NFF hands out record $27,000 in scholarships as Lely's Chambers takes top prize

Adam Fisher
Naples Daily News

Though the coronavirus forced the local chapter of the National Football Foundation to delay and scale down this year’s scholarship banquet, the group continued its annual growth in spite of the pandemic.

The Collier County chapter of the NFF had its best year to date at its fourth annual banquet Saturday at the Naples Sailing and Yacht Club. The foundation handed out more scholarships than it ever had for the most money its ever awarded.

The NFF gave out $27,000 in college scholarships to Collier County high school seniors, beating last year’s mark by $4,000. The group also added a Special Olympics athlete this year, bringing the number of student who received a scholarship to 12.

Lely senior Carson Chambers won the foundation’s top prize, the Joanne and George Downing Career Building Scholarship worth $10,000.

Lely senior Carson Chambers (left) shakes hands with National Football Foundation Collier County Chapter president Matt Sellitto after receiving the group's $10,000 Joanne and George Downing Career Building Scholarship at the NFF banquet April 10, 2021.

The mission of the National Football Foundation, a 74-year-old national organization with 120 chapters in 47 states, to use football to build leaders and upstanding citizens. The 12 finalists for the Collier chapter’s Downing scholarship – one from each of Collier County’s high school football programs plus a Special Olympics athlete – are chosen based on 40 percent athletics, 40 academics and 20 community service.

U.S. Army general Douglas MacArthur founded the NFF in 1947 based on rewarding athletes following the 40/40/20 formula.

“(MacArthur) realized that the character of football players following that formula was going to make them the leaders of the next generation,” chapter president and founder Matt Sellitto said. “That’s why this organization is still in existence today.”

Chambers checks all the boxes.

Lely High School senior Carson Chambers (third from left) poses with his mother Tammy, sister Chelsey, and father Ken after winning a $10,000 college scholarship at the National Football Foundation Collier County Chapter's banquet on Saturday, April 10, 2020.

A captain on the Trojans’ football and baseball teams, Chambers has a 3.8 grade-point average and was an Academic All-State selection. He’s a member of the National Honor Society and has logged more than 100 community service hours with the Humane Society and the Special Olympics.

“Carson is the ultimate coach’s player,” Lely football coach J.J. Everage wrote in Chambers’s reference letter. “Not only does he get it done on the gridiron, but also in the classroom and community. He has embraced the life of the student-athlete.”

Chambers, who plans to study business finance at Florida State next year, said he feels fortunate that coaches have always impressed upon him the importance of grades. He said he’s always enjoyed doing community service to help others.

“I feel really honored to be here with all these (scholarship recipients),” Chambers said. “They’re all amazing and very deserving. It’s an honor to be selected for this award. It feels incredible.”

Former NFL head coach John Fox (right), a Marco Island resident, receives the National Football Foundation Collier County Chapter's Distinguished American Award from former college coach Ron Lynn at the NFF banquet April 10, 2021.

Former NFL coach John Fox, who led the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl, spoke at the banquet. Fox, a Marco Island resident, received the chapter’s Distinguished American Award.

The NFF hands out three adult awards each year to people who have given back to the game of football. Former Immokalee coach John Weber won the Collier County Legends of the Game Award. Collier County school board member and former coach and administrator Roy Terry was given the Contributions to the Game Award.

Every finalist received at least a $1,000 scholarship. It is the third straight year the NFF chapter has had the funds to reward every finalist. In addition to Chambers’s $10,000 award, five players received scholarships above $1,000.

Palmetto Ridge defensive back Jhordan Inniss won this year’s Leadership Award, which also included a $2,500 scholarship.

The NFF debut debuted the Leadership Award sponsored by Riddell, the football equipment maker, at last year’s banquet. The winner gets a traveling trophy topped by a helmet, donated by Riddell, that stays at his school until the next year’s banquet.

Palmetto Ridge senior Jhordan Inniss (right) accepts the Leadership Award from National Football Foundation Collier County Chapter president Matt Sellitto at the group's scholarship banquet on April 10, 2021, at the Naples Sailing and Yacht Club.

“Ever since I was young (playing football), I’ve always been big on teamwork,” said Inniss, who will play at Division II school Bluefield State in West Virginia next season. “It helped me build character. After that, I tried to help the younger players do the same.”

Community School senior Hunter Baker was picked as the chapter’s member for the NFF’s national Team of Distinction. Every year each chapter around the country nominates a player for the team based on academic achievement, community service and athletic accolades. The names of every player, including Baker, are on display at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.

Baker won a $2,500 scholarship for the honor.

St. John Neumann’s Daniel DeSantis won the Matthew C. Sellitto Scholarship, named after Sellitto’s son who died in the World Trade Center during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Dario Araya of First Baptist Academy won the Johnathan D. Sellitto Scholarship, named in honor of Sellitto’s son who died unexpectantly in 2017 at the age of 34.

The 12 college scholarship recipients from the National Football Foundation Collier County Chapter. The NFF handed $27,000 out in scholarships to the high school seniors at its annual banquet April 10, 2021, at the Naples Sailing and Yacht Club.

Both scholarships are worth $2,000 and sponsored by the charitable foundation Matt and Loreen Sellitto created to honor their late sons.

Marco Island Academy senior Kyler Howard earned the NFF’s new Community Service award, a new scholarship this year, worth $2,000. A captain of the Manta Rays’ football and basketball teams, Howard has logged more than 100 volunteer hours with the Key Club and local youth football organizations.

Howard’s brother, Brendan, was Marco Island Academy’s nominee when the NFF held its inaugural banquet in 2018. Brendan Howard won the Matthew C. Sellitto scholarship, then worth $4,000 when the chapter could only give four players awards worth a total of $16,000.

The $1,000 scholarship winners at Saturday’s banquet were: Chris Crouch (Barron Collier), Joaquin Acuna (Golden Gate), Christian Masterson (Gulf Coast), Mischael Tironne (Immokalee), Matt Hamel (Naples), and Connor Cleary (Unified Sports/Palmetto Ridge).

Former Immokalee High School football coach John Weber speaks at the National Football Foundation Collier County Chapter's annual scholarship banquet April 10, 2021. Weber received the chapter's Collier County Legends Award.
Collier County school board member Roy Terry (center), a former football coach and high school athletic director, receives the Contributions from the Game Award at the National Football Foundation Collier County Chapter's banquet April 10. Terry received the award from his daughter Cathy Weiss (left) and son Roy Terry.