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St. Pius X - Alumni Football Players!
January 22nd, 2013

Back in the day, not so long ago, when St. Pius X head coach Paul Standard finally – after multiple attempts -- convinced Kevin Cone to play football, you can mark it in stone that no thought was given to idea of the lean, quick track and basketball standout one day going to an NFC Championship Game. 


Yet Cone will be on the sideline Sunday in the Georgia Dome as the Atlanta Falcons host the NFC title game for the first time in franchise history, against the San Francisco 49ers. 


The former Golden Lion (2007) will not play; the Falcons placed him on the injured reserve list on Christmas Eve with a groin injury after he played in 12 of Atlanta's 15 regular season game. He has since had surgery. 


Cone will be front and center on the sideline while supporting his teammates, however, same as last Sunday for Atlanta's near-miracle win over the Seahawks. 


When [the Seahawks] were getting close to the end zone [in the final minute], I thought our defense was going to hold,” he said. “They had come up big on fourth-and-short earlier in the game.” 


After the Seahawks scored to take a 28-27 lead with 37 second remaining, Cone believed completely in quarterback Matt Ryan and the offense – his workmates. 


I knew Matt and all the receivers, the offensive line, the tight ends . . . I knew we had plenty of time to get a shot at a field goal,” he said. 


It would take quite a sequence of events to rescue that game. 


That's been happening of late. 


It has been a glorious recent run for the St. Pius X football family, and that goes beyond the Golden Lions' fall march to the state Class AAA Championship Game in the Georgia Dome – although the Dome has become a familiar spot. 


Geno Smith (2012) played extensively for Alabama as the Crimson Tide edged Georgia in the SEC Championship Game in the Dome, and the freshman defensive back played quite a bit as Alabama beat Notre Dame for the BCS national title. 


Before that, former SPX standout Matt Pierce (2009) returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown in the Division II national championship game to propel Valdosta State to a title win over Winston-Salem State. 


Pierce, a cornerback, was a four-year starter for the Blazers. 


In the Dome last Sunday, Cone and the Falcons sweated it out. 


Ryan completed his only two passes after the Seahawks' go-ahead score, and Atlanta used its final two timeouts as the Falcons worked themselves into position for Matt Bryant's 49-yard field goal try. 


He missed the first try, but Seattle coach Pete Carroll had called timeout right before the snap so that play did not count. The re-try was good with eight seconds remaining for a 30-28 win. 


I couldn't jump up and down, but I was getting hugs and screaming,” said Cone, who helped the Golden Lions to the 2006 state track and field championship. “I was super excited. Everyone was smiling, happy, just crazy.” 


Cone's path has in its own way been as special as the Falcons' trail. 


He was chiefly a defensive back at SPX, and while he worked some on offense, Kevin Cone certainly didn't land on recruiting radars as a wideout. The football bug had bitten him, however, which might not be as much a surprise as you'd think. 


His father, Ronny Cone, played for Georgia Tech and was briefly with the NFL's New York Jets. He has helped coach in the SPX middle school program for several years. 


So Kevin went to play at Shorter College, and after one season in Rome he figured he could make it at the highest collegiate level. He transferred in '08 to Tech, where he caught just five passes in two seasons -- all in his senior campaign of 2010. 


Again, he didn't land on the radars of NFL scouts. Again, he was not dissuaded. 


After working out privately for the Falcons with the hope of landing a free agent contract in '11, that's exactly what happened. Although Cone was cut in the preseason, the team signed Kevin to the practice squad. He was activated for the final regular season game. 


That groin injury bothered him much of this, his second, season, yet he played special teams in a dozen regular season games for Atlanta last fall. 


Through it all, Cone has maintained contact with his prep touchstones. 


I came by the school twice during the season,” he said. “I love going back, and I talk to coach Standard for an hour, and Mr. [Steve] Spellman for an hour. I love seeing my teachers. It's so much fun. 


I went to one game, and I got to see them play. I wasn't able to make the state championship game. It's just a testament to the coaching staff. They deserve everything they get.” 


Even though Cone cannot play for the Falcons Sunday, he's entitled to full playoff bonus shares, and emotionally invested to the max. His goal is to rehabilitate in time to participate in spring drills. Certainly, he'll be ready by summer. 


Kevin Cone won't play Sunday, and he's not likely to even jump, but he'll be on the sideline . . . fully invested. 


I'm lucky to be a part of it,” he said. “It's such a blessing to be playing for the city that I grew up in. “That game really just showed what NFL playoff games are about. No lead is safe, and you have to play the whole 60 minutes. 


We had two great quarters, second half a little slow. Our guys dug deep, and were able to pull out the win. I'm sure everyone was drained, especially the guys that played. It was amazing.” 


– Matt Winkeljohn 

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