Rider University is a surprising springboard to the NFL.
Alumni may not be suiting up to take the field, but they’re working behind the scenes around the league, photographing game day, producing events and taking part in pre-game activities.
The week before Super Bowl XLVIII, three alumni were in the trenches as the league prepared one of the year’s greatest spectacles, taking place this year between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., 56 miles north of the University.
Preparing for the Feb. 2 game, the Broncos were using the offices and facilities of The New York Jets in Florham Park, where Jose Rey ’10 works. The Jets’ creative services coordinator with a bachelor's degree in communication studies, Rey designs much of the team’s promotional materials, from web banners to wall wraps. He also photographs home games from the sidelines, adding professional sports to Rider events in his portfolio, not to mention a trip to the Cayman Islands to help shoot the team’s cheerleaders for their annual calendar.
While Rey was working on the Jets' Super Bowl activities, Stephanie Durante ’07 was in Hawaii, ensuring that the NFL’s other season capstone, the annual Pro Bowl, was running smoothly. A field hockey player while at Rider, Durante built on her experiences playing sports, earning a bachelor’s in marketing and interning with the New York Giants to become a game operations coordinator after graduation.
She’s visited nearly half the stadiums around the league, performing a job that, when done well, often goes unnoticed. She and her colleagues ensure that team communications are working, field conditions are prime, and the rest of the league’s policies are in place and enforced.
“It can be exciting,” Durante says. “It’s a situation where you’re amongst the most important people in the NFL, from players to coaches to executives.” Pressure can temper that excitement though, because when problems arise, Durante is expected to deliver solutions. “When communications aren’t working, teams want answers and people can get in your face.”
Like Rey, Durante works on a small team with the knowledge that her position is a fan’s dream job. It keeps her focused on doing it as well as she can. “There’s probably 30,000 people lined up to take my job at any time,” she says.
Like their Rider counterparts, Westminster Choir College alumni are in on the Super Bowl action and will have a close-up view of the events. At the pre-game show, Tricia Joyce '85 will conduct the New Jersey Youth Chorus, accompanied by Phillip Steffani '00, when it sings America the Beautiful with Queen Latifah. "I said yes before she even finished the sentence," Joyce told News12 NJ about being asked to appear.
Far from Hawaii, but only 90 minutes south of the Meadowlands, another Rider alumnus helps manage a different facet of the NFL experience. Glen Kolanko ’02 is a database manager for NFL Films, the NFL-owned production company based in Mount Laurel, N.J. The company is famous for using signature motifs in films that elevate the game to mythic proportions. Along the way, it has earned 107 Emmys.
Networks also seek specific footage from NFL Films to put together story packages on specific teams, players, seasons and other angles. “We cater to their needs so they can put together their story,” says Kolanko, who helps organize and distribute footage, as well as interviewing, hiring and training the company’s seasonal employees. He can retrieve specific footage within moments, a huge improvement over past practices of scrolling through reels of 16mm film.
Kolanko studied communication with a focus on TV and radio and interned at Comcast Sportsnet in Philadelphia before landing his current job. "It’s never feels like work," he says. "I can’t believe I’ve been here that long and at the same time it feels like no time at all. I enjoy coming to work every day.”
Now finishing his 12th season at NFL Films, Kolanko is a dyed-in-the-wool fan. On the other hand, Rey and Durante were only casual fans when they started their jobs. Through his time with the Jets and his immersion in the league, Rey has developed an affinity for the game, and when he’s not on the sidelines shooting home games, the pigskin occupies his Sundays. Come Super Bowl Sunday, Durante will happily trade her insider access to become just another one of the millions tuning in for the big game. “I won’t have anything to do with it,” she says. “I’ll be watching from my sister’s apartment and avoiding the chaos.”