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Elmwood Park needs defensive tackle/tight end Frankie Verna on the field

PALOS HEIGHTS — With 6:56 remaining in the third quarter, Elmwood Park junior Frankie Verna was playing defense against Chicago Christian, when an injury put him out of commission.

The Tigers wound up losing on a late touchdown to the Knights 38-34 on Friday in a Metro Suburban East showdown.

A coincidence?

“Frankie’s a big part of what we do,” said Elmwood Park coordinator of football operations Tony Sylvester. “He’s been a leader for the last three years for us here and we’re counting on him for big things and it was just really tough to see him go down, especially in such a close game with the game on the line. We’d love to have him out there, and he would’ve been out there if he could have.”

Standing 6-2, 182 pounds, the tight end/defensive tackle has been playing football since he was in fifth grade.

“I was always watching and I grew up in an Italian family … my parents finally let me play,” Verna said before the game. “They just always saw the concussion stuff and they were worried about it, but I promised to stay safe, and if anything ever happened, I would make sure I told an adult.”

Though Verna’s not a captain, if something goes wrong, he’s usually one of the first ones to speak up. Verna says he would tell a teammate what he is doing wrong to ensure things run smoothly. In addition, he also helps direct team warmups.

Verna got a taste of the varsity level as a sophomore. That’s valuable on a team short on experience.

“I was starting tight end, but then I got taken back down to sophomore level at the end of the season,” he said. “One of the players got hurt, he hurt his back. They moved me up to play his position.”

Verna also plays rugby and has been involved in the school’s Operation Snowball, an alcohol and drug prevention program, since his freshman year.

“I just thought it was a good thing to do,” Verna said. “I thought maybe I could help just a little, help the community a little bit more.”

There are a lot of things Verna brings to the table that Elmwood Park coach John Freeman is happy to have for another year.

“He’s always focused and ready to go. It’s great to have high-energy kids like that,” Freeman said. “He’s a good kid on and off the field. We’re looking for huge things from him next year as a senior. He’s a real coachable kid and just wants to get on the field and play hard.”