As we closed the book on another action-packed season of NYCHSFL football and commenced with the process of bidding farewell to our treasured class of 2019 members, we did so in the manner in which the Lord has taught us, by sitting down as one league, one community, and one family to partake in one of our grandest rituals, the Annual Communion Awards Breakfast.
Hosted once again on the campus of Kellenberg Memorial High School, prior to breaking bread and paying homage to our best and brightest performers from the 2018 season, celebrant, Father Albert Bertoni SM would impart upon his congregation the lessons of Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36, reminding the captive audience that Jesus will reveal himself in a variety of forms. Therefore, we must always be attentive to the signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars for the return of our savior in the clouds.
Perhaps not quite the literal definition of this gospel passage, but in reflecting on all of the “power and glory” that our esteemed honorees brought with them to the field every day for the past three months, it was not difficult to spot the presence of God in these present-day stars!!!
Claiming the morning’s most prestigious and cherished distinction, the Monsignor Matthew Peters Award, in recognition of being named the top scholar-athlete in the NYCHSFL this season was St. John the Baptist senior running back/defensive back, David Amelemah…A two-year starter and three-year member of Head Coach, Ralph Carusillo’s varsity squad, the resident of Amityville finished third on the team in rushing yards (157 yards on 30 attempts), while also ranking in the top-10 among SJB tacklers with a defensive stat line that included 21 stops and one interception…However, while his contributions on the gridiron were nonetheless outstanding, what would set Amelemah apart from his peers this season would be the breadth of resume he possesses in all areas of his scholastic journey…On pace to be the salutatorian (second highest grade point average) of the class of 2019 at the West Islip based high school, the 17-year-old, three-sport athlete (also runs track during the winter and spring seasons) holds an average of 104 while enrolled in a curriculum that includes several advanced placement and honors courses. He scored a remarkable 1530 on the scholastic aptitude test (SAT), darn-near achieving a perfect score in the mathematics section with a 790…Having already been an invited participant to the Cornell University CATALYST Academy, as well as having secured a six-year internship with National Grid, this future engineer is equally as selfless as he is brilliant. A retreat leader, a mentor in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, active in Habitat for Humanity, while also serving as a volunteer at both Good Samaritan Hospital and the Long Island Cares Corporation, Amelemah is the epitome of all the values in which we hold sacred within our league, thus making him a perfect selection.
Hailed for their abilities to consistently dazzle the crowd with spectacular exploits with the pigskin in hand were a quartet of senior showstoppers—Derek Robertson (Iona Prep), Greg Campisi (St. Anthony’s), Matthew Sluka (Kellenberg Memorial), and Myles Proctor (Kennedy Catholic)—who are this year’s recipients of the Offensive Player(s) of the Year in their respective divisions.
So special and paramount to the successes enjoyed by their schools, when it came time to pick this year’s Joseph Riverso Memorial Award winner (AAA Offensive Player of the Year), it became apparent that the only way to truly achieve justice and fairness was to establish a precedent and recognize TWO heralded signal callers in the persons of Robertson and Campisi.
Throwing for a Westchester County record of 2,774 yards as a junior in 2017, the two-year starter under center for the Gaels [Robertson] may not have succeeded in breaking his own milestone this season, but was quite extraordinary in every other possible way…Topping all triple-A field generals and finishing 5th overall in the Empire State in both categories in his swan song, the 6’2, 185-pounder out of Yonkers would complete 201 of his 312 attempts (64.4%) for 2,556 yards and 31 touchdowns in leading Iona Prep to a 7-2 mark this season…Combing to hurl for 5,330 yards and 58 touchdowns during his tenure in New Rochelle, Robertson led the Gaels to the AAA semifinals in each of his two years as the starting quarterback…He becomes the third Gael this decade to receive the Riverso, joining the likes of Mario Biaggi (2012) and Robert Madison (2014).
Bound for Harvard University next fall, there may never again be a dual-threat quarterback the caliber of Campisi in South Huntington. Absolutely unstoppable at times during his 2.5-year reign running the Friar offense, the 6’1, 175-pounder contributed two NYCHSFL regular season titles and a 2017 runner-up finish to the rich STA football history, as he compiled an incredible 19-3 record against New York Catholic foes (21-4 overall)…Named Honorable Mention All-State as an 11th grader last year following a season where he accumulated 2,432 yards and 20 touchdowns of total production, Campisi would surpass all of his previous personal bests in his final season donning the Black & Gold…Named to the Newsday All-Long Island 1st team earlier this week, #11 would have a senior campaign for the ages, completing 60.3 percent of his throw attempts (138-for-229) for 2,109 yards (3rd in AAA) and 25 touchdowns (3rd in AAA), while simultaneously rushing for 942 additional yards and scoring 12 more times to account for a mind-blowing 37 TDs in 2018…Closing out this chapter of his football career having thrown for 4,879 yards and 47 touchdowns, and run for 1,641 yards and 24 scores, Campisi may have never won the AAA league title, but he certainly won the hearts of all NYCHSFL aficionados and enthusiasts…Campisi is the first Friar since fellow signal caller, James Brady (2007), to win this award.
