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SBU Punter Anthony Pecorella Helps Kids Kick Cancer, Too

Pecorella punting
Pecorella courage award
Anthony Pecorella with the 2024 Dave Alexander Courage Award.

As a junior at the University of Maryland, Anthony Pecorella MBA ’24 began doing volunteer work with sick children as part of an effort with the school’s football team. Little did he know that two years later, the lessons he learned would come back and play a key role in his own fight against cancer.

Pecorella earned a degree in finance at Maryland, where he was also a four-year starter at punter. A native of Malverne, NY, he had just come to Stony Brook in June 2023 to pursue his MBA when his life took an unexpected turn.

“I had a golf ball-sized tonsil that had been there since around the time I graduated from Maryland,” he said. “It didn’t bother me so I didn’t think much of it. But when I came home, my mom said ‘Something’s not right, we really need to get that checked out.’”

Pecorella went to see a specialist, and a month later, tests confirmed a devastating cancer diagnosis. It was a cruel turnabout for Pecorella, who had been working with a nonprofit called Team IMPACT, an organization that pairs kids with serious illnesses and disabilities with college sports teams to help them through the struggle, work he continues at Stony Brook. The experience would prove transformational as he faced his own cancer battle. 

“The form I had was very aggressive and it had spread to my tonsils, lymph nodes and the bones in my face,” he said. “They wanted to attack it as hard as they could.” 

Pecorella started chemo in August 2023 and finished the last of four rounds in October. Due to the treatment, he red-shirted the 2023 football season.

“My dad said ‘You’re going to want to take some classes, you’re going want a distraction,’” he said. “So I enrolled in two classes and my professors couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding.”

Pecorella cancer bell
Pecorella rings the bell signifying he completed his treatment and was deemed cancer-free.

With his treatment behind him, the Spring 2024 semester was much closer to normal.

“I was able to take a full course load and I worked out with the team and it was great,” he said. “I’m probably at about 90-95 percent back to normal. I just take it one step at a time.” 

Pecorella — who won the Dave Alexander Courage Award at the Stony Brook Athletics annual Wolfie Awards Banquet — hasn’t played in a game since the 2022 season, the first time since fifth grade that he hasn’t played a down of football. He is champing at the bit to take the field for the first time with the Seawolves. 

“The day I was diagnosed I came home and my dad took a calendar and marked off August 31, 2024,” he said. “We play Marshall in West Virginia. He said, ‘Circle this on the calendar and keep telling yourself to be ready for this day.’ That’s been my attack as far as everything goes. It seemed so far away at the time. But I focused on getting better each day so that when August 31 comes I’ll be ready to go.” 

After graduating with his MBA in the fall, Pecorella said regardless of the direction his career will go, he will continue to help others. 

“When I was in Maryland in 2021, we were matched with this kid named Cal,” he said. “He has juvenile dermatomyositis (JDM), which is an autoimmune disease that one in a million boys have. There’s no cure and he’s been getting chemo treatment since he was five years old. He’s around 13 now. When I got sick, Cal texted me and he said, ‘I heard you have cancer. I’m very sorry, but just so you know, chemo is not that bad.’ We’ve kind of developed a brotherly relationship.” 

Pecorella is now part of Team IMPACT’s executive board for its student fellowship program. He recently spoke on Capitol Hill and to an audience of 1,200 people at Team IMPACT’s annual gala in Boston.

Putting his own fear aside, Pecorella made a point of making it as easy as possible on those in his circle, including his parents and twin sister Alessia.

“I’ve always tried to be a positive, happy-go-lucky person,” he said. “If you get down yourself it only makes it worse. I told my parents I wanted to be the one to call everybody because I wanted them to know that I was okay, both mentally and physically, that I wasn’t in some dark space.” 

Pecorella puntingPecorella said he’s usually the one doing the consoling, an example of his positive outlook. “This experience has given me a new outlook on life and an appreciation for the little stuff. There’s a saying, ‘Don’t count the days, make the days count.’ Tomorrow everything can change. Before this I was kind of on autopilot. This gave me a purpose to share my story because everyone goes through their own struggles.” 

“Anthony was in my MBA Leadership, Teams, and Communications class and we were practicing developing a speech on a transformation that students had made in their life,” said Lily Blocker, co-director of the MBA program in the College of Business. “Anthony shared his remarkable story about overcoming cancer and we were all so moved by it. His experiences and his ability to share his story vividly remind us that we can empower others to overcome their own challenges. He demonstrates how resilience and purpose are an important part of effective leadership because people want leaders who are relatable, committed, and passionate. The MBA degree isn’t just about learning business, but also about your personal strengths and finding meaning in your unique experiences. I know Anthony will continue to inspire others wherever he goes, and we need more leaders like him.”

To that end, Pecorella manages a mental health account on Instagram called Healthy Minds, which he started at Maryland with someone who had a friend who had committed suicide.

“We wanted to create something for student athletes because a lot of them don’t feel they can share their story,” he said. “When I was diagnosed I felt like I had a responsibility to share my own struggles with cancer and be public about it. And I shared some personal pictures because it scares people when they see you lose your hair because of chemo. I wanted to be a light that says it’s okay to not be okay. You just have to do something about it. So I focus on making my small section of the world a better place, and if enough of us do that, we can make this world a better place.”

Robert Emproto

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