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Battaglia rose from Howard Beach to football stardom

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In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, TimesLedger Newspapers presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history.

Retired National Football League tight end Marco Antonio Battaglia was born on Jan. 25, 1973, and raised in Howard Beach, Queens. After capping a stellar football career at Rutgers University as a consensus first-team All-American in 1995, Battaglia played for five pro teams in eight seasons. He retired from the NFL after playing for the Carolina Panthers team that reached Super Bowl XXXVIII. The former football star still resides in Queens with his wife and two children and works in the athletics department at his alma mater in New Jersey. Battaglia is a friend and personal trainer of fellow Queens native and radio “shock jock” Howard Stern.

Hard work was instilled in the NFL veteran from an early age.

“Growing up, my late father would constantly tell me: ‘Books, books, books. You have to study to be a doctor or a lawyer,” Battaglia said. “When I got my scholarship letter from Rutgers and my mother and I told him that school would be paid for, his response in his Italian accent was, ‘Maria, this football thing might not be such a bad idea.’”

As a gridiron standout at St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows, Battaglia earned a football scholarship to Rutgers to play tight end for the Scarlet Knights. After his senior campaign in 1995, the Queens native was recognized as a consensus All-American and the Big East Conference offensive player of the year. When he graduated, he ranked in the top two in Rutgers football history in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

In 1996, the Cincinnati Bengals selected the shy kid from Howard Beach in the second round of the NFL draft. After playing in Cincinnati for six seasons, Battaglia had brief stops with the Washington Redskins in the second half of the 2001 season, the Steelers and Buccaneers in 2002 and the NFC champion Panthers the following year. As a backup for Carolina, Battaglia was one of three former Queens residents on the Super Bowl XXXVIII roster, joined by lineman Tutan Reyes and offensive coordinator Dan Henning, also a St. Francis Prep graduate.

Marco Battaglia retired after the 2003 season after amassing 71 receptions and 660 receiving yards and scoring two touchdowns in 96 games. Throughout his pro career, Battaglia stayed true to his roots, often returning to Queens to give inspirational speeches to the Terriers football squad at his high school.

Accolades continued to pour in even after he left the game he loved. In 2007, the record-setting tight end was inducted into the Rutgers Athletic Hall of Fame. The following year, the 6-foot-3 Battaglia was recognized by Sports Illustrated as the best at his position in college football in the 1990s.

In 2014, the tough Italian kid from Howard Beach returned to Rutgers to work in fundraising for the athletic department, where he was reunited with high school teammate and then Rutgers football head coach Kyle Flood. In 2017, Rutgers returned the favor when it unveiled the $8.5 million Marco Battaglia Practice Complex for the Scarlet Knights football team.

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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