Dec 052021

By Matt Diano:

Tis the season where good deeds are rewarded tenfold and kings are gifted with gold!!!

Unable to break bread as one Christian flock for a second consecutive season because of ongoing health restrictions (COVID), nothing replaces the elegance of our Communion breakfast custom…But still we are overjoyed to commemorate these worthy disciples with the same passion and affection of yesteryear!

Today, your legacies are forever cemented as you are officially recognized as the finest of your craft!

Taking home the top offensives prizes in recognition of respective outstanding performances that yielded 6,601 yards, 77 touchdowns, and most importantly, THREE NYCHSFL title-game berths on behalf of their schools were…

Joseph Riverso Memorial Award – Ajani Sheppard, Iona Prep

AAA Offensive Player of the Year

Ajani Sheppard Jr. QB Iona Prep – Made Westchester County history last weekend during the 2021 CHSAA AAA State title when he became the first student-athlete to boast a 2,000-yard passing/1,000-yard rushing season, completed 181 of 255 throw attempts (71%) for 2, 357 yards and 22 touchdowns, while simultaneously rushing for an additional 1,041 yard and 16 more scores on 138 carries…In doing so, he wrapped up his junior campaign as the top overall rushing in the triple-A classification and finished a close 2nd in terms of passing yardage…Regarded as one of the top 2023 dual-threat field generals in the Empire State, with Sheppard captaining the offense, the Gaels averaged 36 points per game this fall en route to an 11-1 record on their way to Metro League (first in AAA since ‘08) and Catholic State team titles (first in program history)!  Sheppard is formally the fourth member of the Gael QB fraternity that has hoisted the Joe Riverso Memorial Award.  Preceding him among the brother brotherhood were: Mario Biaggi (2012), Robert Madison (2014), and Derek Robertson (2018)…Running backs, Jeffrey Mack (2008) and Sidney Weston (2010) are also former winners for IP!

AA-I Offensive Player of the Year – Christian Alacqua, Chaminade

Christian Alacqua Sr. RB Chaminade – Stepped in to fill the cleats of one of the Flyers’ all-time greats in the backfield (Mario Fischetti), Christian so incredible in his only season as the primary RB that he darn-near equaled all of his predecessor’s accolades and like Fischetti, was successful in leading the Crimson & Gold to brass ring in the AA-1 division!…Carrying the ball 148 times for 1,327 yards and finding pay dirt on 16 occasions, the team captain/Cornell University bound (lacrosse) student-athlete ranked 12th in all of New York State this fall in total rushing yards (2nd in the entire NYCSHSFL; 1st in the AA-1)…In 10 appearances in his swan song year, the Manhasset resident surpassed the century mark on eight unique occasions, highlighted by a career-best 203-yard effort on October 16th as part of a win against Fordham Prep…Alacqua also notched SEVEN multiple TD performances, including striking for a pair in the Double-A-1 title contest versus Moore Catholic!  He may have worn the #11 and #16 jerseys during the season, but he was undeniably the #1 reason the Flyers are celebrating back-to-back crowns in Mineola!  He is the first Chaminade player since 2013 (Sean Cerrone) to formally be a recipient of OPOY honors!

AA-II Offensive Player of the Year – Mark Anthony – St. John the Baptist

Mark Anthony Scott Sr. RB St. John the Baptist – Scott ranked in the top-10 in the entire Evil Empire in both yardage (1,624; 6th) and rushing touchdowns (19; tied for 8th) and closed out his senior season as the all-around top back on the Catholic football map!!!  His aforementioned totals swept both major ground categories…The owner of a mind-blowing average of 11 yards per handoff, the Port Jeff Station product ran for no fewer than 115 yards in any game he participated in this fall.  To truly appreciate how special and invaluable he was to helping deliver the Cougars back to title weekend for the first time since 2014 (23-10 loss to Holy Trinity), you need look only at his three postseason efforts.  Amassing 619 yards w/8 touchdowns during this stretch, his 356/5 performance in the semis against Kennedy Catholic may have been the finest day posted by a NYCHSFL representative this season!!! Even in defeat, his talents jumped off the page, as illustrated by the 140-yard/1TD display he put forth in his last day (the league finals loss) as the heart of the Cat!!!  As of November 5th, he remained a free agent as it pertains to college services.  But we’re adamant in stating that whomever lands him is getting the FULL PACKAGE (stars in the classroom with a 3.7 GPA to accompany his gridiron greatness)!!

