Camden City Celebrates $10M Roadway Reconstruction with Naming Ceremony for Heisman Winner Mike Rozier


A generational improvement project at the 27th Street gateway to East Camden is named for Mike Rozier, who emerged from the neighborhood to set rushing records at the University of Nebraska.

By Matt Skoufalos | April 11, 2024

Dedication of Mike Rozier signage at the gateway to East Camden. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

“Fifty-two years!” Camden City Mayor Victor Carstarphen shouted from the podium in the middle of the recently refinished South 27th Street roadway.

That’s how long, Carstarphen said, a resident of the East Camden neighborhood told him the roadway that cuts through the Marlton section had been little more than crumbled tar and potholes.

The smell of fresh blacktop wafted up in the morning sun, punctuating Carstarphen’s description of the project as “a proud moment” and “a transformative project” for the community.

“As the kids say, we stood on our business with the community to make this happen,” he said.

The nearly $10-million project widened the roadway to include two-way travel lanes and parking, ADA-compliant curb cuts, ramps, and sidewalks; a new signalized intersection at Berkley Street; freshly paved alleyways; and sewer and stormwater upgrades.

The work was done in four phases, with more than $9 million from the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank and a $750,000 New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) concept development and design grant.

On Tuesday, officials from the myriad levels of government that collaborated on the project gathered to celebrate its completion with a naming ceremony built around one of the city’s best-known athletes, NFL running back Mike Rozier.

Camden County Commissioner Al Dwyer at the ribbon-cutting of 27th St in Camden City. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Even as they acknowledged Rozier’s prodigious athletic achievements at Woodrow Wilson High School, many of the speakers recalled their own high school days with comparable nostalgia.

Camden County Commissioner Al Dyer might have been too small to block for Rozier back then, but often played in the East Camden neighborhood where he grew up.

“As a Woodrow Wilson football player, we looked up to Mike like he was God,” Dyer said.

“This is truly an honor to know this man.”

Dyer also remembered how “riding your bike down to East Camden Middle [School], this road was a challenge.”

Its debilitated condition also stuck with outgoing NJDOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, whose successor, Acting Commissioner Francis O’Connor, delivered remarks on her behalf.

“Far and away 27th Street was described as the priority for Camden,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti wrote, “and driving through, I understood why.”

In describing the various phases of construction that were required to get the project completed — “roads that connect to curbs that connect to sidewalks that connect to homes” — New Jersey Assemblyman Bill Moen (D, NJ-05) couldn’t resist the opportunity to mark the occasion with a football pun.

From left: Camden County Commissioner Al Dyer, former NFL running back Mike Rozier, Camden City Mayor Vic Carstarphen. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

“It’s my hope that the lanes here at rush hour remain as clear as the running lanes [for Rozier] that year at Nebraska,” Moen said to a mix of groans and chuckles.

Camden City Superintendent of Schools Katrina McCombs took the occasion to single out Rozier’s achievements as a reminder “of the potential in all our students to achieve greatness.”

The 1983 Heisman Trophy winner and a 2006 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, Rozier spent two seasons in the USFL and another seven in the NFL with the Houston Oilers and Atlanta Falcons.

He set rushing records at Nebraska University, where his number 30 was retired, and was a two-time NFL Pro Bowl selection in 1987 and 1988, his best year in the pros.

During the 1988 season, Rozier rushed for 1,002 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Oilers, who went 10-6 and won a wild card game before ultimately bowing out of the playoffs to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC divisional round.

On Tuesday, he added new accolades to that resume: a sign at the gateway to the East Camden neighborhood that reads, “Home of Heisman Trophy Winner Mike Rozier,” complemented by a football-shaped flowerbed; and “Mike Rozier Way,” a street sign at the corner of South 27th Street and Line Street.

Bernice Rozier cuts the ribbon on the reconstructed South 27th Street in Camden City. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

“Most of y’all went to school with me,” Rozier said to the assembled crowd of neighbors, former classmates, friends, and family.

“Most of y’all raised me,” he said.

Of his Heisman Trophy victory, Rozier told the crowd, “I won it for y’all too.”

“It’s an honor to be from Camden,” he said.

“There’s no place like home. We got a new road straight to my house.”

Beatrice Rozier, Mike’s 93-year-old mother, cut the ceremonial ribbon on the roadway, and gasped when coverings were removed from the signs bearing her family’s surname.

Escorted by Mike and his brother, Camden County Parks Supervisor Guy Rozier, Beatrice said she was “breathless.”

“I thank God for all those from the city; for everybody here, all of our friends,” she said. “All of these men walked this street many a day.

“This is an honor to their father [the late Garrison Rozier] and Michael.

“I want the young people to keep a good name,” Beatrice Rozier continued. “We’re supposed to pass on whatever we have to the next generation.”

Because she was a mom to the neighborhood, Beatrice might have been the only person there that day not to recall the odious condition of the roadway prior to its improvements.

Mike Rozier (left) and his brother Guy (right) examine the sign dedicated to his achievements in Camden City while their mom Beatrice looks on. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

“I was here for 30-some years [but] I didn’t see the holes because I was taking care of these kids,” she said.

“My mom fed everybody,” Mike Rozier nodded.

As touched as he was to be so acknowledged for his athletic career, Mike Rozier said he doesn’t follow football much anymore.

These days, he misses the moments of camaraderie among his teammates more than he does breaking tackles in the open field.

But Mike Rozier still recognizes the value of a dream, and the power of leaving the memory of his accomplishments as a milepost for the next kid from East Camden with aspirations of a pro career.

“It’s possible,” he said. “Go ahead and try.”

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