Philipsburg-Osceola High School graduate Jon Condo could have been a college athlete in three different sports.
He chose football at Maryland over wrestling and baseball. Then, when the Terrapins needed a long snapper, Condo worked at it, took a shot at it and made it his.
He rode it all the way to the National Football League - he's about to start his ninth season, and he's gone to the Pro Bowl twice.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Jon Condo accepts a special award from his father Dick Condo.
"You never know when you're going to get that call. You never know when the opportunity is going to come in front of you," Condo said, "so you've always got to be prepared."
Condo delivered a message on the value of hard work, versatility, competition and being prepared to nearly 70 area athletes and their families at the ninth annual Altoona Mirror Athlete of the Year Banquet on Monday night at The Casino at Lakemont Park.
Plaques were presented to all the newspaper's Blair Orthopedics Athletes of the Week for the 2013-14 school year who attended. Northern Bedford's Blake Over and Bishop Carroll's Sarah Gomish, both multi-sport standouts like Condo through high school, were the Athletes of the Year.
"I want to thank my parents. They always coached, so they drove me around to all my sister's games. I always had a ball in my hand," Over said. "I want to thank all my coaches, and congratulations to all the other athletes, too."
Over was the Mirror's player of the year in football, averaged a double-double in basketball and will try to defend two state jumping medals at the PIAA Track and Field Championships later this week. He'll be out for both football and track at St. Francis University.
Gomish, meanwhile, was a dominating performer in volleyball and softball. She's headed to Lock Haven University, where she'll continue to play volleyball.
"Without my coaches and my teammates, none of this would have been possible. But, really, I'm looking forward to the future and seeing what it has, especially at Lock Haven," Gomish said. "Go Eagles."
Gomish was a double winner, also taking home the Erin Dodson Memorial Award as the top volleyball player in the Mirror coverage area.
"Congratulations to all the athletes here. It just goes to show you that hard work does pay off," Gomish said. "Thanks to my family, my coaches and teammates, because you guys put in the pride and the passion, the time and the money to help give me the opportunities to become successful."
It was a big night for the area volleyball community. In addition to Gomish's two awards, Bishop Guilfoyle standout Annie Dombrowski, who also played a key role in returning to the basketball court after several years away to add maturity to an otherwise all-underclassman team, was the girls recipient of the Ron Rickens Sportsmanship Award.
"I'd like to thank my school, my parents and my teammates for all the time and effort they put in and for believing in me," Dombrowski said. "I couldn't have done it without my family, my school and everyone else."
The male Rickens Award went to another Bishop Carroll athlete, Marcus Lee, who plays basketball and runs track. Lee is known for being very strong in the classroom, too, and his interests in that area slipped out during his acceptance speech.
"What an honor to receive this Rickens scholarship. Or, it's not a scholarship. I wish it was a scholarship," Lee recovered and said as the crowd laughed. "I'd like to thank all my family and my teammates for the support and for believing in me, and for my coach, Cosie Aliquo. If you saw any of our last few games, you'd see that the refs really didn't agree with me, [but] I'm thankful to get this award."
If anyone epitomized Condo's speech of making the most of opportunities, it was Hollidaysburg Area tennis player Marissa Lanzel.
Lanzel overcame a diagnosis for Type 1 diabetes at the age of 13 to become a District 6 champion and one of the best players her high school has produced.
However, Lanzel also saw the opportunity in her ailment. She has organized awareness events and fund-raisers for child diabetes, raising more than $10,000 for her cause.
Lanzel was presented the Erin Johnson Award for achievement and resilience in the face of extreme adversity.
"This is definitely a surprise," Lanzel said. "Thank you to everyone. It's almost been five years since I've been diabetic now. Thanks also to all my doctors and nurses. It means the world to me. I'll keep fighting."
Williamsburg's Bryce England won the Angie Gioiosa Memorial Award which goes to the top long-distance runner in the area. He echoed Condo's theme of competition making him a better athlete.
"I'm thankful that I've had an opportunity to race against all the great athletes in the area," England said.
The Frank Kiraly Memorial Award for the area's top scholastic golfer went to Hunter Shields of Hollidaysburg.
"I want to thank everyone that's helped me on my way here, my parents, especially, my coaches and my uncle for letting me use his golf course to practice every day during the summer," Shields said.
During the keynote speech, Condo reminded the athletes that it won't be easy as they move forward. He discussed how he almost transferred from Maryland when he was relegated to special teams, the difficulties he ran into against better competition in college and then how he had failed to make it with two NFL teams when the Oakland Raiders called him for a tryout while he was on a painting job with his father in Philipsburg.
"My path to the NFL has been kind of crazy. It's been up-and-down, up-and-down," said Condo, now a Raiders captain. "It's going to be like that, even in high school. But, if there's one thing I can stress, it's never get too low on yourselves and don't get too high on yourself. Hard work will play off."
There was a lot of proof of that at The Casino.
"I'm sure there's probably another Jon Condo in this room," Mirror publisher Ed Kruger said, "that will be a guest speaker here one day before we know it."