By Matt Diano: Just hours before they donned jerseys one final time in their respective scholastic careers, the incredible student-athletes of the Catholic High School Football League of Metropolitan New York would “suit up” in a different kind of manner, as they, accompanied by family and friends, partook in one of the NYCHSFL’s grandest traditions, the annual Communion Awards Breakfast.
Hosted on Sunday December 6th on the campus of Kellenberg Memorial High School, the day-long celebration of academic and athletic achievement commenced with the saying of a special mass by School President, Father Philip K. Eichner, S.M….Addressing the congregation with the wisdom that has made him a beloved member of the Society of Mary, as well as the Chaminade and KMHS administrations, Eichner’s message was simple, but elegant…As we enter the Advent season, “we must stop looking around and instead turn to a period of listening; by blocking out all superficial and unnecessary distractions, we can fully prepare and ready ourselves for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.”
Following the conclusion of the mass, those in attendance received an invite to feast on a platter of the classics— eggs, French toast, muffins, sausage, beacon, as well as “Kellenberg’s famous crumb cake”—-as the best and brightest young men from our league were recognized and honored for their exemplary skill and character, both on and off of the gridiron during the 2015 season.
Named in memory of founding father, Monsignor Matthew Peters, the former Principal of Cardinal Hayes, who formed the NYCHSFL in 1954, the Msgr. Peters Award is the highest and most prestigious declaration bestowed upon a Catholic high school football player each year. A distinction that is presented to that one individual who most epitomizes what it means to be a genuine scholar-athlete by holding academic excellence superior to athletic pursuits, there could not be a more fitting choice than this year’s honoree, Monsignor Farrell senior captain/field general, Michael Cloppse…Gifted in all categories across the board, Cloppse currently ranks 8th overall in his graduating class with a four-year average of 99.75 and scored an extraordinary 2100 on his Scholastic Aptitude Test…Additionally, the 6-foot, 190-pounder from Staten Island is a beacon and pillar of both his school and his community, devoting his personal time to Hearing Our Heroes (a club that hosts special events that pay tribute to our veterans and service men), the Holy Name Society, and to the Special Olympics. Off campus, he continues to live the word of the Gospel, volunteering as a coach for the challenger football program in Staten Island….Athletically, the 2014 All-State Honorable Mention/2015 All-Catholic team member under center, also shines on the baseball diamond, helping the Lions to a title in 2015…Cloppse will advance his academic and athletic objectives next fall as a member of the class of 2020 at Bowdoin College (ranked #4 by U.S. News & World Report among national liberal arts colleges and universities).
Rewarded for their stellar play with the ball in their hands would be Joe Riverso Memorial Offensive Players of the Year, Tyquell Fields (Archbishop Stepinac; AAA recipient), Jerome Brooks III (St. John the Bapitst Diocesean High School; AA winner), and Phil DePaulis (Xaverian; A Division)…Both Fields and DePaulis led their teams to their respective divisional titles, as each won the Offensive Player of the game in the AAA and A title contests….Brooks, one half of a lethal Cougar running attack [Nicholas Cipolla being the other] that averaged 400 yards per game on the ground, brought his team to the semifinals before bowing out to the eventual champions from Xavier.
The owner of a 24-1 record in his two year stint as the signal caller for the Crusaders, Fields not only captained his team to consecutive NYCHSFL AAA crowns, he topped it by delivering to them a 2015 Catholic High School State title, overcoming the pain of a high ankle sprain to throw four touchdowns passes in Stepinac’s 42-28 victory on the road over Monsignor Martin champion, St. Francis High School on November 28th….On the year, the Lohud.com Super 11 selection completed 175 of his 288 attempts for a school record 2,268 yards and 24 TD passes. The dual-purpose quarterback proved himself quite adept with his legs, running for 435 yards on 69 carries, including five keepers that found the end zone…It is this versatility and playmaking ability that enabled Fields to attract the interests of the likes of Stony Brook University, Eastern Illinois, Delaware State, and Rhode Island, all of whom have extended scholarship offers to the 6’4 resident of Yonkers…Fields wraps up his scholastic career having accumulated 3,702 total yards (2,898 passing, 804 rushing) and 42 total touchdowns (34 passing, eight on the ground).
Brooks III, who may have set a record for most player of the week nominations, dominated on both sides of the ball for Ralph Carusillo’s Cougars…Called the cornerstone of the program by his head coach, the 6’1, 185-pounder from Central Islip, tallied 1,473 yards on 157 carries, reaching the end zone on 17 separate occasions. While utilized less in this aspect of the game, when called upon to do so, Brooks showcased his trustworthy hands, catching 14 passes for 250 yards…For good measure, he pulled off the trifecta by starring on special teams, returning one kick and one punt for touchdowns, to round out the 1,923 yards of total offense achieved by him in his swan song….Brooks III, an honors-level student who gets the job done as well in the classroom as he does on the grass, is presently entertaining offers from Lafayette, New Hampshire, Towson, in addition to local programs, Stony Brook and Long Island University-C.W. Post Campus.
