OCEAN TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Former Pitt quarterback and Steelers 2022 first round draft pick Kenny Pickett is already considered “a legend” in his hometown of Ocean Township, New Jersey. Members of the town decided to take it one step further and immortalize the former Ocean Township Spartan.
Members of the community gathered at the Ocean Township Municipal Gym Complex on Friday as the town dedicated the town’s youth football practice field in Pickett’s honor. Nearly every person in the crowd had a black and gold jersey with Pickett’s name and No. 8 on the back.
Ocean Township’s youth football practice field is now “Kenny Pickett Field.” pic.twitter.com/Idv62H1llm
— Dalton Coppola (@dalton_coppola) July 1, 2022
The town’s council joined Mayor Christopher Siciliano in commemorating the former Spartan. Siciliano said there aren’t many people better suited to be an ambassador to Ocean Township than Pickett.
“The reason we’re here today is really to honor Kenny for his achievements,” Siciliano said. “He’s an inspiration to all these kids out here and all you can do with hardwork and dedication.”
Young kids stood and watched as several speakers stood and showered one of their own fellow Spartans with praises. The first of which was probably someone who inspired those same kids’ parents. Former Ocean Township Spartan and Oakland Raiders linebacker Philip Villapiano was in attendance for the ceremony and said it’s great to see the community rally around Pickett and the Steelers.
“I go away for a few years and I left you all in silver and black and look what I see this morning,” Villapiano said jokingly in reference to the many Steelers jerseys in the crowd. “I love that you’re going to be a Steeler … we all get to enjoy you. And that’s what happens, everyone gets on your team, everyone becomes your buddy. Your responsibility is to hug all of these kids and make them all part of you. You’re going to enjoy it.”
Pickett also received a declaration from Monmouth County Commissioner Thomas Arnone making July 1 officially “Kenny Pickett Day” in not just Ocean Township, but the entire county.
Pickett joined Mayor Siciliano in unveiling the sign, which read “Kenny Pickett Field” with a quote he posted to his Instagram page in eighth grade beneath reading “One day I want to say I made it.” Pickett said having a field named after him isn’t necessarily what he envisioned when he posted that years ago, but he’s honored to have the backing of his hometown.
“I don’t think the mindset I had was to have a field named after me,” Pickett said to the crowd. “I grew up playing Pop Warner on this field, I played basketball in that gym, I went to intermediate school right there and I went to high school down the road. It all started in Ocean Township.”
In addition to naming the practice field after Pickett, all of Ocean Township will add signs that read “Home of NFL Quarterback Kenny Pickett” beneath each of its welcome signs.
The children clamored for Pickett to come and take pictures, have a catch and even just get a high-five from the Spartan turned NFL quarterback. Pickett tossed commemorative mini-footballs to the crowd before taking a seat to sign autographs for over 30 minutes.
Pickett’s aunt Kelly Terry said her nephew has already converted the town into one full of Steelers fans.
“He already has [made this town a Steelers town],” Terry said. “I grew up a Giants fan, his family grew up Eagles [fans] and then it was like ‘yup black and yellow now.’”
Pickett serves as a sort of blueprint for the youth football players of Ocean Township to reach the next level themselves. Kids ran around the complex wearing shirts emblazoned with Pickett’s No. 8 and some even wore two gloves while they tossed around the football. While wearing two gloves may help, Pickett’s high school coach Donald Klein said the most important thing for these young kids to do is mirror Pickett’s “relentless pursuit” attitude.
“Kenny Pickett lives his life in a way that we can all emulate,” Klein said. “Whether or not you’re going to a football practice, a soccer practice, a dance recital, a big business meeting, whatever the deal is you can bring that mindset — the Kenny Pickett mindset to that.”
Pickett will compete with fellow Steeler quarterbacks Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph for playing time during training camp and the pre-season. But if it were up to Big Red Nation Pickett would start on day one.
Dalton Coppola is a freelance writer and a member of the staff at The Pitt News.