Anthony Pecorella told himself he wouldn’t turn on the waterworks.
When the 22-year-old from Malverne rang a bell inside a Manhattan hospital last week to mark the end of four rounds of chemotherapy, he was overcome with emotion as he melted into the arms of his father — but not before raising both arms and yelling “Victory!”
“Like Johnny Drama from ‘Entourage,’” the Stony Brook University student-athlete said with a laugh.
Even legendary ESPN broadcaster Scott Van Pelt chimed in, commenting on the video, “What a joyous sound that bell makes. Wonderful news.”
It’s one that included his April graduation from the University of Maryland, where Pecorella played four years of football for the Terrapins. That was followed in May by the punter’s graduate transfer to Stony Brook, being diagnosed in July with Burkitt Lymphoma and then chemotherapy at Weill Cornell Medicine’s cancer center in Manhattan.
“It’s about the wildest ride one can have,” he said.
The roller coaster has been marked by Pecorella’s unrelenting optimism and a certainty that he will suit up next fall for the Seawolves.
“I feel great,” said Pecorella, whose diagnosis followed a tonsillectomy. “I feel physically and mentally great.”
On the day that he went public with the news that he would sit out the 2023 season as a medical redshirt because of his cancer diagnosis, Pecorella wrote “I am going to fight like hell to beat this” on Instagram and added, “This is just a bump in the road.”
“When the doctor told me, it felt like a gut punch, but the first question I asked him was, ‘Can I go to practice?’” he said. “The doctor looked at me like I had 18 heads, and was like, ‘Did you hear what I just told you?’”
Pecorella said he told his new teammates about the condition at the start of training camp after asking Head Coach Chuck Priore if he could address the team “for five minutes.”
“I got up in front of everyone and said, ‘I’m very happy to be here and now that we’ve covered that and we’re family, I want to share something,” he said. “You could hear a pin drop.”
Through the ups and downs, the 2019 Chaminade High School grad said he has found strength in unyielding support from his loved ones, teammates and coaches at Maryland and at Stony Brook, the Weill Cornell medical staff and his hometown.
“It just means that our prayers have been answered,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley told the Baltimore Sun on Pecorella’s recovery. “To see him go through the things he went through and to see him battle, we’re not surprised.”
Pecorella said his parents would come home from the hospital and would have a supportive group of people all around them. “I’m very proud of where I’m from,” he said.
In turn, parents Anthony and Marissa Pecorella provided what their son called “the best piece of advice” throughout the health crisis.
“We went with the mantra of ‘Don’t ride the wave,’ he recalled. “That kept me believing I will get through this, that this too shall pass.”
Pecorella, who graduated from Maryland with a degree in finance, said he is looking forward to the in-person pursuit of a Master of Business Administration degree from Stony Brook after taking two classes online during his first semester at the school.
“I kind of dipped my toe in what Stony Brook University is all about, so I’m still kind of the new guy,” he said. “My plan is to go back on campus and take a full course load in the spring.”
Pecorella was able to attend the team’s 37-13 season-opening loss to Delaware at Kenneth LaValle Stadium, but afterward had to follow from afar as he went deeper into chemotherapy.
“I watched every game but it was just different not being there,” he said. “Watching from a hospital, I have a newfound perspective on the game.”
The 22-year-old said his time in the hospital — especially around younger cancer patients — also gave him a different outlook on life.
In particular, Pecorella pointed to a 3-year-old girl who introduced herself as “the boss of this floor” and who would playfully bump him with a toy car during laps with his parents on the hospital floor.
“Watching her go through what she went through as a 3-year-old, I would say that I can’t complain about anything for the rest of my life,” he said.
Pecorella said he is grateful for the care of his pediatric oncologist, Dr. Lisa Roth, nurse practitioner, Mindy Jaffe and the staff at Weill Cornell.
“Those nurses were angels sent from above who worked their tails off,” he said. “What you’re going through is hell and they were very supportive and there for me to help me get through it.”
The 212-lb. athlete, who averaged 42.1 yards per punt at Maryland, said he plans to spend the winter exercising so he can “hit the ground running” in time for spring football.
Pecorella will have two years of eligibility remaining for the Seawolves, who are looking for a new head coach after Priore departed last month in the wake of an 0-10 season.
“I’m all about being part of the program and trying to get it off the ground,” he said.
The experiences of the last several months have done nothing to dim Pecorella’s hopes of punting in the pros.
“My goal has been the same since I was 5 and that’s to play on Sundays,” he said. “That’s the same even after all of this.
“I’m very excited to get back on the field and live life to the fullest.”
Top: Anthony Pecorella practicing for the University of Maryland. (Credit: Instagram)