DePaulis, who like his AAA counterpart [Fields], made the most of all of his limbs as a dual threat QB, would have a knack for embracing the moment and elevating his level of play in big game situations. Never was this truer than in the “A” Championship game when he tossed three first half touchdowns en route to the Clippers’ 31-12 victory over Cardinal Spellman in locking up the program’s first title since 2006…A captain and role model in all endeavors, when DePaulis is done throwing for nearly 900 yards (54-for-103, 880 yards, and 12 touchdown passes) or running for an additional 547 yards with 13 ground touchdowns, he devotes his team to Christian service, volunteering at a neighborhood soup kitchen as a pure example of Matthew 25:40.
Refusing to be outdone were the three gentlemen who helped to keep points off the scoreboard in 2015, the Vincent O’Connor Memorial Defensive Players of the Year, Dan Negron (Stepinac; AAA Division), Frank Masella (Xavier; AA), and Tahriq Gordon of Nazareth.
Negron, who became the second player in as many years from Stepinac to win this award (Gavin Heslop being the choice in 2014) was nothing short of remarkable in his third straight season starting at linebacker for the Crusaders…Finishing second on the team in total tackles (91) despite missing the first three games of the season while recovering from an injury, the 4.0 student averaged double digit stops for a second consecutive season, racking up 10.1 hits per game in 2015 after collecting 135 tackles as a junior (10.4/game)…Voted to the All-Catholic squad for the first time last Sunday, Negron’s other accolades this season included, but were not limited to being picked to be a member of the All-Hudson Valley 1st team, and earning an Honorable Mention citation on MSG Varsity’s All-Metro team….Negron wraps up his career with the following career totals: 308 tackles, 5 sacks, and 2 interceptions (the second of which came in the New York Catholic State finals and set up a touchdown to give Stepinac a 13-0 lead over St. Francis)….An individual whose best days still awaits him on the collegiate level, Negron has caught the eye of the University of Pennsylvania, Sacred Heart University, and a plethora of other schools that play in the Ivy and Patriot League conferences.
Masella, was the unquestionable anchor of a Knight defensive unit that surrendered only 11.1 points per game this season in claiming their second title in the past four seasons (previously won the AA division in 2012)…A runaway choice to the All-Catholic team for a second straight year, the 5’9, 200-pound linebacker amassed over 100 tackles (102 in 2014, 125 in 2015 in both his junior and senior campaigns….Setting Masella and his teammates apart from the rest of the field, was the way in which they consistently embraced the moment and peaked at precisely the right time. An example of their clutch play came in the 2015 AA semifinals when they held Offensive Player of the Year, Brooks III, scoreless for the first time all season in pitching a 14-0 shutout to avenge their 2014 playoff loss…The Queens resident sees his decorated career end with totals of 227 tackles, 29.5 TFL, and seven sacks.
Gordon, who personifies all of the qualities that we seek in determining the most deserving candidate, is a person whose influence on the Kingsmen may only be fully acknowledged and/or appreciated in the years to come….Playing alongside a roster consisting of 10 freshmen and 10 sophomores, the stat line took a backseat to the Nazareth senior’s work as a peer mentor for his younger teammates…Described by the school’s Athletic Director, Rick Dolan, as “the first to arrive and the last to leave team functions,” Gordon routinely led study hall sessions and always found the time to lend an ear to a teammate in need of guidance…Reflecting upon three decades of experience, Dolan showed no hesitation in labeling the 6’4, 220-pound defensive end as one of the “best athletes to ever represent Nazareth.”…Gordon will bring his impeccable demeanor and championship attitude with him next fall when he officially becomes a Stony Brook University Seawolf.
By no means excluded on Sunday were be the studs who serve as the backbone, foundation, and lifeblood on both offense and defense, A.K.A. the two-way linemen…A rare breed of warrior, these ironmen often get caught in the shadows despite being the ones who in many cases are doing the brunt of the labor. To step onto the field knowing that you are about to go to “war in the trenches” requires a person of unmatched courage, determination, and toughness. Unlike Las Vegas where what happens there stays there, when you are performing double duty, you bring those battle scars home with you on a daily basis. It is for this reason that the NYCHSFL makes it a priority to see to it that this beastly cohort be given the same level of admiration as their potentially more famous schoolmates…In consideration of all the attributes one needs to possess in order to excel in this capacity, there could not be better or more worthy candidates than Zach O’Neill (Monsignor Farrell), Lorenzo Worrell (Christ the King), or Michael Marinelli (Xaverian), the respective conferees of the Joe Thomas Memorial Lineman of the Year Award.
