SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR
By Matt Diano
Often overshadowed or not given sufficient credit for the role they play in ensuring victory on a week-to-week basis, think back to all the times you’ve watched as a clutch kick at the buzzer decided a Super Bowl; or recall the emotion of such moments as the “Kick-6” (Auburn shocked Alabama in 2013 on a Chris Davis return off of a missed FG) or Xavier Gipson’s 65-yard punt return in overtime to seal a week #1 victory for the Jets to gain a true appreciation why these individuals as called “SPECIALists”…..
All seniors, our 2023 selections were comprised of two “Do Everything” studs with legs of steel and an explosive return man that was a threat to take it to the house every time the opposing tested fate by booting it in his direction!!!…
It gives us great pleasure to acknowledge the contributions of a trio that combined to put 113 points on the board, while simultaneously dictating starting field position for either their own team or the opponent—-SAM BISESI (AAA), LANCE MAIBERG (AA-1), & ISRAEL CENTENO-JOHNSON (AA-2)!!
Bisesi (Iona Prep), who currently holds scholarship offers from in-state DI programs such as the United States’ Military Academy and Fordham University, entered the fall of 2023 with a lot of hype, as he was a NYSSWA 5th-Team All-State honoree in 2022 for the Gaels after connecting on 60 of 63 PAT attempts as a junior….He did absolutely nothing but raise his stock as a 12th grader, hitting on 55 of 57 overall kick tries, including 47 of 48 on point after attempts (lone miss was a botched snap) and going 7 of 9 on Field Goals (distances of 27, 23, 37, 37, 34, 21, 27)….Rated as a 4.5 star prospect by Kohl’s Kicking Camps, the New Canaan, CT resident also thrived in his ability to bury the enemy deep in their own zone, as his average kickoff traveled 63.2 yards and resulted in 41 touchbacks (41 of 66)….As a punter, he posted an average of 35.8 (24 opportunities), highlighted by a pair of balls placed inside the opposing 20!….The first K/P from his school to win this award, Bisesi made it two of the past three seasons in which a Gael took home this trophy, as it was KR/PR, Ellis Robinson IV, having his name called in 2021!
Maiberg, whose collegiate future is set as he is committed to stay home and kick on behalf of the Long Island University Sharks, was equally spectacular, as the 4.5 (kicker)/4.0 (punter) rated weapon followed up a 25/26 PAT junior campaign by being even more dangerous as a senior, as he converted 27 of 29 point after tries and went 2-for-3 on field goals with a long of 38 en route to helping lead the Cougars to the school’s first NYCHSFL crown since 2013 when they recorded a 28-14 victory on November 18th over Moore Catholic!!….A master of the flipping the field, official stats were not available on his kickoffs and punts, but from watching game film, it was apparent that the combination of power and precision was immense as made an already stout SJB defense all the more difficult to score upon by forcing their nemeses to march deep in order to get within striking range!….Following in the footsteps of current West Virginia University place-kicker, RJ Kocan (2021), Maiberg is the program’s second recipient of this accolade!
Flipping the script and turning our attention to a person who was on the other side of these booming kickoffs, if you missed Kennedy Catholic’s game against Cardinal Spellman on November 3rd, we suggest you go back and try to watch it on archive, because if you do, you are going to find it impossible to take your eyes off of the standout in the #1 jersey [Centeno-Johnson]….The perfect illustration/example of the “paydirt or bust” mentality that he brought with him to the gridiron in any/every capacity he was asked to undertake for the Dominick Tassone’s Gaels in 2023, in the AA-2 postseason play-in match-up with the Pilots, Centeno-Johnson put the team on his back and carried them to the semifinal round when he racked up over 200 yards and two touchdowns (both 80 yards in distance) as a KOR dynamo…..His well-timed heroics simply a continuation of the versatile/all-encompassing peril he inflicted from start to finish of his swan song, as he’d amass an additional 788 yards on offense, running for a team-best 553 yards (4 TDs) on 131 carries, while also hauling in 18 balls (2nd most on the roster) for 235 yards and 3 touchdowns as a pass-catcher out of the backfield!!….Centeno-Johnson joins back-to-back winner (2018, 2019), Brendan Lebitsch, as the only Gaels to own the title of STPOY!