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Learning the work ethic from the farm, this Lilly Raider ultimately earned an Ivy League degree

… had to do his chores before practice

On a football field 55 years ago, I first met Bob Mardula. He had never played football before that, and I had never coached the game.

We were both novices, but in short order, he demonstrated that he could be a very tough player for a seventh grader.

However, while he excelled on the field for two years for the Lilly Raiders and later for the Penn Cambria Panthers, Bob also worked very hard in the classroom. That paid dividends for him as a high school senior when he was approached by a former Penn State player who later became a coach. His name was Otto Kneidinger, a native of Bellwood who had heard of his high school football skills — and his prowess in the classroom.

The road to the University of Pennsylvania

I told Bob this story a few years ago, one that he had not heard previously. I repeated it on Sunday at our Lilly Raider Football Championships Reunion.

This is what transpired. I wrote to Penn State about Bob, and they actually responded. The recruiting coordinator, an assistant coach, said that they had known about Bob and had viewed a few of his game films.

Essentially, he said that he will be a good college player, but Penn State wanted its linebackers to be about 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3, and Bob was not quite that tall.

However, Bob said that he was approached by Kneidinger, who was the first high school football player ever recruited by Joe Paterno, according to a bio about him written by Neil Rudel.

He said that he thought that I will fit in well at Penn. I had never even thought about going there, but he encouraged me to visit.

When I went down there for a visit, even their running backs were bigger than I was. How was I ever going to compete against guys this big?

Bob Mardula interview, 2019

After talking to the coaches and meeting with their financial aid personnel — Ivy League schools are not permitted to award athletic scholarships — Bob decided to tackle the challenge of attending Penn.


Bob decided to major in electrical engineering, and his first challenge was tackling the academic rigors. Freshmen were not permitted to play, so he could not compete until his sophomore season.

He earned a starting spot as an inside linebacker that season and never left it. Bob became a captain his senior year, and earned his degree in engineering.

Bob moved to Utah many years ago and has worked as an engineer at a number of companies. His LinkedIn bio noted that he a senior engineer and project manager at Kennecott Utah Copper from 2011 until 2020.

The farm and the work ethic

We generally practiced with the Lilly Raiders at about 5 p.m., but Bob had to rush home and complete his chores on the family farm before going to practice.

I talked with his father, Walt, many years ago, and he said that he hoped that his boys would appreciate the work ethic that he was teaching them in the future, though they may not have at a young age.

Bob’s athletic exploits continue as he continues to throw the javelin, shot, and discus in the senior games.

His accomplishments are a great testament to him and make all of us proud of what he has accomplished in life.

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