Lafayette "Dodie" Donnell grew up across the street from the Hackensack High School football field and track, places that eventually became his home away from home.
But Donnell, who died Friday at the age of 51 after a battle with cancer, was more than just a high-profile athlete for the Comets in the early '70s. He came back as an equally high-profile coach, helping to groom a string of stellar running backs who were part of the backbone of the Hackensack football dynasty of the late '90s.
"One of the first things I did when I got the [Hackensack] job was hire him," said Greg Toal, the former Hackensack and current Don Bosco head football coach. "Let me tell you, it paid great dividends.
"Dodie was always a character, and the kids loved him. The one thing about our running backs was that they all learned how to block. When my son, Greg, switched to fullback at Boston College, I had him work with Dodie for two weeks straight, just learning how to block."
Donnell was an All-Bergen selection in football and track before graduating from Hackensack in 1974.
"In 1973, Steve Wyche was a senior and our top sprinter," said Ed Church, Hackensack athletic director and longtime track coach. "In the 200 in the State sectional, Dodie blew him out in the final. He was far ahead, but he slowed down and let the senior win the race, and the next week, Steve won the State Group 4 championship.
"That's the kind of guy Dodie was. You didn't see that kind of sportsmanship in a 16-year-old kid."
Mike Miello, his football coach with the Comets, said Donnell's best high school performance may have been his last.
"It was against Teaneck, and I remember that it was an outstanding performance," said Miello, the current head coach at William Paterson University. "He did everything a running back can do in that game -- speed, quickness, strength. Every college recruiter on that tape alone offered him on the spot. You could do that in those days."
Donnell chose Nebraska, where he was a four-year letter winner and three-year starter at fullback. He was drafted by the Jets in the fourth round in 1978 (88th overall), but was cut midway through training camp.
"He was the best blocking fullback ever to come out of Nebraska," Toal said.
Donnell, who still lived in Hackensack, was an assistant football coach and outdoor track coach at Englewood this school year.
"He's done a lot for a lot of kids; more than just sports," said former Hackensack football coach Ralph Dass. "He was a member of the community, and he made a difference."