Matt Cepro had a connection with Ben Roethlisberger even before snaring passes from the all-pro quarterback.
The teen from New Castle — a hometown he shares with Roethlisberger’s wife — attended Big Ben’s youth football camp at Seneca Valley, where he was selected as one of three “Campers of the Day” on Tuesday. About 500 boys and girls ages 7 to 14 participated in the two-day training sessions.
Other Steelers taking part included coach Mike Tomlin, defensive end Brett Keisel and veteran quarterback Charlie Batch.
Besides getting instruction and having footballs tossed to them from a Super Bowl champion, campers participated in games, stations and skills contests. Cepro was one of three campers selected to participate in a “Go For It” competition in which the participants received escalating prizes if they successfully caught passes from Roethlisberger at increasing distances. Any dropped passes eliminated them.
Matt, who is the son of Robert and Randi Jo Gettings of New Castle, had no trouble grabbing the first toss from about 15 yards, winning a pack of football trading cards in the process. Catching the next pass on a 40-yard fly pattern earned him $30 to spend at the camp store. Then came the ultimate challenge, a 71-yard pass from Big Ben.
Cepro said Roethlisberger put the ball on the mark from every distance.
“I was real nervous,” said Cepro, whose calm demeanor was pushed to its limit. “I just didn’t want to drop it.” He watched the football spiral closer until it dropped into his chest as he craddled it. He clutched the football as he fell backward.
“Ben threw it from the 25-yard line and Matt caught it at the four,” said Gettings, Matt’s stepfather, who recorded the play on his camera and posted it online.
For his efforts, Cepro received a hat signed by Rothlisberger and Tomlin on Monday to go with an autographed Roethlisberger jersey for camper honors on Tuesday.
When posing for a photograph with the former Super Bowl MVP, Cepro said Rothlisbereger asked where he lived. When Cepro responded “New Castle,” Big Ben did a double take. “My wife (the former Ashley Harlan) is from there,” he told Cepro, who was aware of that fact.
Cepro, who will be an eighth grader at New Castle Junior High School in the fall, played wide receiver, safety and linebacker on last year’s unbeaten junior high team. He caught touchdown passes against West Middlesex and Knoch last year.
Cepro prefers wide receiver and has no plans to try quarterback, unaware that Roethlisberger also was a wide receiver in high school until being moved to quarterback for his senior year.
Cepro was able to attend the camp because of the generosity of a co-worker of his stepfather. A woman who won tickets to go to the camp didn’t have children so she passed them on to Gettings.
Cepro said it was a valuable experience. “It wasn’t that I learned anything new, but I learned how to do things better,” Cepro said.
As for being named Camper of the Day, Cepro said he was surprised. “I think it had to do with attitude and effort,” he said.
And perhaps a good set of hands.
Watch below as Cepro handles three passes from Roethlisberger, ending in his amazing 70 yard catch.