WEST SENECA, N.Y. -- One of the first NFL players to be diagnosed with CTE was West Seneca native Justin Strzelczyk. Friday night, his sister and his children went to West Seneca West High School to present the football team and alumni with an NFL golden football.
Joe Cantafio is a former West Seneca West head football coach. You'll still find him on the sidelines volunteering on Friday nights. He also played high school football with 1986 West Seneca West graduate Justin Strzelczyk.
"He always talked about his dream of playing in the NFL, and to be able to honor him and have his kids come in for this is a great honor. A long overdue honor," says Cantafio.
Strzelczyk went on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers and started for the team in Super Bowl XXX. He played in the NFL until 1998 and passed away in 2004 after a crash on the Thruway following years of living with concussion-related mental health problems.
"Anybody that knew Justin knew that there had to be more to it than some of the things that were out there. So now that we know that, the hope is that the future, there's a lot more care they are taking whether it's on the youth level or pro-level for concussions, CTE, and if that can be part of Justin's legacy to protect future players, I'm sure he'd be thrilled with that," says Cantafio.
The golden football commemorates Super Bowl 50 and celebrates the high schools that contributed to Super Bowl history. Two-thousand schools received golden footballs this year honoring three-thousand players and coaches.
While he's been to Western New York before, this is the first time Strzelczyk's son, who also named Justin, has visited his dad's high school.
"It's really cool. It's really nostalgic. It's nice to see, we were driving over here and my godfather he was pointing out places they used to eat and places they used to go and have fun, so it's a really cool kind of homecoming for myself and my sister," said Strzelczyk.
Strzelczyk says it was really special being able to talk with his dad's high school teammates as they shared stories about his father with him. It's exactly how he would like his dad to be remembered.
"Just good ones. Just good memories. A lot of people come up to me and they're giving me all these good memories, so that's what I like to hear," he said.
The golden football is now on display at the high school in a new award case dedicated in Strzelczyk's memory.