Buccaneers DT Chris Hovan grew as a young man and as a football player under his high school coach, Chuck Kyle
When Chris Hovan played football at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio - before eventually moving on to Boston College, the Minnesota Vikings and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - he dreamed of one day going to the Super Bowl.
Fittingly, the man who helped him develop his NFL-worthy skills at St. Ignatius may be going to the big game this year.
During the 2009 season, NFL players were invited to nominate their former mentors for the league's High School Football Coach of the Year Award. More than 75 players chose to do so, including Hovan, by writing a nomination essay extolling their coaches' virtues. In his essay, Hovan credited St. Ignatius' Chuck Kyle with teaching him to "grow up and be a man both on and off the football field."
Hovan obviously delivered his argument well, because Kyle has been chosen as one of five finalists for this year's award. Since 1995, the NFL's High School Football Coach of the Year award has recognized men who profoundly impacted the athletic and personal development of NFL players. Kyle did just that for Hovan, who has played 10 seasons in the NFL, earned all-pro honors and started 79 of a possible 80 games at defensive tackle since joining the Buccaneers in 2005.
The other four finalists for the award are Albert Fracassa of Brother Rice High School in Fulton, Indiana (nominated by the Green Bay Packers' T.J. Lang); Robert Johnson of Mission Viejo (CA) High School (nominated by Nick Reed of the Seattle Seahawks and Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets); Raul Lara of Long Beach (CA) Polytechnic High School (nominated by the Philadelphia Eagles' DeSean Jackson and Winston Justice); and Craig Walker of Bend (OR) Senior High School (nominated by Ryan Longwell of the Minnesota Vikings).
Each finalist receives a $2,500 cash award and a $5,000 grant for their high school football programs. The winner, announced during the week of January 25, will attend Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida as a guest of the NFL and receive a $5,000 cash award and a $10,000 grant for his high school football program. All grants will be awarded by the NFL Youth Football Fund (YFF).
"Our players come from different backgrounds, regions and life experiences," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "The one thing they all have in common is that they received guidance and learned important life lessons from their high school coaches. These five finalists have dedicated their lives to teaching young players how to become leaders both on and off the field, and we congratulate them and all high school coaches for the roles they play in helping develop the leaders of our game."
Established in 1998 by the NFL and the NFL Players Association, the NFL Youth Football Fund seeks to use football as a catalyst to promote positive youth development, support youth and high school football needs nationwide and also ensure the health of grassroots football in future generations. Through the YFF's youth football initiatives and support programs, youngsters are provided with opportunities to learn the game of football, get physically fit and stay involved in productive after-school activities with adult mentors.
To see a complete list of this year's nominees or for more information on NFL Youth Football Fund initiatives, visit www.nflyff.org
Chris Hovan still dreams of playing in the Super Bowl. With his help, his former high school coach could be in the stands for the big game in just two weeks.