By Matt Diano:
Justin Felder (Jr.); RB – Holy Cross Knights
When the 2016 season started, the junior from Jamaica was not even slotted to be Coach Tim Smith’s #1 option out of the backfield….However, when injuries demanded that the 5’8, 180-pounder assume a larger role, Felder was ready for the promotion, gaining 600 of his season total 905 yards in the weeks since taking over as the Knights’ primary ball carrier.
Entering the final contest of his 11th grade season riding a streak of four consecutive games with a rushing touchdown and 100+ yard performances in two of his last three outings, the recently named All-Catholic honoree truly did have a heck of a finale, accumulating 208 yards on only 13 carries (an average of 13.0/carry), including a 49-yard “burst” (to quote Coach Smith) up the gut that put the “w’ on ice for Holy Cross in their 54-16 victory over Campus Magnet….His pair of TD runs tied his previous career high, while his total yardage established a new benchmark in what his coach hailed as his best performance to date. Previously (October 22nd), Felder’s two highs (201 yards, 2 TDs) came in a heartbreaking 36-33 last second loss to AAA titlists, Cardinal Hayes….Hence, to be able to dominate the game while also picking up the third win of the season for the team had to make the experience all the more sweet.
One of only two juniors from Holy Cross named to the aforementioned All-League squad (the other being DE Michael Taylor), in addition to his 905 rushing yards, Felder concluded the year having scored nine touchdowns…Despite a very heavy workload down the stretch (had 84 more touches than the next highest ball carrier), Felder averaged 6.6 ypc on his 138 handoffs.
As we prepare to put 2016 in the rear-view mirror and begin our focus on what gifts 2017 will bestow upon us, Felder’s effort on Thanksgiving solidifies his position as “one to watch” next season…If he remains healthy, all signs point to him well exceeding the 1,000 yard milestone as a senior.
Matthew Valecce (Jr.); QB – Fordham Prep Rams
Named to the Players of the Week list for the second time this season (also honored in week #3), the returning All-State signal caller will never forget Thanksgiving 2016 for as long as he lives because it was on that day that he officially became the TD passing King of Catholic Football….
Throwing 17 touchdowns as a freshman, 27 in 2015, and 24 coming into Turkey Day, per the New York Sportswriter’s Association record book, the 6’4 resident of the Bronx needed only one TD toss to surpass legendary St.Dominic’s field general, Tony Capozzoli’s (’72-’75) mark of 68…Instead of just breaking the record, Valecce would put some separation between himself and the ex-Bayhawk icon, throwing for three touchdowns to move himself into a tie for 11th all-time in New York State with 71.
Completing 21 of his 31 attempts to finish the game with 319 yards in the 93rd edition of this historic rivalry, there may not have been a bigger connection during his three-year varsity career than when Valecce hit fellow junior, Liam McHale, on a 30-yard strike for the game-winning score with 2:18 remaining in the fourth quarter….Trailing 18-13 at the time, Valecce’s flair for the big moment held major significance for the Ram program as a whole, as their 21-18 come-from-behind victory last Thursday means that for the first time since 2011, the Maddow Trophy will call Fordham Road home.
Earlier in the game, the two-sport student-athlete (also does quality work on the baseball diamond) who holds a remarkable 4.25 grade point average, hooked up for his favorite target, Will Loffredo, on 60 and 36-yard passes to give FP a 13-0 first quarter lead….The respective 12th and 13th times that these two teamed up to put “6” on the board moved the junior wide-out [Loffredo] into a tie for 2nd in NYS this season for touchdown receptions…His 1,239 yards (had 10 catches for 158 to close out 2016) ranks 3rd in the Evil Empire.
With Valecce and just about all of his weaponry back in 2017, it might not be premature to label Coach Pete Gorynsky’s program as one of the early title favorites next season.
Carlos Fernandez (Jr.); RB – Cardinal Hayes Cardinals
While it would be an understatement to say that C.J. O’Neil and company have been focused on a much grander goal since winning the AAA League Title on November 19th, even the prospects of winning the first Catholic State title in program history could not interfere with tradition….Playing in the 74th edition of the Turkey Bowl, the Cardinals went on the road and emerged with a 43-24 victory over a very determined Mount St. Michael Academy squad…The win marked the first time in the over seven decades of battling for Bronx bragging rights that Hayes was able to win four consecutive years…However, despite their seemingly polar opposed records this season, the game was much closer than the final score suggests, with the Mountaineers trailing only 22-16 at the onset of the third quarter.
A big reason why the heavily favored Cardinals were able to withstand the advances of their motivated hosts was the performance of the junior tailback, Fernandez, who scored one touchdown in each half to be the lone Hayes’ student-athlete to notch multiple scores.
One of three running backs to receive eight or more touches as a apart of a balanced rushing attack intended to keep everyone fresh and healthy for the BIG ONE later this week, Fernandez’s 45 yards (5.6 average/carry) may not come across as game-changing, but in his case, the quality far out-weighted the quantity, as it was his 1-yard run that turned an 8-7 deficit into a 15-8 advantage at the end of the 1st quarter.
Later in the game (Hayes leading 30-16), it was Fernandez again being the one to inflict major damage when he trekked six yards in the fourth quarter to put the dagger in the MSM upset hopes.
A first-time All-Catholic selection in 2016, Fernandez’s versatility was second to none….Leading the triple-A champions in rushing yards with 603 and finishing 2nd (behind only QB Christian Anderson) with eight ground touchdowns, the 5’6, 170-pounder also tallied 23 catches for 334 yards, to finish 4th on the team in both categories. His three receiving scores ranked 3rd among Cardinals.
As they ready themselves to face off against a Canisius program that is giving up less than 13 points per game this season, it goes without saying that Fernandez will need to channel Liam Neeson and use his set of skills in the hunt for the crown.
Tahshawn Brinson (So.); RB Cardinal Hayes Cardinals
A rare second selection from the same team, the more we thought about it, the more apparent it became that if were going to feature Fernandez, we also needed to shine a light on the team’s leading rusher, Tahshawn Brinson.
Louis Blackwell (Sr.); LB – Archbishop Stepinac Crusaders
Unlike the three gentlemen who preceded him this week, there will be no “sure to dominate again next season” tag for Blackwell who played his final game in the Crusader colors last week…For an individual and a class that had known nothing but triumph for much of their scholastic careers, it was fitting that the All-Catholic linebacker and his class of 2017 peers had the opportunity to go out on top, as they used a big second half to pull away from White Plains, 49-32, in a battle for town bragging rights.
Leading by a modest score of 35-26 at the half, whatever Head Coach, Mike O’Donnell, told his defense during the break more than did the trick, as the unit, led by Blackwell (ended the game with a team-high 14 stops) darn-near pitched a shutout over the course of the final 24 minutes, surrendering only a meaningless touchdown at the sub-1:00 mark.
An anchor and example-setter in his final season donning the Red, White, and Blue, Blackwell’s 124 tackles in 2016 ranked him in the top-10 (6th) in New York State….Reaching double digits in eight of the Crusader’s 12 games, only twice (September 9th against Cornwall, 15; September 17th against Iona Prep, 14) did the 6’2, 220-pounder equal or surpass his output from last week.
Blackwell is the fifth player from the defensive side of the ball to receive POTW recognition this season….He joins an elite company of teammates that included: Trill Williams (week #2), Tyger Winston (Week #7), Devonte Myles (Week #8), and Gene Brown (semifinal round)…Myles and Brown accompanied Blackwell on the All-League squad, while Williams (who missed much of the year with an injury) recently committed to play collegiately at Rutgers University.