History of the #27

By: Pat Colleluori 

Most people have a lucky number or one that they hold close to their hearts.  Sometimes it’s an important date, maybe a birth year or even someone they admired.  For many athletes, there is a correlation between their jersey number and someone that has been a source of inspiration throughout their climb.  As an athlete, there is no greater satisfaction than putting on your team’s jersey for the very first time.  It’s a moment when reality hits you and transports you back in time to when you first started playing.  It’s an achievement denoting the years of hard work, sacrifice and dedication.  It’s also a fitting tribute to the generations of athletes who wore that jersey before you.  It’s the perfect way to begin a new chapter in your book which will ironically be part of your legacy, as it will be the way that you’re remembered among the generations that will follow in your footsteps.

In the last days of his life, HEADstrong Founder Nicholas “HEAD” Colleluori made a decision that truly reflected his unyielding devotion to his beloved Hofstra University and the respect that he had for the Pride men’s lacrosse team.  While being in hospice with only days to live, the 21-year old requested that he be dressed in his Hofstra uniform at his funeral.  The undersized, hard-nosed defenseman who motivated his #2 nationally ranked team to a 17-2 season from his hospital bed, had defied the odds after waging a 14-month battle against a cancer that was predicted by physicians to claim his life after 3.  He wanted his Hofstra teammates, who he often referred to as his brothers, to always know how much he truly loved them.  And while his team drew constant inspiration from his fight, what they did know was just how much encouragement and motivation they were giving him. 

Staying connected to his team while undergoing treatment was the one of Nicholas’ highest priorities.  From his hospital bed he envisioned the day that he’d return to Hofstra.  Before the days of streaming, face-timing and social media, he stayed connected to his teammates through letters and phone calls.  During lacrosse season if he was well enough, he’d make every attempt to attend games and when he wasn’t, his coaches would overnight game tapes for him to watch.  During lengthy inpatient treatment, several members of his team would take a 3-hour train ride just to sit with him.    

The success of the 2006 Hofstra men’s lacrosse team was a positive distraction and one that kept Colleluori fighting through the pain of his cancer.  And while Colleluori was just a sophomore at the time of his diagnosis, his attitude, perspective, maturity and wisdom, commanded his teammates and he became the leader or as many called him the “Dog Soldier”.  Being part of a team was ingrained in Colleluori’s DNA.  He possessed the innate ability to buy into a team philosophy, he was a constant student with a willingness to learn and master a role, he held himself to the highest levels of accountability on and off the playing field, during a game he would sacrifice himself for the sake of the team which inadvertently held his teammates to a higher standard.  After just one season at Hofstra, his Pride teammates and opponents knew what #27 was all about.  Today, Colleluori’s #27 is celebrated at Hofstra University and each season a player emulating the spirit and leadership of Nicholas Colleluori is selected by their peers to proudly dawn the jersey for their Senior season.  It is the highest honor amongst student-athletes at Hofstra University and one that keeps Nicholas’ spirit and legacy alive within the program.  Additionally, a commemorative #27 patch resides on every Hofstra jersey, allowing Colleluori’s legacy to personally resonate with each new player but also serve as a constant reminder of the fragileness of life and to make the most of it.     

Colleluori’s #27 has a special meaning even beyond Hofstra University, it was a number that he wore from the time he started playing the game in 3rd grade, after being inspired by the relentless play of Philadelphia Flyers goal-minder Ron Hextall.  As early as can be recalled, he dreamed of being an athlete.  Hailing from the blue-collar suburbs of Philadelphia, Colleluori was ennamermed by the grit and tenacity of the Philadelphia sports teams of his youth, specifically the Philadelphia Flyers, Eagles and Wings.  Nicholas was the third son in a family of 4 boys.  The Colleluori household was always active, to say the least, Cheryl Colleluori (Nicholas’s mother), referred to their living room as a “wrestling room”.  The family grew up across the street from a community park in Holmes, PA.  It was there that Nicholas emulated his sports idols; Ron Hextall, Reggie White and Brian Dawkins.  For over a decade and into their teens, the Colleluori’s boys turned that blacktop basketball court into a makeshift hockey rink and sports field.  “That blacktop became an extension of our yard and our kids thought we owned it.”  said Cheryl.  It was on that blacktop that Nicholas and his siblings honed their abilities, ambitions and aspirations.  Hours upon hours were spent shooting lacrosse balls and day-dreaming of what their futures had in store.  The Colleluori boys wanted to emulate players that came before them like Mike Busza, a hard-nosed, undersized, multisport athlete also from Ridley, who played lacrosse at Penn State University and eventually for the Philadelphia Wings.  As their interests developed, Nicholas naturally gravitated to contact sports specifically football, wrestling and lacrosse.  During his formative years, Ridley High School developed into a lacrosse dynasty boasting 3 Pennsylvania state championships in 1994, 1997 and 1998.  It would be a feat and legacy that Nicholas would help continue as Ridley captured 3 consecutive state titles in 2001, 2002 and 2003.  The program’s success was much attributed to Doug and Kevin Ellers as well as a well constructed youth feeder program led by Matt Flynn.  

In fact, it was Nicholas’ outstanding defensive play during the 2003 Eastern Pennsylvania boy’s lacrosse championship that earned him the eyes of Hofstra University.  The irony was that leading up to his senior year at Ridley, Nicholas was a midfielder and was asked to anchor the team’s defense in an effort to provide veteran leadership in wake of vacancies left from the previous class.  His willingness to accept the responsibility spoke volumes to the type of leader and competitor that he was.  That type of selflessness and dedication was something that appealed to his Hofstra coaches.  

Nicholas loved the idea of being part of something bigger than himself.  He found acceptance and purpose in being part of the Hofstra Pride.  He was able to broaden his perspective on life and the relationships and bond that he shared with his teammates was unbreakable.  His decision to represent his team in life and in death by being laid to rest in his Hofstra uniform was a statement of pride, love and devotion for his team.  In the days before his untimely passing he composed a powerful letter to his Hofstra teammates which read, “You are my pulse and while I may not be there with you; as long as you keep beating, I am still alive.”  He wanted them more than anyone to know that even in death, he was always with them.