In speaking on the clash between offense and defense, author, Sun Tzu, stated, “Invincibility is a matter of defense; vulnerability is a matter of attack; Therefore, skillful warriors are able to be invincible, but cannot cause opponents to be vulnerable…And while we have nothing but the utmost respect for the “Art of Warrior” creator, he never met extraordinary gentlemen such as our three Defensive Player of the Year selections, because these standouts more than wreaked havoc and elicited fear to any opposing offense lined up across from them!

Vincent O’Connor Memorial Award – Zyian Moultrie-Goddard, Iona Prep

AAA Defensive Player of the Year

Zyian Moultie Goddard Jr. LB Iona Prep – A bona fide blue chipper that commands your attention on every snap, as we wrote earlier in the season when was named as a POTW, the 247 Sports 3-star linebacking prospect [Moultrie-Goddard] is so dominant that even in the lone defeat suffered by the Gaels in their league and state title claiming season, he still was every bit the most impactful player on either sideline…The pulse of an IP D-Unit that surrendered just 15.5 points per contest versus NYCHSFL foes (best in AAA) this fall, the three-year starter/2x team captain was credited with 81 total tackles (45 solo) this season, including 21 of which that resulted in a loss of yardage.  In addition, he added five sacks to his resume…Named as the DMVP of the 2021 AAA League championship (aided in limiting the then top rusher in triple-A to a modest 37 yards), is comes as a shock to no one that he is entertaining offers from power-5 conference institutions such as Arizona State, Syracuse, Tennessee, and West Virginia among others!…Described by the Iona Prep coaching staff as a “young man of the highest character”, when he was not busy serving as “landlord of the house pain”, he found the energy to be a considerable asset on offense, as he ran for 9 touchdowns (323 yards) while utilized as a short-yardage “big back”!…Moultie-Goddard is now the third Gael since 2010 to seize the Vincent O’Connor Memorial Trophy.  He joins previous winners, Michael Longo (2010; AAA) and Rodney Samson (2016; AA)!

AA-I Defensive Player of the Year – Hagan Wagner Sr. DB Chaminade

Hagan Wagner Sr. DB Chaminade – Labeled by the Head Coach, Kevin Dolan, as the “most indispensable performer” on a squad that pitched three shutouts and allowed a mere 4.2 points against fellow AA-1 opponents (15.9 if you factor in all competitions), Wagner falls into that category of new breed hybrid safety/linebacker that influences and/or takes over the game in an infinite manner of ways…Deriving as much satisfaction and pride in being a stout run stopper as he is a ball-hawking air traffic controller, the multi-sport gem (also plays for Chaminade’s nationally ranked lacrosse program) exhibited the full array of his tools in earning the Defensive Most Valuable Player award of the Double-A-1 championship (43-7 over Moore Catholic), as recorded close to double-digit stops, scooped up a fumble inside the Mavs’ red zone, and posted his second pick-6 of the season in propelling the Flyers to a repeat of the hardware…For the year, he was the proprietor of a stat line that read as follows: 75 tackles (49 solo), 9 TFLs, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions for TDs, 3 pass break-ups, and two forced fumbles!  Simply put, Wagner is the name; turnover creating machine is the philosophy for the #45 jersey…Wagner is now the second straight honoree from the all-boys Marianist school [Chaminade] to win this award.  In 2019, Aiden Cappellino accepted the plaque!

AA-II Defensive Player of the Year – Jameer Reader, Holy Trinity

Jameer Reader So. LB Holy Trinity – Only a sophomore, this might be just the beginning of the trophy collection that the 5’10, 185-pound LB out of Freeport [Reeder] will assemble in the coming years…A key component in a defense that pitched SIX shutouts and gave up just 49 points in all on their way to an immaculate 10-0 tally (only unbeaten school in the NYCHSFL in 2021), the ultimate compliment that can be paid to Reeder Is that among a roster filled with worthy candidates, he was man that received the bid from Hed Coach/Titan alumnus, Kahmal Roy!…Reeder compiled a curriculum vitae consisting of the following bullet points: 38 total stops (22 solo), 4 TFLs, 2 caused fumbles/1 fumble recovery!  He is now just the second member of the Green & White tradition to win DPOY, providing company to former NFL (as a TE) player, Andrew Quarless, who won in 2004!

