Pennacchia receives prestigious football honor

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At 5-foot-11 and weighing 185 pounds, Johnston High School’s Evan Pennacchia appears to have the make-up of an average high school football player in Rhode Island.

For starters, the 18-year-old son of Albert and Shae Pennacchia ranks among the top scholar student-athletes who made up the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s gridiron group during the 2017 season.

Pennacchia, in fact, landed a prestigious berth on the Rhode Island Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame’s prestigious Silver Dozen list and was honored during the Emo DiNitto-named football non-profit’s 30th Annual Awards Dinner at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick.

In keeping with tradition, the DiNitto Football Chapter selects 12 scholar student-athletes in two categories – Golden Dozen and Silver Dozen – then holds an impressive Black Tie Dinner to honor those schoolboys for their outstanding work in the classroom and on the gridiron.

Two players are selected as the overall top scholar-athletes in the state, and thus receive the DiNitto Chapter’s $1,000 scholarship awards. Burrillville High’s Jason Stankoski and Central’s Demetrius O’Connor took home those prestigious prizes at the dinner.

They also received a plaque, presented by Tom Centore, a former All-State quarterback at Johnston High School, who enjoyed near unmatched success on the Panthers’ gridiron during the early 1980s.

Centore, who is now the highly-respected head football coach at Cranston East and serves as the DiNitto Chapter’s president, starred for the Panthers under the tutelage of his legendary father, Tony Centore, who today still lends his expertise to the Thunderbolts’ program.

As for Pennacchia, his route to a place on the Silver Dozen is probably totally different than anyone on the list.

Back in 2011, he made the RI Pre-Teen Football League’s All-Star team and was headed for new heights.

However, he sustained a severe concussion and was told he would never again be able to play football – or any sport for that matter.

“He was obviously devastated,” Albert Pennacchia related about that time. “After five years of being (concussion) symptom free, he came to us and said he doesn’t want his football career to end the way it did and that he wanted to play again.”

Pennacchia had two years of eligibility remaining at JHS, so his parents enlisted the opinions of not one, but two noted neurologists to see if Evan could, in fact, get back to the football field.

“He went through lots and lots of testing,” Albert Pennacchia remembers. “Finally, he was cleared to resume playing football.”

And Pennaccchia, people like JHS Head Football Coach Joe Acciardo will attest, made the most of what once seemed like an impossible accomplishment.

“From about middle school on, Evan thought he was finished with football because of the concussion status,” Acciardo said. “In his junior year, he asked again and was cleared to play. He proved to be one of the hardest working and most dedicated team players we had.”

Moreover, as the veteran head coach wanted people in Pantherland to know, “He made the starting lineup in his fist season back and was voted team captain in his senior year. That doesn’t happen too often, so that goes to show you the respect he earned from his peers. Evan will be a success no matter what career path he chooses, because he’s not afraid to sacrifice and outwork the next guy.”

Thus, Evan Pennacchia played his junior and senior seasons at JHS and enjoyed success in both campaigns. He played wide receiver, linebacker and defensive line, and now is throwing the discus and hammer for the Panthers’ track and field team.

He’s a four-year Honor Student on Cherry Hill, where he also plays the drums in the school’s award-winning jazz band that recently receive an “Excellent” rating at the nationally-acclaimed Music in the Parks Festival in Williamsburg, Virginia. Evan also volunteers with J-DAPA (Johnston Dance & Performing Arts). He’s also a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society.

In September, Pennacchia will begin another journey; he’ll enroll at the Community College of Rhode Island, and later tackle another prestigious program by enrolling in the University of Rhode Island’s nationally-renowned College of Engineering.

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