12/19/2011 12:31 PM -

By Evan Vladem, AFL Communications

It’s fascinating that one of the League’s biggest fan bases surrounds Jacksonville Sharks kicker Marco Capozzoli.

He is hounded for autographs before and after games. Shirtless fans stand on the seats of the Jacksonville Memorial Arena with Marco painted across their stomachs and down their arms. He packs tour busses with fans eager to see him play. He has even been asked to a senior prom by a passionate fan.

“I guess you can call it my official fan club,” Capozzoli said. “I had to turn down the prom invitation though. I would do anything as a player for my fans but I couldn’t do that.”

It’s not often that a kicker gets so much love. But Capozzoli lives by the saying, ‘give and you shall receive.’ And Capozzoli is fond of giving.

It all started at Monticlair State in 2009. Capozzoli’s aunt was a breast cancer survivor and as Breast Cancer Awareness month neared, Capozzoli watched NFL teams sporting pink on the field.

“Why not bring breast cancer awareness to Division III football?” Capozzoli wondered.

 He joined forces with a teammate, bought pink socks and sweatpants for the entire team, raised money and donated the proceeds to a cancer research center in town.

“I saw the impact that it had on so many people. I decided from that point on, whatever opportunity I had to make a difference in peoples lives, I was going to take it.”

Success came on the field too. Capozzoli notched 10 of 15 field goals, leading the conference in PAT percentage (.972) that year. He was named CAANJ Division III Male Athlete of the Year.

Upon graduation, Capozzoli was invited to the Elite Pro Football Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“I went 8-of-10 on field goals from 55-yards out. I kicked well,” Capozzoli remembered. “My kickoff range was about 70-73 yards but it wasn’t good enough to get picked up by an NFL squad. I never wanted to give up on my dream though.”

The following Tuesday, Capozzoli received a call from former Tulsa Talons Head Coach Mitch Allner. Capozzoli boarded a plane the next day, worked out and hopped on the team bus to Dallas.

“I kicked in my first AFL game that Saturday. I went 10-for-10 on extra points and put all my kickoffs off the net. They offered me a spot for the remainder of the season,” Capozzoli said.

 After playing a key role in the Talons’ playoff birth, Capozzoli was assigned to the Jacksonville Sharks in 2011. During camp, Capozzoli was introduced to LaRoche Jackson and later met Vladimir Richard.

“We all had the same morals and fit right in,” Capozzoli said.

Soon, the three became roommates.

“We wanted to keep doing good no matter what. We decided that we would use our blessings to help other people,” he said.

Then, the three roommates met Chevan, a three-year-old boy from England, who was diagnosed with a tumor behind his eye. Chevan was receiving treatment at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville.

“We fell in love with him,” Capozzoli said. “He opened our eyes to his life and the struggles he was going through. Most importantly, he always had a smile on his face. He was more of a hero to us and showed us that things will get hard and not everything will go our way. When we looked at Chevan and saw he could persevere through everything, keep a smile on his face and his head up; we felt we could do the same thing.”

Capozzoli wrote a CA on his arm before every game for Chevan and tapped it before every kick.

“It just reminded me that no matter what happens in the crazy game of football, good and bad, you have to stay humble,” Capozzoli said.

The three continued to give back to the community. They regularly visited hospitals, children hospitals, participated in walks for a cause and served food at homeless shelters.

“We’re going to be the example and hopefully other people will follow. Sports are temporary. The impact we are having on these kids lives will last forever,” he said.

Capozzoli decided to donate $10 for every extra point he kicked and $30 for each field goal to the Ronald McDonald House. He also donated 15 percent of his game checks. Capozzoli called it the Kick for Kids.

“The media portrays us as ‘special people’ but we don’t feel that way. We have feelings too and understand the struggles of life. We want to help people to get them through whatever that struggle may be,” Capozzoli said.

During the Jacksonville Sharks run in 2011, Capozzoli nailed 121 extra points and seven field goals. He also connected on 21 extra points and a field goal in the postseason. The team went on to become ArenaBowl XXIV Champions.

“It was surreal,” Capozzoli said. “We pulled it off and we couldn’t have dreamt a better ending. Professionally, it meant everything.”

Capozzoli continued his community efforts after the season. He spoke at high schools and is leading a food drive at a homeless shelter on January 22, 2012.

“I think that’s why people open their arms to me and help me feel that much more welcome in Jacksonville. I think that’s where all of the support comes from,” Capozzoli said.