The Pride Of Tobyhanna Heads To Philly
Throughout the storied history of the NFL, players have come from all over the country to entertain football fans on Sundays. Sure, several players arrived from big cities where their abilities were showcased on a regular basis. But at the same time, a large assembly of players managed to make their way out of small towns that few have ever heard of to play professional football.
Take Aliquippa, a small city located outside of Pittsburgh, for example. Once relatively unknown to those outside of the area, Hall of Famer Mike Ditka, as well as current stars like Buccaneers CB Darrelle Revis and Jaguars LB Paul Posluszny, have helped establish Aliquippa as a potential breeding ground for NFL talent with their production on the field.
But what about even smaller towns that are not on the outskirts of a much larger city? Can players create their own paths to the NFL without the help of numerous media outlets attending their Friday night games and getting their names out there?
While typically not as easy, the answer is yes.
Last week, the small town of Tobyhanna, PA — which happens to be this writer’s hometown — received some recognition when the Philadelphia Eagles signed OT Michael Bamiro to a three-year deal.
While the 6-8, 335-pound offensive lineman became the first player from Tobyhanna to ever reach the NFL, it was an honor that almost entirely passed him by.
After attending the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville for one semester (in which he did not play football), Bamiro got the itch to play again and transferred to Stony Brook University.
“Sitting there on campus watching that college season go by gave me a desire to play again,” Bamiro told me via text message. “I felt I had unfinished business on the field.”
According to Stony Brook’s athletics page, Bamiro redshirted in 2009 before starting 10 of 11 games at right tackle and being named as the Seawolves’ Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010. He then started all 13 games at right tackle in 2011 and 2012. Bamiro capped off his 2012 season at Stony Brook by earning first team All-Big South honors and blocking for two 1,000-yard runners for a third straight year.
After being deemed ineligible to play a fourth season at Stony Brook by the NCAA (because they began his eligibility count during his one-semester stay at Pittsburgh), Bamiro applied to take part in the NFL Supplemental Draft. The offensive lineman was refused there too, as he had technically been eligible for April’s NFL Draft.
And so, Bamiro became a free agent and was at the mercy of one of the most difficult fraternities to infiltrate.
To his credit, Bamiro did not allow this unfortunate chain of events deter him from his ultimate goal. Instead, he continued working hard to hone his skills and strived to make his dream of playing in the NFL come true.
He even picked up a few mentors along the way, including former Eagles tackle Tra Thomas, whom Bamiro credits with helping him learn how to better move around in space on the field, especially as a taller player.
All of the hard work would eventually pay off as 22 teams flocked to see Bamiro work out at his pro day, according to NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal. After fielding offers from a few other teams, Bamiro decided in the end to sign with his friend Thomas’ former team in Philly.
“I chose the Eagles because they gave a lot of attention to me and my agent, so it seemed like an easy decision,” Bamiro told me. “I think I can fit well with Chip Kelly’s offense because I think they believe in me, so I'm all in.”
The Eagles hope that Bamiro can help solidify an offensive line that surrendered 48 quarterback sacks in 2012 and provide much needed depth along the line.
Having known Bamiro since our days attending high school together, I know that he will put in the work necessary and do whatever it takes to help his team win games. He is a symbol that hard work and determination can indeed lead to the realization of a dream.
No matter what happens or where he winds up, Bamiro has truly made his family, friends and the small town of Tobyhanna proud.