Never tasting defeat (22-0) in his two-year varsity stint as the field general for the KMHS Firebirds, 2018 must have felt like déjà vu for the Roslyn resident [Sluka], as he complements the back-to-back Double-A team titles he won with the Blue & Gold juggernaut by adding a second All-Long Island 1st team designation this past Wednesday and now a second consecutive NYCHSFL Player of the Year plaque to his mantel…The centerpiece and/or focal point for an offensive cohort that averaged over 40 points per game in both of his seasons taking the snaps, the 6’3, 205-pound red-headed stud leaves behind a legacy in Uniondale that will forever survive the test of time…Inheriting a program that went 1-8 in 2016, Sluka’s influence would bear witness to Kellenberg rising to the #3 ranking in NYS in the latest polls…A 2nd-Team All-State selection in 2017, it goes without saying that when the NYSSWA releases the 2018 edition, he will again be featured prominently…A year removed from a 2,603-yard (1,619 on the ground; 984 in the air), 36-touchdown (24 rushing, 10 passing) all-purpose season as a junior, Sluka would be even better this season, as his commitment to the development of his passing skills would yield a 69.2 percent completion rate (74-for-107), as he tossed for 1,203 yards and 14 touchdowns…The emergence of All-League running back, Jordan Delucia (led AA with 1,380 yards) meant that Sluka would not need to be as busy with his legs. But still, despite calling his own number on fewer occasions, the Marianist gem would be the NYCHSFL TD king on the ground, finding pay dirt on 22 separate occasions as a part of an 1,131-yard effort…Posting 11 touchdowns (seven rushing, four throwing) in two title game appearances (2x Offensive MVP) in 2017 and 2018, perhaps what fans will miss most about Sluka next season is his propensity to play his best when the stakes were their highest…The first NYCHSFL player since Matt Hahn (St. Anthony’s; 2002/2003) to repeat as an Offensive Player of the Year winner, Sluka is the third Firebirds this decade to earn the award, joining Matthew McDaniels (won the AAA award in 2011) and Bobby Musso (A/AA recipient in 2014).
A true breakout star during the 2018 season, Proctor, alongside teammate, Seth Surrett, would traumatize opposing defenses this year, finishing as the top-2 runners in the A-division and combining to gain close to 2,000 yards and score 19 touchdowns…Just barely edging out his “partner in crime” in the rushing yards race, Proctor finished second to Surrett in touchdowns scored, with the former crossing the goal line nine times, while the latter accomplished the feat on 11 different occasions…Together, this dynamic duo would make history in Somers, delivering the first “A” division regular season title to Head Coach, Dom Tassone, and taking the Gaels to championship weekend for the first time in school history…Surpassing the 100-yards running plateau in six of the eight games he played this season (ran for 96 yards in another contest), the 6’2, 190-pounder out of Yorktown Heights was a human highlight reel as a senior, averaging over eight yards per carry…Proctor was twice selected as a POTW in 2018, including an afternoon of career-bests during a week #3 victory over St. Dominic’s where he ran for 215 yards and three touchdowns on just nine carries…By virtue of their senior tailback’s selection, Kennedy Catholic has now claimed this award in the two of the past three seasons, as quarterback, David Keogh, earned the prize in his senior season in 2016.
Turning our attention to the other side of the ball, whether it be Lombardi, Ditka, Saban, or any other legendary coach in any sport in this country, the sentiments regarding defense remains the same…Whereas the offense tends to be the face of many winning teams, it is the 11 men on the other side of the line of scrimmage that operate as the heart, soul, and backbone of any perennially successful organization…Three young men who always put their schools in a position to obtain victory, Makhai Murphy (St. Anthony’s), Valery Gwardyak (Xavier), and Cole Esposito (Kennedy Catholic) are precisely the type of individuals that military historian, John Keegan was writing about when he spoke of an “inability to compromise, an unrelenting devotion to the standards of duty and courage, an absolute loyalty to others, and a refusal to let the task at hand go until it is has been sufficiently done.”….Two of our three selections [Gwardyak and Esposito] would be dominant linebackers on divisional runner-up programs, while the third [Murphy] was the shutdown defensive back for not one, but a pair of AAA regular season crowns.
