‘Winning For Timmy': Holmdel Gets First Win in Support of Critically Injured Graduate
They rose in unison in the stands at Holmdel on Friday night, clapping and chanting, and Hornets senior Matt McDonnell had to do everything in his power not to burst out in tears in the middle of a football game.
He took the field against Spotswood at Bob Roggy Memorial Field while his older brother, Timmy, 20, a former basketball and football player at Holmdel, remained in critical condition in a coma at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick after being struck by a car less than a week earlier. The home crowd let him and his family know they were there for them.
“Fight, Timmy, fight! Fight, Timmy, fight!” the crowd chanted. "Fight, Timmy, fight!"
“I heard the cheerleaders screaming, ‘Fight, Timmy fight!’ and it really got to me,’’ Matt said. “I just had to relax and focus on the goal for him. Seeing all my friends supporting me, my family, my teammates, seeing them all here for Timmy, it made me want to go out there and play my heart out.”
Matt, a senior noseguard, sprinted on to the field wearing Timmy’s old No. 85 jersey instead of his usual No. 52. He then turned in one of his best games with a pair of sacks as the Hornets rolled over Spotswood, 33-14, to get their first win of the season. It concluded an emotional week for the McDonnell family and the Holmdel community with an exhilarating blast of a win that also marked the Hornets’ first victory under new coach Jay Graham.
“Hearing ‘Fight, Timmy, fight!’ there were a lot of tears when that was going on,’’ Graham said. “Guys just really wanted to win it for Matty and his family. (Senior linebacker) Frank Condito had 13 tackles, and he said, ‘I’m not leaving the field without us getting a win for the family.’ Everyone was pumped up.”
There was no doubt in Matt’s mind that he was going to play on Friday night despite Timmy’s precarious situation after being critically injured in the early hours of Oct. 4 in New Brunswick, where Timmy is a student at Rutgers University.
“I knew that's what Timmy would have wanted me to do,’’ Matt said. “He would've wanted me to get that ‘W.’ It's been very up and down, very emotional. There’s a lot of different news. One day he's not gonna make it, and then one day he's doing great. It’s a lot to handle.”
“When Matty showed up in the locker room, just his presence, we all knew we were doing it for Timmy,’’ said sophomore quarterback Aneesh Agrawal, who threw for two scores and ran for another in piling up 301 yards of total offense. “Timmy only graduated two years ago so a lot of the older guys here know him and played with him. It was a very emotional game. We were just so happy for Matty because he's really well-liked on our team and he’s a great kid.”
The whole team went up and visited Timmy on Monday, and then short practices were held on Tuesday and Wednesday to allow team members to also go up and be by his bedside on those days. During the game, players wore stickers on their helmets with the initials “TM” on them. At halftime, long-time Holmdel public address announcer Bill Baronowsky detailed Timmy’s situation, and the crowd began its chant. The Hornets came out firing from the opening whistle, dominating the Chargers in rolling up 497 yards of total offense.
Following the win, the players dumped the water bucket on Matt McDonnell in celebration.
“All I thought after the game was, ‘This is for Timmy and everyone who has been there for my family the last couple days,’’’ Matt said. “My brother’s will fighting against this gave us the will to win. I truly believe that.”
Note: There is a Facebook page set up in support of Timmy McDonnell here.