Turning our attention to the Goliaths of the Catholic football landscape, true to what is uttered by 1 Samuel (verse 17:4), our three beasts in the trenches proved time and time again that they were made in the mold of champions…Whether it was along the OL, the DL, or, as an ironman battling for all 48 minutes they embraced every challenge and selflessly put the well-being of their teams ahead of personal interests at all times!!!  Elite linemen are a special breed unto themselves; and none were more spectacular than these…

Joe Thomas Memorial Award – Scott Becker, Iona Prep

AAA Lineman of the Year

Scott Becker Sr. OL Iona Prep – Hailed as the “best lineman I ever coached” by Gaels head man, Joe Spagnolo, the 6’2, 295-pound, senior out of Briarcliff Manor [Becker] may have played all five positions during the season, but he should be most candidly adorned with the moniker of centerpiece!!  The trend-setter/2-year captain of an offensive line paved the way for the New Rochelle based school to accumulate 4,811 yards and score 56 touchdowns on his watch, the future Princeton Tiger (selected the Ivy League institution from a list of 20+ offers, including all three major service academies and all other Ivies) emerged with over 90 pancake blocks this season and routinely registered double-digit block performances!  A combination of strength (squats 600/380 bench) and athleticism, Becker’s greatest trait is the integrity and leadership abilities he brought with them each and every week of his final year wearing the Maroon & Gold!…With his selection today, he becomes the second Iona Prep player ever (as well as the second in the past three opportunities) to be named the Joe Thomas Memorial Award recipient…In 2018, former 1st Team All-Stater/current Merrimack College roster member, Anthony Bonavita, established the precedent!

AA-I Lineman of the Year, Thomas Kemp IV, Chaminade

Thomas Kemp IV Sr. DL Chaminade – Praised by Coach Dolan for his knack for making open-field hits and an aggressive/but not reckless style of pursuit, during each of the past two seasons, Kemp has been that person that the rest of the defensive line has leaned on as the example/tone-setter!!!  Identical to his already cited/honored teammate [Wagner], big #76 was an unblockable menace along the front-7, consistently disrupting all facets of opposing offensive schemes…Finishing the fall 2nd on the Flyers with 81 total tackles (29 solo), the Hempstead resident thrived in the area of penetration, as his 21 TFLs topped all NYCHSFL personnel and ranked 10th in all of New York…He added three sacks to his body of work and even transformed “D” into “O” when he recorded a safety on 10/23 against St. Francis Prep…After three months of putting a lock on enemy offenses, Kemp locked down his future when he announced his intention to remain in-state and compete collegiately at Stony Brook University!

AA-II Lineman of the Year – Irv Briggs IV, Holy Trinity

Irv Briggs IV Jr. OL/DL Holy Trinity – Briggs the only one of the trio that performed double duty this season in taking his team to Titletown, is the next in a long, but ever-growing lineage of two-way brutes for the Titans…Walking that same path that landed former HT ironmen, John Stroughn (Utica) and Elijah Tobin (2019 NYCHSFL LOY; now attending AIC) scholarships, while his “forefather” are doing their thing on defense in college, Briggs is so versatile on both sides of the line that he feasibly could pencil in anywhere whenever he enrolls in the fall of 2023….As an OL (LT), he was the human insurance policy for a primarily two-quarterback system that combined to toss for over 1,600 yards and 23 TDs, while concurrently sealing the edge for a dynamic RB committee that generated 1,400+ yards age struck on 23 occasions!!!…On defense (DE), he racked up 17 solo stops (28 total tackles) and 4 TFLs for #1 cohort (regardless of division) in the NYCHSFL!

Rounding out our celebration of occupational superiority were the fellows that took the “special” in special teams to a whole new stratosphere during the 2021 season…Two of them equally decorated and renowned in the more conventional/popularized phases of the game; the other a pure savant that bound for the NCAA DI level, no matter which side of the boot they were on (kicking or receiving),  these players contributed the “extra” to all of the extraordinary deeds garnered by their school!

Special Teams Player of the Year

AAA Special Teams Player of the Year – Ellis Robinson IV, Iona Prep

Ellis Robinson IV So. Returner Iona Prep – One of the most feared defensive backs in New York State (tops in the Empire w/8 interceptions), it became very obvious early on that opposing teams were not only hesitant to throw the ball in his direction, they were outright opposed to allowing the #4 overall 2025 prospect in the land [Robinson IV] have any touches period…Because his opportunities were few and far between, it became essential that he capitalize each and every time an opportunity did materialize…Averaging over 20 yards per return during the NYCHSL season, Robinson IV posted a head-turning 25% TD rate, as he recorded takebacks of 89 (KO) and 46-yard (punt)  versus St. Anthony’s and Chaminade to finish with two scores on just eight attempts!!!  In the AAA Catholic State finals, he continued to showcase the inherent difference his presence creates when two of his punt returns (50 yards to the opposition’s 20; 21 yards to the St. Francis 17) later transformed into 10 points thanks to the ideal starting field position!…Robinson IV currently holds 30 FBS scholarship offers; rather than name them all, let us instead just say that any and every major power-5 program has his name jotted on their Christmas list!

