By Miguel Gonzalez
Students gathered in the Mayo Concert Hall for the College Union Board’s night with Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl Champions Rick Lovato and Kamu Grugier-Hill on Thursday, March 29.
Lovato, a long snapper, and Grugier-Hill, a linebacker, discussed their journey from high school to the National Football League, as well as their experience playing in Minneapolis on professional football’s grandest stage — the Super Bowl.
Lovato, who hails from Middletown, New Jersey and played for Middletown South High School, was happy to be back in the Garden State. He was recruited by Old Dominion University on a half scholarship and became an All-American by his sophomore year. As an upperclassmen at Old Dominion, Lovato dreamed about competing in the NFL.
“Ever since I was a kid, all I wanted to do was play in the NFL,” Lovato said. “I watch all these teams. My whole entire family was Giant fans. Seeing all the good players out there, I wanted to be just like them. By the time I was a senior, I got my degree.”
After graduating with a degree in exercise science, Lovato was signed by the Chicago Bears. However, he was cut before the season began and ended up working at his father’s business, Joyce’s Subs and Pizza in Lincroft, New Jersey, before he received an offer from the Green Bay Packers.
“I was like, ‘What do I do with myself?’” Lovato said. “I don’t know if any opportunities were going to come to the pros. I sat 16 weeks working out and working at the sub shop everyday until I finally got the call to the Green Bay Packers.”
Lovato then spoke about his experience competing at training camp and earning the job with Green Bay.
“There were a lot of older free agents — guys better than me, but (the Packers) believed I could do the job,” Lovato said. “It was an incredible opportunity. I got to meet people who I still talk to, to this very day.”
After he was cut by both the Packers and the Washington Redskins, Lovato found consistent playing time with the Philadelphia Eagles, and eventually helped the team win Super Bowl LII.
“Who could imagine?” Lovato said. “I’ve always dreamed about winning the Super Bowl ever since I was a kid. It’s absolutely insane where life takes you. I really appreciate the journey that I had and getting the opportunity to be up here.”
Grugier-Hill’s journey to the Super Bowl proved to be just as miraculous as Lovato’s rise to the top. Grugier-Hill, who hails from Papakolea, Hawaii, emphasized his family’s love for soccer and his fortunate opportunity to play football at Eastern Illinois University.
“My family is a big soccer family, especially to this day,” Grugier-Hill said. “I originally wanted to be a professional soccer player. I didn’t start on the (high school) football team until senior year. My only offer was Eastern Illinois. I got in because of my best friend. The head coach said ‘Hey is there anyone else that can play?’”
Lovato mentioned that he played at Lions Stadium for Middletown South High School. Lovato competed at the 2009 New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Central Group Three championship game, in which Middletown South High School lost to Monroe High School, 30-10, in 2009, according to NJ.com.
“You know it’s insane,” Lovato said. “I’m from Middletown South High School. I played at TCNJ’s field during my junior year when we lost the state championship game to Monroe. It’s so cool to be able to represent all your places and represent all of New Jersey.”
Grugier-Hill and Lovato had different goals in mind when the big game arrived.
Grugier-Hill, who was cut by the New England Patriots before he was picked up by the Eagles, sought revenge.
“I really wanted to win because I hate them now,” Grugier-Hill said. “For me, that was pretty personal.”
Lovato felt lucky to compete against the Patriots instead of the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Super Bowl.
“Imagine if we played the Jaguars. No one would be talking about us,” Lovato said. “The fact that we beat the Patriots, beat the best in the business, beat Tom Brady, is absolutely crazy to be able to say.”
Lovato then recalled his cherishing moment when the Eagles officially won the Super Bowl.
“We were crying,” Lovato said. “We just won the game. It was like a Hail Mary. I was like, wait, we won? Everyone was sprinting around. I started bawling my eyes out. You just think about what you went through to get to that point. It’s so difficult to make it to that game.”
Grugier-Hill underscored the Eagles’ resilient attitude for its Super Bowl victory.
“We were just one group all together,” Grugier-Hill said. “We knew what we had to do. When someone got hurt, we didn’t flinch. When Carson was down, we still pushed through. It was an unspoken rule — put our heads down and keep grinding.”
While Lovato agreed with Grugier-Hill, he also pointed out the influence of veteran players.
“It was important to have guys with Super Bowl experience like Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long,” Lovato said. “They can tell us guys who don’t have experience what it’s like.”
Lovato then recalled his preferred method that helped him stay relaxed for the big game.
“I watch ‘The Office’ just to see Dwight and Jim, and certain episodes that were my favorites. That literally calms me down so much,” he said.
Jayson Moelli, a freshman history and political science double major, was surprised to hear about Lovato’s surprisingly relatable strategy for remaining calm.
“It was exciting to meet them in person,” Moelli said. “It’s really cool seeing how they’re like us, especially with watching ‘The Office’ before the big game.”
Lovato then capped off the conversation by emphasizing how significant the Super Bowl victory was for the city of Philadelphia.
“I remember seeing a post of some guy whose wife just passed and brought her ashes to the parade,” Lovato said. “This is people’s livelihoods — cheering for the people and for the city. It was a surreal experience, just to see the love around the whole city.”