Murphy, who finished 2nd in the triple-A division (top-20 in NYS) with four interceptions for the second straight season, was such a feared commodity at the cornerback position that more times than not, he would successfully negate the top receiver on the opposing team, thus creating many a long afternoon or night for adversarial quarterbacks…Tasked with the unenviable challenge of being a D-back in a league that boasted four of the top-20 passing quarterbacks in the entire Empire State, when you look at the numbers that those signal callers mustered versus the Friars as opposed to other secondaries, you begin to garner a deep appreciation for how unique a talent the 5’10, 175-pounder truly is…When St. Anthony’s played eventual league and State champs, Archbishop Stepinac, the Friar defensive backfield held Crusader signal caller, Joey Carino to a 52.4 completion percentage, which was seven points below his season average…In two showdowns this season against returning 3rd Team All-State field general, Sofian Massoud (Cardinal Hayes), from an individual perspective, Murphy notched one INT apiece and the secondary as a whole forced the Cardinal junior into his only two interception game of the regular season and limited him to a modest 106-yard tossing in the AAA semifinals…Competing against another 2018 All-Catholic performer, Farrell QB, Mike Regan, Murphy would post another interception and the last line of defense collectively limited the Lions to 11-for-29 for only 108 yards…The first STA student-athlete since Scott Vallone (2007) to be named the Vincent O’Connor Memorial Defensive Player of the Year, Murphy snaps Stepinac’s four-year streak (Gavin Heslop, Dan Negron, Gene Brown, and Trill Williams).
As it pertains to vaunted defensive tradition built by Xavier Knights’ head coach, Chris Stevens, the saying goes, show me a bunch of goose-eggs and I’ll show you a star linebacker at the eye of the storm…Following in the footsteps of Frank Masella (2015), Gwardyak would put an exclamation mark on his incredible scholastic career by captaining the NYC based school back to championship weekend for the first time since winning in 2015…And while the Knights may have fallen short of hoisting the hardware on November 17th, the loss in no way detracts from what was one heck of an individual and unified effort by the Maroon & Blue “D”…Pitching four shutouts during the course of the year, including two straight in the quarter and semifinal round of the double-A playoffs, Xavier may have bent a bit at times, but they hardly every broke during the homestretch…A person who flies to the ball with a natural fluidity and tenacity, Gwardyak would top all Knight tacklers for the second year in a row, reaching the 70+ stop milestone for the second time in as many attempts…Finding himself in the opposing backfield on more than a few occasions, the Staten Island resident would post double-digit tackles for losses this season…In addition, after not being credited with a single sack in his junior year, #44 would rank second on the team in the category with 2.5 QB bags. He would add the first interception of his career to further enhance his solid resume.
Like Gwardyak, Esposito too would prove himself to be a revolutionary player, as it would be his stellar play from the LB position that enabled the Gaels to reach the “A” title game for the first time in program history…The second [Sluka above] and final repeat award winner of the morning, the 6’1, 205-pound Cortland Manor native was to the Gael defense what his teammate, Proctor, was to the offense; a God-given play-maker that elevated those around him…A three-year linchpin and/or anchor in the middle of the Kennedy Catholic front-7, Esposito would earn DPOY status in 2017 following a junior campaign that saw him finish second overall in “A” with 95 tackles (12 TFL), while adding three sacks and two caused fumbles…Demonstrating that he had no intention of resting on laurels, his numbers would explode through the roof in his senior year, as he wrapped up his last season as a Gael by being ranked in the top-20 in NYS with 120+ tackles (3rd in the “A” Division), tying for the Empire State lead with 49 stops for negative yardage (tops in the NYCHSFL), and tacking on seven sacks (tied for best in “A“)…Making 10 or more tackles in seven of his team’s 10 appearances in 2018, Esposito would put forth his finest display in the 2018 semifinal round when he accumulated 17 total tackles, while setting new personal records for TFL (11) and sacks (3….Praised a year ago for being a huge reason why Kennedy Catholic was able to shave 10 points off of their per game allowed average between the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Esposito would do it again in 2018, as KC would surrender only 12.2 points per contest this season (8.1 against “A” division foes).
Rounding out our list of distinguished student-athletes that were recognized on Sunday morning were the young gentlemen who have the often thankless and undervalued job of banging heads in the trenches…The proverbial “straws the stir the drink”, if you watch game film at any level of the sport, you will clearly see that nothing worthwhile occurs without a lineman of some kind providing a much-needed spark…A constant clash for territory, there is no purer art in the realm of athletics than the “dance” that these 200-300 pound warriors perform week in and week off…The muscle within a game that is becoming more and more finessed, there is no “half speed” or “plays off” when trying to be the ultimate difference maker in a battle for inches…Leading the charge for this year’s talented OL/DL class were Anthony Bonavita (Iona Prep), Tedi Kushi (Moore Catholic), and Brenton Winter Jr. (Nazareth).
