NEW JERSEY BRONCOS KEEP GRIDIRON DREAMS ALIVE
By JENNA HARRISON
“I just got the news, we are ranked number three in the nation on the East Coast!” a beaming Ben Landi exclaimed.
Landi, Head Coach and Owner of the New Jersey Broncos Semi-Professional Football Team, certainly has much to be proud about.
For 40 years, the Broncos have been providing an outlet for players that didn’t have the chance to continue their football career past high school or college and are not ready to hang up their cleats.
Starting in 1974 as a neighborhood team in Bellmawr, NJ, the team has grown from humble roots to a true force to be reckoned with. Coach Landi’s roster boasts 53 players with an incredible range of backgrounds.
“We have players with college football experience to Ivy League grads to lawyers, medical practitioners, and even a judge,” Landi laughed. With players’ ages ranging from 19 to 48, many of the Bronco’s youngest players are drawn from local high schools including Camden, Woodrow Wilson, Pennsauken, Triton, Deptford, Woodbury, and Washington Township (Sewell).
While the team may sound like a motley crew, it is nothing but a unit on the field. Since Landi took over in 1986, the team has won 16 conference and 9 league titles, even making it to the 2000 National Championships vs. the West Texas Drillers.
As members of the Atlantic Coast Football Alliance, the Broncos play by NFL rules, following a schedule playing two eight-game seasons separated by breaks of 2.5 months.
However, for Landi, it is about more than just football. Each game, droves of family and friends young and old come toting coolers, grills, burgers, and hot dogs, ready to watch the family-fun event.
Pop Warner midgets to varsity high school players and coaches stand marveling at the Broncos, continually inspired to keep playing the game they love.
It’s truly a community collaboration at all age and skill levels. For example, sophomore Washington Township High School Varsity footballer Richie Stanzione was the starting running back in 2013.
As he transitions to QB for his Junior year, the Broncos invited Richie to workout with the team to hone his QB skills. This provides him with valuable training in the off-season and gives him a better foundation for the high school coaches who work to refine his skills.
WTHS Coach Mark Wechter says, “Richie’s off-season training in combination with the coaching and strength conditioning our High School Coaching staff provides better prepares him for the diverse offense and defenses he will face under center.”
While Landi admits there are certainly challenges that come with running a semi-professional football team, it is the special camaraderie of the team that keeps him coaching.
The Broncos are also a family affair for Landi – four of his sons have been on the team and his young grandchildren are on the sidelines at every game. Coach Landi preaches the importance of professionalism on and off the field and says once football stops becoming fun, he won’t do it.
However, Landi says the most rewarding part of it all is watching some players with troubled pasts get back on the road to success. For Coach, the message is simple: “I always preach to be better: not just for the football, but about life in general.”