By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Matt Galambos doesn’t really consider himself anything miraculous. He was too young to realize the tattered world around him. When portly Matt would plunk himself down on the sofa and eat junk food all day watching TV. When he stayed up as long as he wanted. When he did whatever he wanted.
Any semblance of supervision usually came from his older brother John, just a teenager, or his sister Jeanine, who wasn’t much older than him. To Matt, sitting in front of the TV while his mother chased her demons to who-knows-where was part of childhood. Part of being a normal six-year old.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Haverford School senior linebacker is anything but normal. He plays with a sideline-to-sideline recklessness. He’s headed to Pitt on a football scholarship, carrying a weighted 4.1 GPA at the academically intense Inter-Academic League school and is arguably the best defensive player in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
But Galambos wouldn’t be where he is today if Virginia Lux didn’t walk into his Collingdale, Delaware County home one September day in 2000 and find three children living in roiling miasma, with a bare refrigerator and a cabinet that had a moldy loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter.
Virginia, Matt’s feisty grandmother with South Philly roots, had her suspicions about what was going on with her daughter Julie, Matt’s mother. But she had to see it for herself, and it was enough to change her grandchildren’s lives and set the direction Matt would take.
Galambos had a tenuous relationship with his father, and his mother was plagued by a dependence she could never really free herself of when Matt was young.
“I really didn’t think there was anything wrong, I was this fat little kid, you should see pictures of me then, who just watched TV all day and ate junk,” Matt recalled. “There was no real adult supervision. My brother and sister pretty much raised me when I was young, and they were kids themselves. I was six. I really had no idea what was going on.”
But Virginia and James Lux, Matt’s maternal grandparents, did. They saw the path their grandchildren were possibly heading and weren’t about to let it happen.
“I won’t forget it,” Virginia said. “The house was a mess, so I told Julie she had to do something immediately to get some help, or I was going to take the kids. She had to get herself together and wouldn’t be allowed back in the house until she did. Jim and I were living in Florida at the time and I remember calling him and saying I wasn’t going back to Florida. I was going to stay up here with the kids. I couldn’t let it happen. I used to have nightmares every night, because I was afraid of what would happen to Matt and the kids.”
So in February 2001, Virginia grabbed their clothes, stuffed them in plastic trash bags and took her grandchildren with her. In October 2001, she pressed and was awarded legal custody.
“I had to keep my sanity,” Virginia remembers. “No child should have to live the way they did. To me, leaving kids alone all night long was dangerous. With me and my husband, they felt safe. They were on a schedule, and they embraced the schedule and structure in their lives. Sports helped Matt considerably. But it was heartbreaking, because Matt’s mother was such a good and loving person and her choices altered who she was and who she used to be.”
The lifestyle, however, stunted Matt’s social skills. At first, he didn’t take too kindly to the new structure in his life. He’d mope with his head down, chin on his chest, eyes fixated to the ground, rarely looking up. Virginia used to bribe him with raisins to give her a kiss.
“I was afraid of her, because I didn’t like being told what to do,” says Matt with a laugh. “I was six, seven and never really had anyone tell me what to do. I would listen to my brother and sister, but my grandma was strict. Just her hollering would scare the hell out of me. All she had to do was look at me and I’d cry. I couldn’t sit and stuff my face watching TV all day.”
No, Virginia got Matt involved with basketball at the Collingdale Community Center. Galambos had to play up in age because he was so much taller than the other kids. “That’s when Matt began changing,” Virginia said. “He started raising his hand in class. And he’s so smart. He picks up everything fast. He didn’t even know how to play basketball when we signed him up. His coaches didn’t believe he was seven, because he was so tall for his age.”
Gradually, Galambos gravitated to football. He played for St. Joseph’s in Collingdale, since the school he attended, Harris Elementary School, didn’t have a football team. Zach Trauger, one of Matt’s St. Joe teammates, suggested Haverford School.
Cardinal O’Hara and West Catholic were heavily interested in Galambos, too. But it was his grandparents that pushed for Haverford School because of its elite academic standards.
The Fords were also building a very competitive football team under the guidance of head coach Mike Murphy. Galambos has gone on to become one of the most feared players in the area. He averages double-figures in tackles each game, and this season has added a new dimension as a punishing running back for the Fords, though he’s projected to play outside linebacker at Pitt.
“I think Matt’s pretty amazing on the field, but knowing what I know about him off the field, I think he’s an even more amazing person,” Murphy said. “You hear so many stories about kids going the other way in situations like Matt’s. He’s very appreciative of everything his grandparents have done for him. He’s the total package, a great football player, great grades in a demanding school, and a great kid. I’m not going to forget Matt anytime soon. I worry next year I won’t have a kid around like him.”
Matt’s older brother John went on to graduate West Chester, his sister Jeanine graduated Cabrini and is a teacher in Florida.
“I think our situation made us all grow up fast,” Jeanine said. “I did what I had to do and worried about taking care of Matt. He was always attached to me, and for a little while, we kind of raised ourselves. Sometimes we would have my mom there and sometimes we didn’t. I’m definitely proud of Matt. People around me are sick of hearing me brag about him.”
Matt’s one major regret is that his grandfather Jim Lux is no longer able to see him play. Jim passed away on August 8, 2012. The other lament is that his brother John can’t see him play either, because he’s legally blind.
But Virginia misses nothing. She attends every game, clips and saves newspaper stories featuring her grandson, and is his biggest fan. Stepping into Matt’s world “was the most rewarding thing I ever did in my life,” Virginia says.
As for Galambos, he knows none of his success would be possible without the intervention of his grandparents. They altered their lives to enable Galambos to alter his.
“I don’t think I am where I am without them,” Galambos said. “I used to get mad sometimes at my mom when I was younger, wondering where she was, why she wasn’t around. I don’t tell everyone what happened to me, but people see me at Haverford School and think I’m a rich kid that goes to this private school. I found there are a lot of kids that go to Haverford School like me. It’s an opportunity that’s changed my life. But I don’t know if I consider myself a miracle. I was in a bad situation and I feel fortunate. I know I can’t disappoint my grandmother. I think it’s why I play the way I do, I play for them.”