Bonavita, one of the most potent and polished offensive linemen in New York State, put himself in a club all his own today, as he became the first IP player to earn the Joe Thomas Award…Standing 6’3 and tipping the scales at an even 300 pounds, the Irvington resident certainly passes the eye test of what a dominant lineman ought to resemble…However, in bestowing upon him this honor, the selection committee looked more at the measurement of his skillset than at his physical stature…Simply put, this is a beast that knows how to push people around…In fact, so good was Bonavita this season, that it could be argued that without him serving as primary protector, Robertson’s candidacy as OPOY would have greatly compromised…Part road grader, part body guard, no matter what was asked of him this season, Bonavita would go above and beyond the call of duty in all endeavors…Paving the way for a Gael running attack that accumulated 1,500 yards (167 per game) and scored 19 touchdowns, as well as kept Robertson and his 2,556 yards + 31 touchdowns in the air upright, the Iona Prep senior OL provided the grit and foundation for an offense that ranked 1st in AAA in points per game (40.8) and averaged 452 yards of total output.
Kushi, who at 6’6 and 330 pounds might be one of, if not the only Catholic League football player capable of making Bonavita look small by comparison, would be our favorite kind of linemen, a two-way, 48-minutes a day, unapologetic animal for the Mavericks….Named to the All-Catholic team for the third time in his scholastic career, the mainstay at left tackle for Moore Catholic would be an invaluable asset as both a lead blocker and a blindside watchdog…Running through the tunnels built by their massive senior OT, the Mavs’ assortment of rushing options (led by sensational junior, Justin Lacks; 1,161 yards, 19 touchdowns) would accumulate 2,000 yards (222.1/game) of ground production, scoring 27 touchdowns…Aerially, senior quarterback, Vincenzo Scarola, would make the most of the clean pocket, as he hurled for career highs in yardage (971) and TDs thrown (11)…All in all, the MC offense averaged 348 all-purpose yards while scoring 34.2 per outing. This represented a 7.5-point and 88-yard improvement in one year’s time…Already established on the offensive side of the gridiron, Kushi’s greatest area of improvement came on “D” where he went from making just 13 stops as a junior to being one of the most menacing and disruptive DTs in the league, as evidenced by his 48 tackle, .5 sack, two fumble recovery showing as a 12th grader…And just as the points scored average would increase, the points surrendered stat would fall from 26.7 (2017) to a 17.8 (2018).
Just the second ever Kingsmen to amass individual honors (the other being 2015 Defensive Player of the Year, Tariq Gordon), Winter Jr. would set the tone for a program that performed considerably better than their 1-8 tally might suggest…Gelling by the end of the 2018 season, Nazareth Regional would lose both games, but succeeded in pushing “A” champions, Cardinal Spellman and divisional runners-up, Kennedy Catholic, to the brink, losing by respectable scores of 9-8 and 21-12…A diamond on a roster of promising but still developing coal, Winter Jr. would leave no doubt as to his prowess as a pass rushing specialist, leading the “A” division with five recorded QB hurries and finishing tied with Esposito for the top honors with seven sacks…In addition, he would raise his stop total from 19 in 2017 to 32 in his last hurrah donning the Maroon & Gold jersey.
One final gentleman most certainly worthy of commendation and acknowledgement is St. Anthony’s senior defensive back, Peter Hagan. One of those rare exceptional human beings whose contribution to his team and his school transcended what appears within a box score, repeatedly throughout the 2018 season, the 5’11, 175-pounder conducted himself as the consummate “team-first” ally, putting the best interests of the Friars ahead of any personal acclaim or fame…It was due to this ideal demeanor that there was no more fitting a candidate to be the recipient of this year’s Lieutenant Ronald Winchester Award, presented to the person deemed to be the unsung hero of the roster…Handed out in tribute to the former Chaminade High School/United States Naval Academy offensive lineman who sacrificed his life on September 3rd while fighting for his country in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Winchester was described by former teammates as the “guy who was behind the scenes making the block that no one saw; the guy who would play with broken ribs; the guy who stood out because of his work ethic.”…Like Winchester, Hagan has made his patriotic vow, accepting admission into West Point (United States’ Military Academy) as a part of the class of 2023.
Congratulations to our decorated student-athletes…And to all of our departing seniors, we whole-heartedly thank you for the wealth of memories you leave behind…Win or lose, you always did yourselves, your families, your school, and our league mighty proud! May your future journeys, both on and off of the field football field be met with continued blessings and wisdom from above.