AA-I Special Teams Player of the Year – Michael Solimando, St. Francis Prep

Michael Solimando Sr. Ath. St. Francis Prep – “WE OVER ME” is the mantra that every coach prays will resonate with his/her pupils.  And in the case of Terrier Head Coach, Rich Carroll, he hit a jackpot in the 6’1, 175-pound, Queens Village resident [Solimando]…Sporting a 98+ grade point average and heralded for how coachable he has been during his scholastic career, there was no role that Solimando deemed insignificant.  Like an unbottled genie, no matter what task was requested of #11, he enthusiastically gave 150%!!!!…One of those “in all places at once” type of performers, if high school football was factored into labor statistics, he personally would lower unemployment by 10-15%…Instrumental in every detail of the “third rail” of football, in addition to being a spark plug as a return man (32.7-yard average + 2 touchdowns on nine kickoffs; 10.1/per on six punts), Solimando also served as the holder on all field goals and PATs, and never shied away from gunner duties!!!…A true energizer bunny that never left the turf/grass, he mastered all of these distinct roles while in the midst of being irreplaceable on offense (21 grabs for 328 yards w/2 TDs as WR) and defense (29 tackles, 3 INT, highlighted by a pick-6))!

AA-II Special Teams Player of the Year – RJ Kocan, St. John the Baptist 

RJ Kocan Sr. K/P St. John the Baptist – Kocan who has committed his thunder bolt leg to Morgantown (West Virginia University) thrived in his dual role as PK/punter for the AA-2 runner-up Cougars…. Indisputably priceless as a flipper of fields, the future Mountaineer averaged 36 yards per punt, placing nearly 1/3 of his attempts inside the 20…There was no letdown off the tee either, as 65% (37 of 57) of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks…The limb was as precise as it was mighty, as Kocan converted 4 of 6 FGs (long of 30) and went an impressive 43-for-45 on point-after tries!

Golden 11 Student Athletes: 

Andrew Bardak – LB St Anthony’s

Henry Belin – QB Cardinal Hayes

Thomas Stueber – QB Chaminade

Liam Dunn – OL St. John the Baptist

James McCauley – QB Archbishop Stepinac

Michael Solimando – WR St Francis Prep

Justin Axiak – 3B Xavier

Matthew Skjeveland – LB Holy Trinity

Christian Terranova – CB Kellenberg

David LaGanga – OL Xaverian

Anthony Ulses – OL St. Joseph by the Sea

Monsignor Peter’s Award – Scott Becker Iona Prep

Scott Becker Sr. OL Iona Prep sits at the helm of the proverbial table as the conferee of our most prestigious and sacred award (The Monsignor Peter’s Memorial Trophy) as the 2021 Scholar-Athlete of the Year, was Iona Prep star offensive lineman, Scott Becker!!!

Exceptional and multi-faceted to the core definitions of both words, the Princeton University pledged chap devoted his free time not only to the pursuit of academic excellence, but also towards being a pioneer/active constituent among the student body, not to mention a pillar of the off-campus community!

Cultivating and then subsequently maintaining a magnificent grade point average 97.4 to complement the cumulative 1380 (Math-700; Verbal-680) he registered on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), Becker was unrelenting and ambitious in pursuing a most demanding course load that featured Advanced Place options in concentrations of Government, U.S History, Calculus, and Language & Composition!..He is a double honor society inductee (National Honor Society; Spanish Honor Society) as a symbol of acknowledgment for his starch dedication to developing  the mind!

As a continuation of his desire to be a future policy influencer and/or “shaper of the world”, Becker held executive seats in his chosen extracurricular activities, acting as the Vice President of the International Relations Club, while concurrently serving as a House Captain within the school’s Student Congress!

Gleaning joy from the humility of giving, Becker was a cherished patron within all of Westchester after volunteering at the Hope Soup Kitchen, and the Walk to End MS…He was a football camp counselor to further exhibit his generosity!

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