Hardly be the largest physical specimen on the field at 6’2, 225 pounds, O’Neill made up for anything he lacked in God-given stature by playing with a wealth of heart…A two-year starter at tackle, it is no coincidence that in the years that he controlled the OL, fellow senior, Steven Viegas, ran for a pair of 1,000+ seasons (1,067 yards in 2014; 1,340 yards in 2015) and score 21 rushing touchdowns in earning All-Catholic distinction back-to-back seasons. As a pass protector, O’Neill provided teammate, the aforementioned Cloppse, with ample time in the pocket as the latter connected on nearly 60 percent of his throws for just under 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns….Turning our attention to defense, despite facing more than his fair share of double teams, O’Neill flourished from his spot at DE, compiling 10 sacks as a pass rusher, and establishing the edge as a never-quit run stuffer….As exceptional a human being as he is an athlete, the Staten Island native participates in the Lions’ Bread for Life drive, is a consummate patriot as evident by his membership in the school’s Hearing Our Heroes Club, and further demonstrates his love of the game by volunteering as a youth coach.
Worrell, who helped the Royals reach the AA title game for the first time since 2007, undoubtedly acted as a catalyst in all areas…Unlike his fellow Thomas recipient [O’Neill], it is impossible to overlook this behemoth of a young man, as Worrell stands 6’5 and tips the scales at an imposing 255 pounds. Despite these chart topping measurements, it is with total validity that we say that the completeness of his skills stood out above all else…A three-year starter for the Middle Village based program, as Worrell continued to develop/grow from year to year, so too did the number of checkmarks in the win column, as the Jason Brown coached squad moved from three victories in 2013 to 10 wins and a finals berth this past season…The degree to which Worrell contributed to this turnaround cannot be overstated. Lining up on the outside at tackle, the kid who calls Rosedale home played like a human bulldozer, disposing of anything that attempted to impede the Royals potent running game. With their “big daddy” serving as the lead blocker in many an instance, Christ the King accumulated 2,500 yards and 43 scores on the ground, as four different running backs exceeded the 400 yard mark for the season. Living up to his billing as the total package, Worrell provided top notch pass protection, as senior field general, David Navas, enjoyed a fine year, hurling the pigskin for 1,208 yards and 12 TDs….While he made it impossible to touch his quarterback on one end, Worrell would be a nightmare for opposing QBs on the other, leading Double-A leader in sacks this season with nine (of his 56 total tackles)…A true master of all trades, Worrell even saw a little time at placekicker during the 2015 season, successfully connecting on 21 of 29 PAT tries….With many NCAA DI schools having reached out, the Royal senior is exercising patience and doing his homework before making this big decision.
For the 6’4, 230-pound Marinelli, winning both the Thomas Award and the “A” Division title may only rank second and third among his most memorable feats in the past few months. A member of the Xaverian band that played for Pope Francis during the pontiff’s visit to New York in September, the senior defensive end made just as sweet a sound when hitting opposing ball carriers….Recording team highs in tackles (82) and sacks (10), it would be a family affair on the D-Line for the Clippers as Michael (12) teamed-up with younger brother, Anthony (20), to combine for an astounding 32 tackles for a loss….Surrendering more than 10 points only once this season to an “A” opponent, the third time ended up being the charm for the Clippers as they erased the painful memories of back-to-back finals losses in 2013 and 2014, by going undefeated (with four shutouts) in league games in 2015….Offensively, Marinelli moonlighted as a TE/SE, using his size efficiently as an overpowering run blocker for a team that piled up nearly 2,000 yards and 36 touchdowns from the ground…Like many of the student-athletes recognized last weekend, Marinelli’s most powerful tool is his brain as he maintains a 92 grade point average while enrolled in honors-level courses.
Also commended at the breakfast were the recipients of the Golden Eleven Awards, the Ken Weinman Award, the Metropolitan Football Association Award, and the Lieutenant Ronald Winchester Award – Unsung Hero Award. In order of specific acclaim, the selections were:
Golden Eleven Awards:
Michael Calicchia (Iona Prep)
Colin Moran (Holy Trinity)
Patrick Simons (Chaminade)
Thomas Walsh (St Peter’s)
Nicholas Ranieri (Kellenberg)
Clayton Kendrick-Holmes (Xavier)
James Baglino (Xaverian)
Daniel Negron (Archbishop Stepinac)
Ryan Westerhaus (St. Anthony’s)
Justin Covington (Cardinal Hayes)
Alexander Bracco (St. Francis Prep)
The Ken Weinman Award (Dedicated by the Intercounty Association of Football Officials):
Jason Delucia (Kellenberg)
Michael Rossetti (Xaverian)
Jack Natale (St. John the Baptist)
Luke Lunarola (Monsignor Farrell)
Alex Valdes (St. Joseph by the Sea
Metropolitan Football Association Award (In Memory of John Bromm):
Ibrahim Kante (Cardinal Hayes)
Stephen Weir (Cardinal Spellman)
Tahj Trumpler (Mount Saint Michael)
Hugh Fraser (Mount Saint Michael)
Lieutenant Ronald Winchester Award – Unsung Hero Award (Dedicated by the L.I.A.F.O. Foundation of New York; Donated by Scholastic Promotions Awards & More):
Ryan Flanagan (St. John the Baptist)