PV senior’s journey back from torn ACL

Della Pesca to attend Temple University

Senior+James+Della+Pesca+tore+his+ACL+in+2018+and+has+since+committed+to+Temple+to+play+Division+I+football.

Matt Austin

Senior James Della Pesca tore his ACL in 2018 and has since committed to Temple to play Division I football.

Noah Silver, Sports Writer

Just over a year after facing the possibility of a limb being amputated, hard work and determination has driven PV senior James Della Pesca back from a severe injury.

“[The doctors] said if I came in a couple days earlier they would have probably had to take my leg off,” Della Pesca said.

Della Pesca, who plays tight end and defensive line, suffered a torn ACL on a 42-yard touchdown at home against Ridgefield Park in October of last season, ending his junior campaign and wiping out – at the very least– a significant portion of his senior year. His extended absence is largely in part due to the development of a staph infection in his knee, thus affecting the rest of his recovery process.

“A week went by [after tearing my ACL] and I felt fine,” Della Pesca said. “I was off crutches after a couple days and I was just walking around normally but then [after] the next day or so, I couldn’t move at all. I missed school for about two weeks [and] I was in excruciating pain. I’ve never experienced something that painful in my life.”

After consulting with doctors, Della Pesca underwent two surgeries. In the first one, his knee was drained by sticking in a needle to get rid of all of the excess liquids. According to Della Pesca, his knee filled up two water bottles worth of liquids.

“The doctors said it was unheard of,” Della Pesca said. “I’m [in] their [record] books and everything.”

Following the procedure to drain his knee, Della Pesca needed a second procedure to repair ligament damage. While it was difficult to keep a positive mindset, he used the realization that a lot of kids have it worse than him as motivation to push through. 

“It was never a steady course, sometimes you’ll be having a great day and then the next day you’ll be doing terrible.” Della Pesca said. “You always have to see the end goal. Everyday I would wake up and tell myself that a lot of kids have it much, much worse, [and] that was kind of my motivation.”

After getting his knee drained, Della Pesca underwent physical therapy in hopes of starting the process of recovery. Because of the physical therapy, he was already running before he even received the reconstruction surgery.

While his recovery was extremely draining both mentally and physically, Della Pesca still managed to be himself by showing his appreciation for the different people who helped him throughout the process – specifically those at the Varsity House in Old Tappan, which he attended for training.

“Those guys just really got me ready,” Della Pesca said.

During this hard time for Della Pesca, he wasn’t just sitting around letting his knee heal. He was up and with his teammates, pushing them to do the best they could throughout the season. Specifically, he made sure that every player on the team was doing his job to stay in shape and grow as a player.

“I just took kind of a disciplinary role,” Della Pesca said. “Just making sure everyone was doing all their lifts, doing all their runs, and coming to practice. I just kind of gave them a sense of motivation: it’s our senior year, give it everything you’ve got.” 

Ariela Alfonso
James Della Pesca runs through the PV Football sign.

Although Della Pesca is yet to be cleared to return to game action, he can see the light at the end of the tunnel after coming a long way in terms of recovery since suffering the injury. But on top of getting back into playing shape, he has had to deal with the college recruitment process, something that can get overwhelming at times.

Della Pesca credits PV head football coach Len Cusumano for helping him get through the process until he made his decision to commit to Temple to play Division I football.

“Coach Cusumano has done everything,” Della Pesca said. “He’s not just a coach to me; he’s basically a second dad. He’s done everything you can imagine with recruiting and bringing college coaches into the school to talk to me.”

Cusumano’s statement to Temple during the recruitment process made his feelings towards Della Pesca abundantly clear.

“From deep down in the foundation, James is a football player that loves playing the game, loves the camaraderie, loves the grind that’s involved with football and just being out there, being a leader and making plays,” Cusumano said. “I basically talked with Temple and said, ‘Listen, you’re getting an absolute diamond here. A guy that any college team is going to be happy to have on their team.’”

Along with football, Della Pesca is also profound at lacrosse. However, the decision to pursue football was not a difficult one.

“Football is so much more than a game,” Della Pesca said. “In the back of my mind, it was always football over anything else.”

With the 2019 regular season having come to an end, Della Pesca has not been able to make his impact on the field. However, off the field, his leadership rises above all. 

“We saw him be a leader from day one when he got here as a freshman,” Cusumano said. “He led our freshman team to a great record that year, then as a sophomore [he] stepped in and was even more so a vocal leader both on and off the field. We really didn’t have to [change] much [about] him, it was [always] embedded in him to be that kind of player and that kind of person.”