Northeast Times

Believe it

Thanks to a dedicated mom and a supportive community, Lincoln’s Cody Kettyle recently played in the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl in Dallas.

  • A mother’s love: When Abraham Lincoln senior offensive lineman Cody Kettyle (left) was invited to participate in the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl in Dallas, his mother, Susan Friedman, underwent aggressive fundraising efforts to go to Texas with her son. Here, they are pictured inside AT&T Stadium after the Dec. 22 game. PHOTO COURTESY OF CODY KETTYLE

  • A mother’s love: When Abraham Lincoln senior offensive lineman Cody Kettyle (left) was invited to participate in the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl in Dallas, his mother, Susan Friedman, underwent aggressive fundraising efforts to go to Texas with her son. Here, they are pictured inside AT&T Stadium after the Dec. 22 game. PHOTO COURTESY OF CODY KETTYLE

Susan Fried­man rattled off the names of the cit­ies and states, each one farther away and more un­touch­able than the one that pre­ceded it.

Ken­tucky. Mis­souri. Omaha. Ok­lahoma. Texas. Cali­for­nia. Wash­ing­ton. Hawaii …

These loc­ales, and many more across the na­tion, sent high school foot­ball play­ers to par­ti­cip­ate in the Blue-Grey All-Amer­ic­an Bowl, played on Dec. 22 at AT&T Sta­di­um, a sprawl­ing, massive cathed­ral that is home to the NFL’s Dal­las Cow­boys.

In the middle of that field host­ing some of the na­tion’s top high school foot­ball play­ers was Fried­man’s only son, Cody Kettyle, a 6-foot-4, 320-pound seni­or of­fens­ive line­man at Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln. For Kettyle — the only play­er from Pennsylvania on the East team’s roster — get­ting to play in such an elite in­vit­a­tion-only event is a ma­jor achieve­ment in and of it­self, but one that was per­haps over­shad­owed by the ac­tions of a de­term­ined moth­er and a sup­port­ive com­munity who fought tooth and nail to get him there.

“When I got that en­vel­ope with the in­vit­a­tion, I didn’t know how to act, or if it was even true,” Kettyle said in the liv­ing room of his Holmes­burg home dur­ing a Thursday even­ing con­ver­sa­tion. “I called my mom at work and she was ec­stat­ic. But of course after you read you’re chosen, you have to look at the price sheet. I was happy and couldn’t get over how ex­cited I was, and then we had to start plan­ning to fig­ure out how to make it hap­pen.”

Let’s re­wind first, to ex­am­ine how this all happened.

Kettyle said some­time last winter, a Lin­coln coun­selor dropped off an en­vel­ope con­tain­ing an in­vite to a Blue-Grey com­bine workout at the No­va­Care Com­plex in South Phil­adelphia. Kettyle worked out with oth­er in­ter­ested play­ers, mostly from the Mid-At­lantic, and did well enough to earn an in­vit­a­tion to a “su­per com­bine” in Mas­sachu­setts in June. When he heard noth­ing by Septem­ber, Kettyle figured he had missed the cut. But then around the third week of Oc­to­ber, an en­vel­ope ar­rived at his house.

“It said that out of 7,000 kids who tried out, I had been chosen to go play in the Dal­las Cow­boys’ $1.4 bil­lion sta­di­um,” he said.

Un­for­tu­nately, it wasn’t an all-ex­penses paid in­vite, so now came the obstacle of fig­ur­ing out how to come up with the money to get Cody and Susan to Texas. Fried­man, with a moth­er’s love fuel­ing her am­bi­tion, began a grass­roots fun­drais­ing cam­paign, so­li­cit­ing loc­al busi­nesses for dona­tions either on foot or via email and the tele­phone. T-shirts and loom brace­lets were made for sale, and Kettyle brought big boxes of candy to sell to Lin­coln stu­dents, where, “I think I did $30 of candy sales the first day,” he said with a laugh.

A late-Novem­ber fun­draiser at Le­neghan’s Cru­sader Inn brought in about $1,700, mainly through dona­tions that were raffled off (the Eagles donated an auto­graphed hel­met with the sig­na­tures of two dozen play­ers) and more T-shirt and brace­let sales. The event drew roughly 80 sup­port­ers, with more than half of them be­ing people Kettyle had nev­er met. Between that, plus the dona­tions from fam­ily mem­bers and loc­al busi­nesses, Kettyle and Fried­man had come close to hit­ting their tar­get of $3,500. The fam­ily is still pro­cessing the com­munity’s kind­ness, which Fried­man called “over­whelm­ing.”

“I be­came very de­term­ined, more than I ever thought I could be­come,” Fried­man said. “But the sup­port we got, I was totally blown away. I was taken aback that these people were ac­tu­ally call­ing me back. I think they could sense my de­term­in­a­tion, and most people helped, no ques­tions asked. I can’t even fathom it.”

With the ne­ces­sary funds in hand, Kettyle and Fried­man caught a Dec. 19 flight to Dal­las. The week­end was a whirl­wind, as both the East and West teams had just two prac­tices to­geth­er be­fore Sunday even­ing’s game. Former NFL play­ers ac­ted as coaches for each side, and Kettyle and Fried­man quickly made friends with fam­il­ies from as far away as Texas and Cali­for­nia.

