Undrafted, Costa becomes an NFL starter

Posted: September 16, 2011

Phil Costa was in no mood to reflect on his remarkable rise to the NFL, and who could blame him?

The former offensive lineman from Holy Cross was still digesting the bitter defeat that he and his Dallas Cowboys teammates had just suffered in what wasn't a happy homecoming for the Moorestown resident.

It was less than an hour after the Cowboys squandered a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead in Sunday's 27-24 loss to the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium, and Costa was preparing for the long ride back to Dallas.

He was cordial, but this loss hurt. Costa, the starting center, clearly felt the pain.

"We went here to win," he said softly. "We battled hard."

Battling hard is a constant theme for the 6-foot-3, 314-pound Costa. After high school, nothing has come easy in football.

He wanted to play Division I college football, and according to his high school coach, Jerry McConnell, only after a player had de-committed from the University of Maryland did the school offer him a late scholarship.

After redshirting his first year, 2005, Costa wound up starting 30 games for Maryland over four seasons, first at guard before moving to center in his senior year.

"He willed himself to be a great player," McConnell said. "Nobody was going to outwork him."

Costa earned a degree in criminology and criminal justice from Maryland and began working toward a graduate certificate in real estate development in the fall of 2009.

Yet Costa wanted first and foremost to continue his football career. He signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent and appeared in four games last season, making one start at guard.

Few could have forecast that Costa would earn a single paycheck from the NFL, let alone start.

In the quiet Cowboys locker room, Costa forced a smile when it was suggested that if he were given a dollar for everybody who said he wouldn't make it, he would have accumulated a nice sum.

"I would have a little money in my pocket," he said.

This preseason, Dallas cut five-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode and awarded Costa the starting job.

In high school, Costa and teammate Dennis Landolt formed one of the more devastating offensive-line combinations in recent area history. Landolt went on to star at Penn State and now is with the New Orleans Saints practice squad. Costa remains tight with his former linemate.

"Dennis and I played next to each other, and he is in New Orleans and it's pretty cool that two guys playing together are in the league right now," he said.

That was the most reflective Costa would get about being in the NFL. As McConnell said, his work ethic is legendary, and to those who know him, so is his character.

Paul VI assistant coach Tony Lorine, who was an assistant at Holy Cross when Costa played there, has maintained a close relationship. Lorine, who works as a counselor at an elementary school, recently received a call that a youngster was in need of clothes.

He called Costa, who sent sneakers and shorts to the youngster the next day. McConnell and Lorine talk of stories of Costa calling young football players, encouraging them to hang in there. Imagine the impact of receiving an encouraging call from an NFL player.

"He is one of the nastiest people on the field and a true gentleman off it," Lorine said. "He is a Hall of Famer when it comes to heart."

Costa won't allow himself time to reflect on what he has gained.

"Coach [Lorine] always told me one day at a time, and that is what I have tried to do in my career so far," Costa said.

It has worked to this point, and while nothing has come easy, Costa continues to defy the odds, one day at a time.


Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225, mnarducci@phillynews.com, or @sjnard on Twitter. Find his Rally columns at www.philly.com/narducci.

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