Willie Colon starred in the Bronx as a Cardinal. On Super Sunday, he “pancaked” a Cardinal. Or two. Or three.
Colon, who attended Cardinal Hayes High School and grew up in the Melrose projects, plays offensive line for the National Football League’s Pittsburgh Steelers. Colon’s team clipped the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 on February 1.
The Bronx produces many professional athletes, but football is not the borough’s strength. Colon might be the first NFL player to hail from Melrose, where grass and goalposts are few and far between.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Hayes football coach C.J. O’Neil, who once dogged Colon through summer weightlifting sessions. “Willie has achieved a lot, and not by some fluke. He’s worked hard to get to this point.”
Hayes principal William Lessa was Colon’s high school guidance counselor. He also counseled Colon’s brother, Antonio. Lessa remembers Colon as a gregarious, gigantic teen, and a solid student. The Steelers list Colon at 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds.
Lessa heaped praise on Colon’s mother, Jean Davis. Davis suffers from lupus.
“Willie had a very supportive mom,” Lessa said. “On top of those boys like you wouldn’t believe. If we had more moms like Jean, we’d have more successful guys like Willie.”
Davis still lives in Melrose; she’s fond of the neighborhood and it’s fond of her. Colon earns $450,000 a year.
“[Coming from here] In the Super Bowl? That’s quite an achievement,” marveled Miguel Gomez, 20, a Melrose resident.
Recruited out of high school by powerhouse Syracuse, Colon chose Hofstra University on Long Island instead.
Colon graduated from Hayes in 2001. As a senior, he collected 12 sacks.
“Willie was recruited off two plays his senior year against Christ the King [High School],” O’Neil said. “On both plays, he was moving before anyone else on the field was moving.”
At Hayes, Colon lettered in football and basketball. At Hofstra, he was a first-team I-AA All-American. Few Hofstra players leap from Long Island to the pros.
“Willie was the type of kid you knew would get what he wanted,” Lessa said. “He didn’t accept any bumps in the road.”
Colon isn’t Hayes’ first football pro. Defensive end Stalin Colinet played in the NFL between 1997 and 2002.
Current Hayes senior Fernando Diaz will join Colon in Pittsburgh next year. Colon’s Steelers and Diaz’ University of Pittsburgh Panthers share a practice facility.
Lessa is a Giants fan, but pulled for the Steelers on Sunday. “I hope Willie has a great game,” Lessa said January 29. “I hope he shows the country what a kid from the Bronx can do.”