They were treated like pro­fes­sion­al play­ers, with everything from us­ing the ac­tu­al lock­ers be­long­ing to the Cow­boys and run­ning onto the field while a siz­able crowd cheered them on.

The game it­self was a mixed bag, at least in terms of the score. Kettyle’s East squad fell to the West, 41-7, but this game and this week­end meant much more than just who won and lost. Rather, it was more about a cel­eb­ra­tion of these play­ers’ jour­neys to get there, and learn­ing more about each oth­er in the short time they were to­geth­er. Kettyle said he earned a new­found re­spect for how ser­i­ously foot­ball is treated in Texas, where, “It’s more of a re­li­gion than a game,” he said, as well as for­ging new re­la­tion­ships he hopes will be ever­last­ing with the help of so­cial me­dia.

“It was the best week­end of my life,” Kettyle said. “There’s noth­ing like it, and I will nev­er, ever for­get. Noth­ing will be able to com­pare to this ex­per­i­ence. All the prac­tices, the hard work, the in­jur­ies … it all paid off in that one let­ter I got in­vit­ing me to this game. On the plane down there I just wanted it to be Sunday so I could play, but once it comes and goes, you just want to re­live it all over again.”

And des­pite be­ing a left guard all sea­son for Lin­coln, Kettyle’s coaches asked him to play out of po­s­i­tion at right tackle; while it may have taken Kettyle out of his own com­fort zone, he agreed to the switch right away when he real­ized it was what the team needed to have the best chance.

“Cody has this say­ing he likes, from (ex-Bal­timore Ravens line­back­er) Ray Lewis, that says, ‘Do it for the man next to you,’ ” Fried­man said. “He knew coaches would be watch­ing him and that might not be his best po­s­i­tion. That’s tak­ing one for the man next to you, so that his team could have a com­plete of­fens­ive line. I’m just a very proud mom.”

Kettyle him­self said his fa­vor­ite two parts of the week­end were hanging out with his new coast-to-coast friends dur­ing down­time at the hotel, just get­ting to know each oth­er, as well as a cer­tain play in the game where he knocked down a rush­ing de­fens­ive end, who in turn fell in­to an­oth­er West play­er, knock­ing them both over and giv­ing the quar­ter­back a chance to gain yard­age.

“I knocked two guys down on one play … I was pretty happy about that,” he said with a laugh. “It’s al­ways nice to come back home where you’re most com­fort­able, but if I could go back there now I’d be on the next plane.”

The trip strengthened an already tight bond between Kettyle and Fried­man, and they proved that they could get through any­thing to­geth­er so long as they had each oth­er’s backs. To make mat­ters even more dif­fi­cult in the weeks lead­ing up to the trip, Kettyle’s ma­ter­nal grand­fath­er, Ber­ill Fried­man, who was Cody’s most fer­vent sup­port­er next to his moth­er, passed away in Flor­ida on Nov. 26. The fun­draiser was on Nov. 22.

“I talked to him every day, and be­fore he passed away, he heard that we had raised enough money and that I was go­ing to Dal­las,” Kettyle said. “He knew I was go­ing, which is all I could ask for.”

“The night be­fore he died, Cody got an ac­cept­ance let­ter from Towson Uni­versity in Mary­land,” Fried­man said through tears. “It was the last thing I ever got to tell my fath­er, and then he left us.”

Now that this once-in-a-life­time ex­per­i­ence is be­hind him, Kettyle is de­term­ined to fo­cus on his school­work and not get dia­gnosed with a case of “seni­or-it­is.” An hon­ors stu­dent at Lin­coln, Kettyle is tak­ing five ad­vanced place­ment courses, boasts a 3.9 GPA and is ranked 10th in his class. He’s hop­ing that his play in the Blue-Grey game will open some pre­vi­ously un­fore­seen col­legi­ate op­por­tun­it­ies, but if not, head­ing to Towson in the fall could be on the dock­et. No mat­ter what hap­pens, Kettyle knows he’ll be some­where, in large part due to hard work in the classroom and on the foot­ball field, as well as the un­equi­voc­al sup­port of his mom and the sup­port­ive com­munity she ral­lied on her back.

“I think it was more shock than any­thing,” Kettyle said. “Every­one was in con­stant sup­port mode. Nobody told me it was out of reach or that I couldn’t do it. See­ing every­one there to back me up and not put me down made me want it even more. It was just one big fam­ily in the com­munity that I nev­er knew I had com­ing out to help me. They told me they would do whatever it took to get me there, and they did.”

“It was the fur­thest dream I could think of, re­ly­ing on oth­ers to get him there,” an ex­tremely grate­ful Fried­man said. “I didn’t even think there was a speck of a thought at the time, and I told one of the moms from Texas that I had met that I didn’t know if we could do it. When we got to Dal­las, I sat in the hotel with her and I told her, ‘I can’t be­lieve we made it. We got here.’ ”

And they got there the same way they’ve al­ways got­ten any­where: to­geth­er. ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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