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"Troy sets an example without being showy?' says coach Andy Reid. "He's a great listener, and he's helpful with the young guys. He's like a grandfather in the locker room. I feel lucky to have him here."
Vincent probably feels lucky to be there as well, considering the myriad pitfalls of a childhood in east Trenton's squalid Wilbur section. He grew up dreaming of the NBA and played basketball—occasionally for free shoes in games sponsored by rival drug dealers, he says—in the Garden, a fenced-in, blacktop court in the drug-infested park directly behind the home he and Alma shared with her parents. (Vincent declines to talk about his father, saying, "I was raised in a single-parent home.") Concerned about Troy's lackluster performance in school and the neighborhood influences, Alma moved Troy to Bucks County, Pa., before the seventh grade. He attended school there for three years, the last at Pennsbury High.
However, living expenses soon overwhelmed Alma, who was working as a corrections officer at a youth detention center, and they returned to Trenton for Troy's sophomore year. "When he had to go back, we all started crying," says Jacqueline Leonard, his guidance counselor at Pennsbury. "We knew if he went back to Trenton, he was going to be lost." The following summer Linda and James Bodley, the parents of Troy's good friend at Pennsbury, James Bodley Jr., invited Troy to live with them during the next two school years.
At the start of his senior year the Bodleys told Vincent that he had to find something productive to do after school. So, for the first time, he tried tackle football. One standout season later he was off to Wisconsin. "Going to Pennsbury and then living in Madison, with all their diversity and different ways of thinking, meant everything to me," says Vincent, who also lettered in basketball and track at Pennsbury. "Most of all, it helped me appreciate where I'm from."
He returns weekly to his old neighborhood, visiting with longtime friends and hounding teens to finish school, to get those job applications out. He sits on the benches that a few years back he paid to have installed outside the Garden. (His donations, along with the money he has contributed for the park's upkeep, explain why the city wanted to rename the park after him; instead it bears the name of Jefferson Vincent, in memory of Troy's grandfather.) When looking for a home for Eltekon, Vincent eschewed Philly office space for a corner building just blocks from Wilbur. He also works out regularly in the gleaming weight room at Trenton High, which he refurbished at a cost of $50,000. (He made an identical donation to Pennsbury High.) "It's good for the kids to see someone who made it and then came back, gave back," Vincent says. "They see what hard work at their age can mean over the long term."
Such has been the thrust of several talks he's given to NFL rookies in recent years. "I learned early [with the Dolphins], from guys like Dan Marino and Bernie Kosar, that preparing for life after football begins the day you arrive," he says. "It has to, because the average NFL career is about two years. Two years? That's not a career, that's a job at Burger King during the summers."
Still, Vincent is acutely aware that, spartan work ethic notwithstanding, everyone needs a little divine providence, as the goodwill of the Bodleys was for him. It's why he and Tommi distribute gift certificates outside Trenton-area supermarkets at Thanksgiving and donate new clothing and blankets to homeless shelters at Christmas. It's also why they take their three children—daughter Desir�, 14 (Tommi's child from a previous relationship), and sons Troy Jr., 5, and Taron, 18 months—with them on their charitable outings. "Kids don't do what we tell them to do, they do what they see us do," Vincent says. "So I have to live the lifestyle I'm preaching."
As he speaks, he turns and looks at the house he and Tommi purchased in Yardley six years ago, on a tip from Linda Bodley. He shakes his head as if in disbelief, then goes silent. "My kids need to see what hard work is," he finally says. "They need to see how fortunate they are to have all that they have." With that, he begins the leisurely walk through his wrought-iron gate and up the winding driveway, past the wooded grove to his right. The front door of the brick manor swings wide, and Troy Jr. bounds across the lawn to give his father a hug.
Across the road Lang's asparagus fields are long gone, replaced by a housing development, but you can be sure little Troy will be hearing about them soon enough.