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Spotlight Knight - Isaih Pacheco

It has been a long journey for sophomore running back Isaih Pacheco, but through it all, he never stopped moving his feet.

After the dust settled on the first week of the 2019 college football season, he stood atop as the leader in touchdowns across the entire country with his 4-touchdown performance against UMass, a feat achieved by only eight other players in 150 years of Rutgers football. It was a performance that made him a national leader and an early-season candidate for the Heisman Trophy, the highest individual award in American college football.

In the post-game press conference, a chain hung from his neck with the name "Jodie" embroidered in gold letters.

"This is my mom's name," Pacheco said of the chain. "Her name is Felicia (Cannon), but we call her Jodie. Every time I get an interview or go anywhere, I wear the chain to represent my mom."

Pacheco is the youngest of his mother's five children, but 1 of only 3 that she has left.

In January 2016, Pacheco was coming off his sophomore season at Vineland High School. A 3-7 campaign, in which 16-year-old Pacheco showed promise as the young quarterback, ended with optimism for his potential and future with the program. That optimism was overshadowed by tragedy when his brother Travoise Cannon was found dead in his own apartment in Bridgeton, New Jersey.

"(My brother) was always out there, watching out for me," Pacheco said, according to NJ Advance Media. “I had an electric four-wheeler, and my brother first taught me how to ride. That was always something I liked to do as a hobby, riding four-wheelers and dirt bikes ... He was my mom’s first baby."

Pacheco returned to the field later that year for his junior season. His sister, Celeste Cannon, was in the stands almost every week to watch her little brother lead Vineland as the star quarterback and a standout defensive back, to its best season in 32 years. 

As a dual threat, he flashed his knack for explosive rushing that Rutgers fans witnessed under the lights of SHI Stadium on Friday night. Like his performance against the Minutemen, Pacheco put up 4 touchdowns on Thanksgiving of that year, along with 275 rushing yards to deliver Vineland their first Thanksgiving Day victory over rival Millville since 2008.

The summer following his historic junior year, Pacheco officially committed to Rutgers, negating offers from Syracuse, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, Louisville and Iowa — who he will face this Saturday — to play for his home state university. But before coming to the Banks and making his name on a historic season opener, Pacheco had a job to finish his senior year at Vineland. And another tragedy to overcome.

Shortly after committing to Rutgers, Pacheco helped his sister move into her new apartment in the rival town of Millville.

Vineland started the 2017 season 1-0 with Pacheco as the team captain. The next week he led his team to a 61-6 victory over Cherry Hill, rushing for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns on just four attempts. Four days later, his sister Celeste Cannon was found dead by gunshot in the Millville apartment that he helped move her into.

“My sister was like my best friend,” Pacheco said. “She could cook, but she couldn’t cook as good as my mom. When Celeste cooked, she was probably going to burn something … I still think about my sister to this day … I miss her a lot.”

Police arrested Donald Scurry Jr., of Bridgeton, on Sept. 27, 2017 and charged him with Celeste Cannon’s murder, according to the Press of Atlantic City. The Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office said he and Celeste Cannon had a relationship. Scurry was sentenced to 65 years in prison.

Three days after his sister's death, Pacheco returned to the football field and led Vineland to a 42-6 victory over Egg Harbor, rushing for 222 yards and 2 touchdowns. The night of her funeral, he took the field again to lead his team to an even greater 60-6 victory over Cumberland.

“He was very resilient,’’ Vineland coach Dan Russo said. “He dedicated that game and the rest of that season to his family."

On his senior day, he was escorted to the middle of the Vineland field by his mother Jodie. Halfway through the ceremony, he dug his head into her shoulder and laid it there until it was time to come off the field. 

Pacheco finished a senior season dedicated to his family as a WJFL All-Continental Division First Team selection with 1,414 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns in 10 games.

His freshman season at Rutgers was a chance for a new start in the new position of running back that better suited his skill set in the Big 10. He surrounded himself with new family members on the football team. During a team bonding retreat this summer, Pacheco opened up to his teammates about his past and their support has elevated him in going into his sophomore campaign, support that culminated in his historic performance to the top of the national leaderboards.

“Football is a sport that changes lives,’’ said head coach Chris Ash. “It provides opportunities for people to join a group of teammates that typically become like family. That’s what’s happened with (Pacheco) and his teammates. He’s gone through some tough, tragic situations, and because of football, he’s been able to stay connected with people who care about him."

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