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Naples Daily News (Florida)


Not long after arriving in Naples from New Jersey, Matthew Sellitto could tell it was a football town.

A member of his college's athletic Hall of Fame as a player and the College Football Hall of Fame as a contributor, Sellitto has spent most his life promoting football.

After seeing the passion for the sport in Southwest Florida, he wanted to do the same in his new home.

Sellitto was the driving force behind the creation of the new Collier County chapter of the National Football Foundation. The NFF, in conjunction with the College Football Hall of Fame, awards scholarships each year to high school football players at its 120 chapters across the country.

The Collier County chapter has its inaugural banquet scheduled for April 16, when one senior player from each of the county's high school football teams will be honored, and one will receive a $1,000 scholarship.

"We want these young men who are doing things the right way to be recognized," Sellitto said. "Too many times we don't recognize the good ones - we give all the press to the bad ones.

"We're going to put 11 young men in tuxedos, give them a dinner in front of their moms and dads, in front of (their schools') administrations and say, 'These kids are being honored because they did what their mothers and fathers told them to do, they did what their teachers told them to do, they did what their coaches told them to do.'"

The NFF was founded in 1947 by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Its goal is to use amateur football to promote academics and citizenship among players. Former NFL quarterback Archie Manning is the current chairman of the organization.

The NFF also founded and runs the College Football Hall of Fame.

In bringing the organization to Collier County, chapter president Sellitto and secretary Tom Stuart met with Collier County Public Schools superintendent Kamela Patton and coordinator of interscholastic athletics Mark Rosenbalm to receive their blessings.

Sellitto also met with the athletic directors of the four non-public schools with football teams to explain the goals of the Collier County chapter.

The football coaches and athletic directors at the 11 schools will pick one nominee from their school.

Nominees are selected based on three criteria - football ability (40 percent), academics (40 percent) and leadership, character and citizenship (20 percent).

"We're talking about recognizing young men for doing good things, for being well-rounded," Stuart said. "Being retired, I'm proud to spend my time helping out young athletes and helping a good cause."

The inaugural banquet is at 6 p.m. April 16 at The Restaurant at Quail Village Golf Club.

The NFF chapter will provide tuxedo rentals for all 11 players to wear to the event.

The Collier County chapter will pick one of the finalists to move on to the NFF's regional competition.

The regional winner gets to attend a dinner in New York City in December as part of the College Football Hall of Fame induction festivities.

After playing guard at Wesley College in Delaware in the mid-1960s, Sellitto went into coaching.

He coached at Millburn High in New Jersey and also was the offensive coordinator at Seton Hall University.

Sellitto has been involved with the NFF since 1970, which he began working with the chapter in Essex County, New Jersey.

In 1995, he started the chapter in nearby Morris County, which now covers 38 schools.

The Morris County chapter provided the seed money to start the chapter in Collier County.

This year's $1,000 scholarship will come from the Matthew C. Sellitto Foundation, named for Sellitto's son who died in the World Trade Center during the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Sellitto said his goal is to be able to provide scholarship money to each school's finalist once the NFF chapter becomes established. He'd also like to expand into Lee County, possibly renaming it the Southwest Florida chapter.

Each year, the NFF chapters give out the Distinguished American Award and the Contribution to Amateur Athletics Awards at their banquets.

Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk will be given the local chapter's inaugural Distinguished American Award.

Rambosk has been sheriff since 2009 after serving 21 years as a police officer and formerly working as Naples City manager.

Charlie Weatherbie, former head coach at Navy, Louisiana-Monroe and Utah State, will receive the Contribution to Amateur Athletics Award at the Collier County banquet.

A Naples resident, Weatherbie is the director of the Southwest Florida Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

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March 6, 2018


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