Service Knights: A Different Kind of Win

Service Knights: A Different Kind of Win

Volunteer program connects Rutgers football players with the community

Service Knights
Antonio Zuniga, 4, gets a visit from Rutgers Service Knights friends, from left, Zach Allen, Travis Vokolek, Myles Nash, Jerome Washington, Hunter Hayek, Zack Heeman and Zach Venesky, during his stay at Saint Peter's University Hospital.
Photo: Almier McCoy/Rutgers University

“I have to be grateful for whatever I have and give back. This takes their minds off what they are going through.”
 
– Jerome Washington, Scarlet Knights football player and Service Knights volunteer

Media Contact
Lisa Intrabartola
848-932-0554

Four-year-old Antonio Zuniga spent the third week of October in St. Peter’s University Hospital recovering from pneumonia – a long time for a little boy to be cooped up, his mom Nancy Sanchez said.

Service Knights
Antonio Zuniga, from left, plays with Rutgers-New Brunswick Scarlet Knights Football players Zach Allen, Travis Vokolek and Myles Nash. 
Photo: Almier McCoy/Rutgers University
That’s what made his “playdate” with seven members of Rutgers’ Scarlet Knights Football team all the more special.

The visit was organized by Service Knights, a volunteer initiative within the Rutgers-New Brunswick football program started in 2016 by head coach Chris Ash, now under the direction of Nick Quartaro, director of player development for the Scarlet Knights. Every Friday afternoon before home games,

Service Knights sends players into area schools and hospitals, said Quartaro. During the off-season, they serve meals at soup kitchens and psych up Special Olympics athletes, among their many other activities.

“Coach Ash feels strongly that it's important for our football program to give back to the community in whatever fashion we can,” Quartaro said. “I believe it's important that our guys connect with people outside of their normal daily life and be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

On Oct. 20 – hours before the team took on Purdue – that meant tossing mini red Rutgers footballs with a giggling Antonio in the brightly painted playroom of St. Peter’s children’s ward and paying bedside visits to children fighting cancer and recuperating from other illnesses.

“I have to be grateful for whatever I have and give back,” said Jerome Washington, of Elizabeth, who plays tight end for the team. “This takes their minds off what they are going through.”

The experience is also therapeutic for the players, who enjoy being able to escape the pressure that comes before game day, said Jeff Jones assistant director of player development, who accompanied the players on their trip to St. Peter’s.

“People have no idea the schedule they are on – up at 6 a.m. and sometimes going until 9 p.m.,” Jones said. “This takes their mind off football.”

Myles Nash, who plays both tight end and defensive end for the Scarlet Knights, views his outings with Service Knights not as work, but an opportunity to be a positive male role model to children who need them most.

“A lot of kids don’t have fathers,” said the Sicklerville resident. “Being around kids, and being able to put smiles on their faces, is very important to me.”    

 

Media Contact
Lisa Intrabartola
848-932-0554