You have to have talent to have a shot at making it in the National Football League.
Anthony Cioffi has talent.
However, the fact that the Oakland Raiders showed interest by signing the Springfield native as a priority undrafted free agent, it was more than talent that has given Cioffi a chance to play in the pros.
“His work ethic and his commitment is what sets Anthony apart from the rest,” said Joe Goerge, who was Anthony’s head coach his first three years at Dayton and who put Cioffi in the starting varsity lineup immediately as a freshman in the fall of 2009.
After the conclusion of the three-day NFL Draft on Saturday, that evening Cioffi got a call from his agent Matt Marino of EMG Sports.
The news was that Oakland felt Cioffi was good enough to have a shot at making it with the Raiders. They faxed over a contract and Cioffi signed on the dotted line.
“I always knew my best bet was with Oakland,” Cioffi said. “They were my top choice.
“I was speaking with them around the middle of the seventh round.”
While the Raiders selected four players in the seventh and final round – Oakland drafted nine players total, including one cornerback and two safeties – the Raiders, obviously, believed Cioffi could add to the mix in its secondary.
“It’s still surreal,” Cioffi said. “It won’t hit me until I get to Oakland.
Cioffi is leaving today for a Rookie Mini Camp that will take place this weekend.
“This is something I’ve dreamed about,” Cioffi said. “All the hard work has given me a great opportunity.
“Oakland is a great fit for me. There are family ties with (assistant coach) Mike Tice.
“I’m very excited and can’t wait to get started.”
It was explained to Cioffi that of the new players the Raiders selected, the odds were in his favor of making the team.
Cioffi was a full-time three-year starter at Rutgers and before that he also cracked the starting lineup as a freshman in 2013.
At 5-11, 205 pounds and with a 40-yard dash time in the 4.3-4.5 range, Cioffi started at cornerback for the Scarlet Knights as a sophomore and then at safety the past two seasons.
Cioffi produced 168 tackles in 47 games, starting 33 of them. He also had two and a half sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and eight interceptions.
“Oakland drafted two safeties, one in the second round (Obi Melifonwu of Connecticut) and one in the seventh (Shalom Luani of Washington State),” Cioffi said.
The Raiders, still guided by head coach Jack Del Rio, produced their first winning season last year since 2002. Oakland placed second in the AFC West at 12-4.
“I grew up a Vikings fan because Mike Tice was the head coach there at the time and he got us sideline tickets,” Cioffi said.
Zygmunt Wilf, owner of the Minnesota Vikings, immigrated to the United States from Europe with his family in the early 1950s and settled in Hillside. He is presently a Springfield resident.
Following a stellar, four-year varsity career at Dayton, Rutgers was the only school that offered Cioffi a scholarship. That was fine with him because Cioffi wanted to play for the Scarlet Knights all along.
“I played for two great coaching staffs (head coaches Kyle Flood and Chris Ash) and was blessed that they took care of me and passed on the knowledge that they did.
“My father and I went to Rutgers games and I fell in love with the atmosphere. They preached family and that was important to me.”
Cioffi’s No. 1 highlight is a sack of former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater during his first game played at cornerback his freshman year.
“Moving into the Big 10 Conference my sophomore year (2014) was also pretty awesome,” Ciioffi said. “The transition period was pretty cool, becoming a part of a bigger conference. It was amazing.”
At Dayton, also playing for head coach Steve Trivino his senior year in 2012, Cioffi led the Bulldogs to the North 2 , Group 1 playoffs his freshman (2009) and sophomore (2010) years, with the Bulldogs going 8-2 and then 9-2, including a home playoff win over Belvidere.
“The preparation that Coach Goerge provided me with was tremendous,” Cioffi said. “I really learned so much about the game from him.
“He was like a father figure to me. It was more than just knowledge of football. It was also of humanity.”
Cioffi cited a 39-12 home win over Brearley his sophomore year in 2010 when he moved from running back to quarterback. He scored multiple touchdowns and rushed for over 300 yards.
Unfortunately in his sophomore year he suffered an arm injury in the Belvidere playoff win and could not play in Dayton’s next playoff game at home against Lincoln of Jersey City, which concluded in a season-ending defeat.
“Yeah, it would have been nice to have played in that game,” Cioffi said.
“I remember telling his dad (Jerry) when I met Anthony back when he was in 6th grade that he was going to be special,” said Goerge, now the head coach at South Brunswick. “Anthony didn’t disappoint at the high schoo level and college level.
Goerge was one of the first people Cioffi called Saturday night. Goerge then spoke with Anthony’’s father Sunday.
“Anthony has matured, developed and distingu9ished himself,” Goerge said. “This year he stepped up as aleader with the new staff.
“His commitment and dedication and leadership qualities are all there. It’s a refreshing thing to see a young guy like him. We need guys like him in the NFL, guys that believe in old fashioned hard work.”
After Rookie Mini Camp this weekend, Cioffi comes home for a week and then leaves again on May 14 to be with Oakland until June 21.
He then comes back home again until reporting to training camp in mid-July.
“To come from a small town like Springfield, Anthony clearly earned everything he achieved,” Goerge said. “Football won’t define him.
“Whatever he does in life he will be fine and he will give everything he has to the Oakland organization.”
A communications-entrepreneurship major at Rutgers, Cioffi said he will have to come back to school next spring to take his final four classes to earn his degree.
“I’m ready to venture off and have this be my profession,” Cioffi said. “I really just can’t wait to get started.”