GLASSBORO – For those attending Thursday night’s Adam Taliaferro All-Star football game at Rowan University, Phil Iannella won’t be difficult to locate on the field.
The Pitman High School senior middle linebacker will be distinguishable by his size. It’s not that Iannella is overly huge. If fact just the opposite is true.
Iannella is listed at 5-foot-4, 160 pounds, but he admits to being 5-foot-2 and 140 pounds. He could easily be mistaken for a youth league player, but his abilities and heart far outweigh what he gives up in physical size.
“I love the sport and I love tackling,” said Iannella, who will be a member of the White team. “I don’t think height and weight really matter.”
He relies more on the intangibles of the game to make himself a viable player.
“I’m aggressive and I want to make the play,” Iannella said. “I want to win and I don’t want the other team to score on me. I don’t want the other team to win, so I do what I got to do.
“I was born 5-2, and I’m not going to let this stop me.”
Despite his lack of size, team coaches have been impressed with Iannella since the first day he reported to practice this week.
Rob Cormier, the Bishop Eustace head coach and the White team’s defensive coordinator, says Iannella puts everything he has out on the field.
“What stands out about him is his aggressiveness,” Cormier said. “He works hard and his has a motor. He’s always around the ball. He doesn't play like a 5-4 player. He plays like a football player.”
For his part, Iannella said he has never felt out of place among his bigger counterparts. He has learned that size doesn’t matter much if the game is approached with some mental toughness.
“I think every size and weight has its attributes to help them,” Iannella said. “I think I’ve learned use my size to my advantage, not let their size bring me down.”
He says his approach to the game begins with good conditioning.
“I work hard,” Iannella said. “I’ve got the heart to play every play even if I’m too tired to play. I think I show a lot of grit. I don’t care if a guy is 6-foot-5 or 5-foot-2, just like me. If he wants to battle, we can battle.”
While Iannella is expected to play linebacker in this game, he was quite versatile through the years he played at Pitman.
He has run the ball and played special teams as well as his work on defense. He has even played nose guard.
“The only time they subbed me out was at halftime,” he joked. “You can put me anywhere. I can play anywhere.”
He was not surprised when he got the invitation to play in such a prestigious all-star game.
“I work hard and I have decent stats,” he said. “I think I deserve to play in the game.”
One sad note for Iannella is that his senior season at Pitman proved to be the final time the school will field a varsity football team for at least two years.
With numbers dwindling down to below 20 players at the end of last season coach Chris Thomas decided to begin rebuilding the program by playing a JV schedule.
Iannella supports the decision to try to regroup.
“I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “I think Coach Thomas knows exactly what he’s going. He’s got a plan and he’s executing his plan well.
“I think getting the young guys a little more experience and a little more mature will help them by the time they’re ready to play varsity and get some wins.”
As it stands now Thursday’s game may be Iannella’s final game of organized football.
He has been accepted to study at at Rowan University, but no college has ever contacted him about continuing his football career.
Perhaps a good showing in this game might change some perceptions.