Cameron Smith

Football coach returns just weeks after dire brain diagnosis

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Paul Sacco knows he's lucky to still be alive. The longtime St. Joseph (N.J.) High football coach walked into a hospital on Nov. 12 after suffering through a series of migraine headaches and high blood pressure. He didn't leave until 12 days later after undergoing two dangerous and intensive surgeries to relieve bleeding on his brain.

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Amazingly, the coach wasted no time in getting back into action, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Sacco began showing up on a limited basis during practices last week, then called all his team's offensive plays on the sidelines of St. Joseph's 20-8 victory against rival Hammonton (N.J.) High on Saturday.

"It's good to win the game, but I have bigger things that have happened recently," Sacco said. "I feel very grateful just to be here."

Sacco is a St. Joseph's alumnus himself, and has coached at the school for three decades. He never missed a single game until he was forced to sit out his team's 50-7 rout of St. Anthony's (N.J.) in the state's Non-Public Division 1 & 2 semifinal.

The time between that game and Saturday's post-Thanksgiving traditional rivalry game gave Sacco just enough time to recuperate and eventually return to the field.

Once he was back on the sideline, Sacco left little question whether he would also be on the sideline for his team's Non-Public Division 1 & 2 state championship, in search of the school's third state crown since New Jersey began handing them out in 1993.

Whether the Wildcats win or not, his players are just happy that their coach is back where he belongs.

"Coach is like our father," St. Joseph's fullback Gordon Hill told the Inquirer. "Being back with us, it makes us feel more together."

At the moment, Hill's coach just feels happy to still be taking breaths.

"With what I've been through, there is a good chance I wasn't supposed to be here," he said. "I am so fortunate and will have to make major lifestyle changes."

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