SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - South Plainfield High School senior Abdul Cokley was recently awarded a Marisa Tufaro Foundation Greater Middlesex Conference Student-Athlete Scholarship for his efforts on and off the field.

Cokley learned he received the scholarship this past weekend from Greg Tufaro, a local high school sports reporter, and from the SPHS varsity head football coach, Gary Cassio.

“I found out I received this award from Mr. Tufaro and coach Cassio from a call on Sunday. I was just very much in shock when I first heard the news, but also very grateful,” Cokley told TAPinto South Plainfield. “In my head after I applied I didn’t think I was going to get it after reading the bios from the past winners. I didn’t feel like I matched up to them even though I know I accomplished a lot. I am just thankful that the committee was able to see something in me that sometimes I don’t see in myself.”

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According to the foundation’s website, each scholarship (there are multiple given) are good for $500 and are given to “exceptional high school seniors from the GMC who have overcome adversity, who strive for excellence academically and athletically, who have engaged in community service and who have been inspired by Marisa’s story to make difference in the lives of others”.

“It really means a lot to receive a scholarship from the foundation,” Cokley said. “In school, I never had the highest grades and was never the best athlete on my teams, but being able to be recognized not only for my academic or athletic abilities, but for my involvement in the community and all the outside activities I do all together is really amazing. This is a great foundation that continues to grow every year and reading Marisa’s story, it really inspired me and kept me going because honestly it taught me that I have no excuse to not do or accomplish anything I want to do in life. That’s something that keeps me going and makes me push myself every day and to now be able to be a part of this foundation in a way is truly an honor.”

Cokley was a starter on both sides of the ball for the Tigers’ on the gridiron. He was also an all-division pick in track and field. Cokley was also a member of more than one organization and clubs at the school in addition to being in the band while having a part-time job.

“Abdul is a great well-rounded student-athlete. His work ethic and family have been a major component to his success,” SPHS athletic director Kevin McCann said. “From his experiences, I’m sure he will do great things in his future endeavors.”

Cokley, who intends to major in marketing at Hampton University down in Virginia, was in the French Club and French Honor Society, served as vice president and secretary of the Impact Bible Club, and was in DECA. Outside of school and sports, he spent time at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, the Achievers Group at the Westfield YMCA, and the Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA At the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, he helped prep and pack food for families in need. At the Westfield YMCA, he met every week to obtain life skills and participated in activities. At the Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA, he was a part of the Fall Harvest Festival and the MLK Day of Service, where he celebrated the life and legacy of spokesperson and leader of the Civil Rights Movement Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Cokley also is active at his church, Ruth Fellowship Ministries and also recently received a Bill Denny/Rutgers Football Letter winners Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame scholarship for all of the same reasons.

“I think it was my story and how I overcame obstacles in my life and was able to accomplish a lot put me a little over the top,” Cokley said. “Just all of the clubs I’m involved in as well as community service and being able to juggle that with sports, school and still be successful with all of those things I believe helped.

“It is definitely a grind with doing all of those things and sometimes I don’t know how I do it myself, but (after) a while it became a routine. I know especially during football season I had literally no free time during the week with practice, club meetings, work, homework, and volunteering, but I just had to push through being tired and not wanting to do things some days because I knew it would help me in the long run. I am also a person that when I start something I stay committed and never give up on it so I just made sure that I got everything I needed to get done and put my best effort into everything.”

The Marisa Tufaro Foundation is named after Marisa Rose Tufaro, who passed away at the age of 13 on Jan. 30, 2017 from a rare form of cancer after complications from a heart transplant that was supposed to extend her life. Tufaro was born with a cardiac defect that required six open-heart surgeries. The foundation’s mission is to help children in need throughout the greater Middlesex County area.

“I just wanted to thank the Marisa Tufaro Foundation for selecting me for this award,” Cokley said. “It really means a lot that you believe in me and like I said earlier, you were able to see something in me that I struggle to see in myself.

“After reading the story it really helped me see and recognize the impact that I not only made in my school but in my community as well. This honestly means the world to me and I will forever be grateful.”

For more about the Marisa Tufaro Foundation, click here.

Follow Chris Nalwasky on Twitter @ChrisWasky.