Freehold High School graduate Stacey Sunnerville, 21, has carved out a path to success at Widener University in Chester, Pa., and that path began in Freehold Borough.
Sunnerville, who is a senior at Widener, is involved in many activities on campus. He is a member of the Sigma Alpha Pi national leadership honor society, a Pride Mentor for his fellow students and a member of the football team.
He is featured with other undergrads on marketing materials for the Widener Fund campaign that assists students. The marketing materials are distributed to the school’s alumni and donors.
Sunnerville is a charter and founding member of Widener’s chapter of Phi Beta Sigma, a social/service collegiate and professional fraternity founded at Howard University in 1914 by three African-American male students with nine other students.
Sunnerville and two other students started the Phi Beta Sigma chapter at Widener in 2014.
“Stacey Sunnerville is a standout student,” said Dan Hanson, the university’s director of public relations. “That is why we selected him to highlight in some of the university’s marketing materials. He is a standout on the football field and in the classroom, and is equally praised by his coaches and faculty who agree he is a shining example to his peers.”
Angie Corbo, an associate professor and faculty adviser, has been Sunnerville’s adviser and professor for four years. She called Sunnerville a “leader among his peers” and said he is a “stellar student with a strong personal character.”
“I am continually impressed with his ability to manage multiple leadership roles in the classroom, athletics, Greek life and other campus organizations. Stacey is the person his classmates seek out for group projects and counsel. He has a positive attitude and a strong sense of responsibility. His determination and ability to meet high personal standards will continue to drive him to success throughout his life,” Corbo said.
Sunnerville’s mother, Debbie Freeman, said her son attended Freehold Borough elementary schools and graduated from Freehold High School in 2012. He made his mark academically and on the football field.
“Stacey has a strong work ethic and a positive attitude,” she said. “Although he played soccer and basketball, football was his passion. He loved the game, but did not want it to consume his life in college. He just wanted to play ball. Education was his first priority. It was never his intention to work toward the NFL. He was realistic. He was out there to play his passion. He has to be kept busy. He got that from his father and football gave him that.”
Freeman said she and her late husband, Stacey, who died on June 25, 2012, exposed their son to different things as he was growing up. He found that football was his niche.
“He went to Widener for an overnight recruiting trip and fell in love with it,” Freeman said. “Coach Isaac Collins was floored by his knowledge of the game.” In high school, Sunnerville played on Freehold’s 2010 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III state sectional championship team coached by Mark Ciccotelli. He received the Sam Mills Leadership Award while in high school.
Sunnerville credited Ciccotelli with providing a strong foundation. He also credited his performance on the field to Val Barnaby, the owner of E.S.S.A Sports Performance, Tinton Falls. Barnaby is a former professional football player. This fall, Sunnerville, a defensive lineman, was named to the All-Middle Atlantic Conference First Team following a season in which he was fourth in the country in quarterback sacks (13) and third in tackles for a loss (21.5).
On Oct. 1 he made 11 total tackles (9 solo), had five quarterback sacks and forced a fumble in Widener’s 27-7 win at Wilkes University. Widener (6-4) recorded its fifth consecutive winning campaign.
While at Widener, Sunnerville, who is majoring in public relations with a concentration in marketing, was selected to attend the International Youth Leadership Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in December 2013.
“It was a very humbling experience. I learned so much being introduced to so many cultures,” he said, adding that he met young adults from countries including Indonesia, Australia and Afghanistan. “I did not understand the magnitude of it until I was there and able to experience something that many other people never will. I was honored to represent my university at the conference.”
Sunnerville said the conference was a study of millennials (individuals born between the early 1980s and early 2000s) and how they will deal with political issues in the future.
“We discussed geopolitical issues, had round table discussions, presentations and teaching sessions about the laws, cultures and economy revolving around Arab nations,” he said. “It was basically a cultural immersion of Arab nations, in particular the economy and political international relationships, to see how tomorrow’s leaders will react and compete. We worked on devising a plan to combat the issues and apply what we learned to situations given.
“If we understood one another better, we might not have the problems we have with today’s issues,” he said. “I learned the world is bigger than New Jersey and Pennsylvania and the East Coast and the experience made me more competitive. I saw the competition among other nations, including seeing 18-year-olds who had master’s degrees, which heightened my awareness of that competition.”
Sunnerville said Widener offered him the best combination of a coaching staff, school setting and curriculum.
“At the time, my father was being treated at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia. Being at Widener would allow me to visit him. Unfortunately, he passed away before I started college,” he said.
Stacey’s father died five days after he graduated from high school. Sunnerville said his parents were the biggest influence in his life, especially his father.
“He taught me that because you are successful today, it does not automatically ensure you will be successful tomorrow. I have to strive for success every day and that can’t be taken away. He was very big on hard work. He told me, ‘Hold your head up, keep your nose clean and walk the path that God has set before you. That’s all I ask.’ ”