Tony Recchia went from Kiski Area to Pitt football powerhouses of early 1980s

Saturday, April 6, 2024 | 4:58 PM

Growing up in Vandergrift, Tony Recchia craved competition.

“I just remember fighting every day, every play, competing in every sport,” said Recchia, who now lives in Valencia. “I ingrained competition into everything from Little League on. I just loved to compete.”

Recchia relied on that competitive spirit to find success with his all-around play at Kiski Area and as a punter for Pitt’s nationally ranked football teams in the early 1980s. For those efforts, he will be part of the Class of 2024 to be inducted into the Alle-Kiski Sports Hall of Fame on May 4 at the Pittsburgh Shriners Center in Harmar.

“I think I gave more effort because I was a smaller kid. I was 5-10, but I tried to play like I was 6-2,” said Recchia, who picked up the nickname “Mouse” at a young age.

A 1979 Kiski graduate, Recchia earned six letters while competing in football, basketball and track with the Cavaliers. As a senior, he was named Kiski’s MVP in football and basketball.

In football, Recchia played running back, defensive back and punter. He earned first-team Foothills Conference honors as a punter and honorable mention as a running back.

“I tried to do everything,” he said. “I even kicked field goals for a while. It was another opportunity to compete.”

In basketball, Recchia led the Cavs in scoring (19 points per game), assists and steals.

At the time, the Valley News Dispatch sponsored an event patterned after “The Superstars” competition, which ABC Network introduced in 1973. The local version pitted one athlete from each Alle-Kiski Valley school in six individual events: one-on-one basketball, softball home run derby, pull-ups, ping pong, track run and swimming race.

Representing Kiski Area, Recchia placed first out of 16 participants.

“It was a lot of fun and very gratifying,” he said. “I had a burning desire to win no matter what I was doing.”

Recchia then took his football skills to Slippery Rock, where he played wide receiver and punter as a freshman. After one season at the NCAA Division II school, he decided to transfer to a major college program.

“I felt that I could do more,” Recchia said. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do better than Slippery Rock. A lot of people had apprehensions about my decision, but I didn’t. I believed in myself.”

Recchia reached out to Pitt assistant coach Joe Naunchik. A former Plum head coach, Naunchik helped to get him a look as a walk-on defensive back and punter.

Recchia tried out for a Pitt team that proved to be one the most talented in college football history, featuring future Pro Football Hall of Famers Dan Marino, Chris Doleman and Jimbo Covert and College Football Hall of Fame inductee Bill Fralic.

“At the time, I never thought about having to play against all of those great Pitt players,” he said. “I think 32 guys on the team went on to play in the NFL and 16 became All-Pros.”

Recchia’s first season at Pitt was cut short by a knee injury while practicing at defensive back.

“I had to fight and battle back,” he said. “Nothing is easy.”

As a junior, Recchia took over the starting punter job after a clutch kick against Notre Dame. He recalled then-Pitt head coach Foge Fazio telling him, “ ‘If you get in there and punt well, you’re my punter from now on.’ I kicked a 48-yarder and I maintained the job from there.”

Recchia faced a major challenge when Pitt traveled to Tennessee for the 1983 season opener. All-American punter Jimmy Colquitt figured to give the Volunteers an edge in a game played in front of close to 96,000 fans.

However, Recchia bested Colquitt by averaging 46.4 yards on eight kicks. Late in the fourth quarter, he placed a punt out of bounds at the Tennessee 1-yard line, helping to seal a 13-3 Pitt victory. For his efforts, Recchia was named the defensive player of the game.

After the Tennessee victory, the Panthers rewarded Recchia with a full scholarship for his senior year.

“The money meant a lot to my family, but I was more focused on playing time than a scholarship,” he said. “I just wanted to be in the moment when something mattered.”

Recchia was the starting punter in the Cotton Bowl against SMU at the end of the 1982 season and in the Fiesta Bowl versus Ohio State the following season. As a senior, he averaged 40.8 yards per punt, downing 11 inside the 10-yard line.

“The people that I met at Pitt are still some of my best friends today,” he said. “It was an awesome opportunity, and I was lucky to be there at that time.”

Out of college, Recchia signed with the Cleveland Browns as a free agent. Competing against veteran punter Steve Cox, he played in two preseason games, averaging 42.5 yards per kick.

“They liked that I could get kicks off quickly, and I was consistent,” he said. “I made it to the final cut.”

The Browns’ decision to keep Cox came down to his ability to kick off in addition to punting, according to Recchia.

“Marty Schottenheimer was the special teams coach and he didn’t like (place kicker) Matt Bahr kicking off. Cox could kick off,” he said.

Recchia then tried out for the Jacksonville Bulls in the USFL. But he realized that he could make more money in the business world than kicking in the fledgling league.

“I thought it might be time to get on with my life,” said Recchia, who is sales director at PepsiCo in McKees Rocks. “I’ve been working at PepsiCo for 39 years. I love what I do. I get to compete every day, fighting for every sale, every commission.”

Recchia and his wife, Tracy, have three children: Olivia, 25; Andrew, 23; and Christopher, 17. Andrew just finished his basketball playing career at Shippensburg University.

After football, Recchia turned to golf to feed his competitive fire. He developed into a scratch golfer and is a two-time club champion at Diamond Run Golf Club.

“You have to be focused, and I love that part of the game,” he said. “I also enjoy the camaraderie and the time out on the course.”

If you’re going

What: 53rd A-K Valley Sports Hall of Fame induction

When: 7 p.m. May 4

Where: Pittsburgh Shriners Center, Harmar

Tickets: $40

Contact: Larry Lutz, 724-822-3695; Fred Soilis, 412-736-1809; Bill Heasley, 724-882-3079


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