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Dreams Realized

Sirianni, Paige Making Jamestown Proud

Philadelphia head coach and Jamestown native Nick Sirianni led the Eagles to a playoff-clinching win over the Washington Football Team on Sunday. AP photo

Sunday night’s NFL game between Minnesota and Green Bay was so one-sided that I turned the sound down just after halftime and shut the TV off completely not long after. By that point, I was pretty much assured that the Vikings had no chance to beat the Packers and, as a result, a Philadelphia playoff berth was all but guaranteed.

Let me repeat: The Eagles, who finished 4-12 last year, are going to the postseason, and they are doing so in large measure because their first-year head coach, who just happens to be from Jamestown, led them there.

Yep, Nick Sirianni, the guy who grew up in West Ellicott, has guided Philly to seven wins in its last nine games. To put that into perspective he is now just the fourth rookie head coach in NFL history to start the season 2-5 and have a winning record.

The others?

Frank Reich.

Former Jamestown High School star Jaysean Paige made his NBA debut with the Detroit Pistons on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Ken Ricker

Mike Holmgren.

Mike Mularkey.

Pretty good company for Sirianni, and certainly an affirmation that Eagles’ owner Jeffrey Lurie made the right call when he made the hire a year ago this month. There was plenty of hand-wringing among Philly fans when the announcement was made, because, at the time, Sirianni didn’t have the name recognition, but what he did have was a huge endorsement from Reich, who worked with Sirianni when they were on the coaching staff of the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers. Reich also happened to be the Eagles’ offensive coordinator when they won Super Bowl 52 in February 2018 so his recommendation carried a lot of weight with Lurie.

Fast-forward from last winter to early last summer. In June, I received an email from Zach Berman, the Eagles’ beat writer for the subscription-based sports website The Athletic, who was planning a trip to Jamestown to do a story on Sirianni. Among other things, the sportswriter wondered how growing up in the community had shaped the 1999 Southwestern Central School graduate, and he was also curious if there were places in town “worth seeing and sharing” with Eagles’ fans.

A week or so later, I was more than happy to serve as Berman’s “tour guide.” During our travels to Southwestern, to Johnny’s Lunch on Fairmount Avenue in West Ellicott (a frequent destination for Sirianni during his high school days) and to the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame on West Third Street in Jamestown, Berman asked me why I thought Sirianni was the right guy for the Eagles’ job.

My answer, as I recall, was short and to the point, something along the lines of: “Because he’s been successful everywhere he’s coached.”

From the University of Mount Union and Indiana University of Pennsylvania in the college ranks to Kansas City, San Diego and Indianapolis in the NFL, Sirianni has always shown the football acumen and enthusiasm that have drawn raves from those around him.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts is apparently a member of that Sirianni-loving fraternity, too, saying in his postgame press conference after Sunday’s 20-16 win over the Washington Football Team that his head coach’s consistency in preaching the importance of core values has “been our goal and our true identity.”

“That’s who we are,” Hurts said. “With all the youth and all the inexperience, from coaching to players, we just bought into who we are and who we could be, and trusting in the grind and approaching every day the way we do.”

Sirianni admitted that when Eagles defensive back Rodney McLeod intercepted a pass in the end zone in the final seconds to secure the win over the Washington Football Team he had to “fight back tears of joy.”

“It’s such an emotional game. That’s why we all love this game so much,” he said in his postgame press conference. “There are so many ups and downs. It’s so lifelike. The excitement and joy when something like that happens …. it’s pretty special to be part of.”

It wasn’t the only special moment for a Jamestown resident this weekend.

On Saturday night, former Jamestown High School star Jaysean Paige played in his first NBA game. Signed to a 10-day contract by Detroit on Friday, Paige played seven minutes in the Pistons’ 117-116 victory over San Antonio. Although he didn’t score — he was 0-of-3 from the field — he did have an assist and a rebound.

The fact he was even on the floor is a testament not only to his basketball skills, but also to his determination. Although still only 27, the former 2010-11 Post-Journal Player of the Year has literally been chasing his love for hoops around the globe for the last decade. After moving to Hazard, Kentucky and playing for Perry County High School his senior year, Paige landed at the College of Southern Idaho for a year, averaging 13.6 points; transferred to Moberly (Missouri) Area Community College as a sophomore where he averaged 21 points; and then moved on to West Virginia University.

Under Coach Bob Huggins, Paige went from averaging 5.6 points per game as a junior to 14.3 points per game as a senior when he was the recipient of the Big 12 Conference Sixth Man of the Year. Highlights of that season included Paige scoring a career-high 34 points against Iowa State and having 26 points, five steals and four rebounds when the Mountaineers upset top-ranked Kansas.

Prior to this season, Paige has played professionally for teams in Germany, North Macedonia, England, Hungary and Puerto Rico and was in his second stint with Maine of the NBA G League when he was signed by the Pistons.

“It’s an unexplainable feeling,” he texted me on Saturday morning.

And while it’s unknown if the 6-foot-2 point guard will have an extended stay in Detroit after his 10-day contract expires, what is certain is that he never gave up on his dream.

Sirianni didn’t either.

Look at where they are now?

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