re­call­ing his own high school coaches, “Coach Co­hen and Coach Mac (as­sist­ant coach John McAneney) ac­ted as in­spir­a­tion­al role mod­els for me. There is a power­ful re­la­tion­ship that forms between coaches and play­ers.”

Sigler en­joyed work­ing with the kids, but mul­tiple con­tro­ver­sies erup­ted dur­ing his in­aug­ur­al sea­son in 2007. The novice coach and his pro­gram were twice in­vest­ig­ated by the dis­trict for us­ing in­eligible play­ers in the sea­son’s first two months, something Sigler vehe­mently denied know­ing about. After the second in­vest­ig­a­tion (the first had res­ul­ted in pla­cing the pro­gram on pro­ba­tion for the rest of the sea­son), Fitz­Si­mons’ sea­son was can­celed and Sigler was ini­tially banned from coach­ing at any school through the 2009-10 school year.

Ul­ti­mately, the school ap­pealed the de­cision and Sigler de­fen­ded him­self be­fore the Pennsylvania In­ter­schol­ast­ic Ath­let­ic As­so­ci­ation (PI­AA) later that year. The PI­AA even­tu­ally re­duced the school’s pun­ish­ment to two years pro­ba­tion, and Sigler was ex­on­er­ated and had his coach­ing priv­ileges fully re­stored. He had planned to re­turn to coach­ing the fol­low­ing sea­son, but in­stead left the school be­cause “the whole epis­ode des­troyed my mo­tiv­a­tion,” he re­called.

Now 35, Sigler is the proud fath­er of three: Irvin III, 8; Taylor, 5; and Ron­ald III, 2. Still liv­ing in the North­east, Sigler hopes once again to work with young people. He still finds his way back to his high school alma ma­ter once or twice a year. His pic­ture is hung prom­in­ently in the school’s weight room with the oth­er stars that helped con­struct the ex­tremely re­spec­ted pro­gram that Co­hen has built at Wash­ing­ton.

Re­cently, Sigler re­ceived some great, un­ex­pec­ted news. Blooms­burg no­ti­fied him that he had been elec­ted in­to the school’s Foot­ball Hall of Fame, and he will be honored at a Nov. 2 in­duc­tion ce­re­mony. “Need­less to say, I was blown away,” Sigler said. “I was un­pre­pared for the hon­or.”

As the in­duc­tion date nears, Sigler finds him­self re­flect­ing on all the people who were in­stru­ment­al in mak­ing him the per­son and play­er that al­lowed him to achieve so much. He re­flec­ted, “I’ve loved my coaches from youth ball through col­lege. They’ve all helped me take ad­vant­age of my op­por­tun­it­ies.” ••

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at jfleming6@msn.com.

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