Patch: St. Anthony’s Stat Man Shows Grit

November 20, 2010

St. Anthony's stat man Tom Langan.

St. Anthony's stat man Tom Langan.


Title: St. Anthony’s Stat Man Shows Grit; Friars football statistician Tom Langan roams the sideline despite losing leg to infection and diabetes.
Publication: www.Huntington.Patch.com
Author: Jason Molinet
Date: Nov. 20, 2010
Word Count: 960

You know Tom Langan. He’s the guy with an infectious smile, clip board in hand and numbers at his fingertips, navigating the pulsing sideline at St. Anthony’s football games as he keeps pace with what’s happening on the field.

He’s the team statistician, a volunteer job he’s done going back to two decades. And while Langan, 57, has missed games through the years, he has been as much a fixture in the Black and Gold as coach Rich Reichert himself. In fact, the two are cousins.

“I try to tell the kids, ‘You have so many dedicated people here you don’t really realize they are doing things for you behind the scenes,’” Reichert said. “This is really important to him. And he does a really good job for us.”

St. Anthony’s (10-0) plays Iona Prep (8-2) in the CHSFL Class AAA championship game Saturday at 4 p.m. at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale. It’s no surprise Langan will be there doing his duties for the Friars.

The remarkable part is that Langan is here at all.

The same day St. Anthony’s beat Iona Prep on Oct. 9, 2009, Langan’s left leg was amputated above the knee. It was the result of a freak infection gone wrong and a previously undiagnosed condition.

Reichert gave his cousin the game ball in the hospital. He stopped in every night after practice. And he’s been there for Langan ever since, through a long and evolving rehabilitation process.

His big step forward came during the home opener in September against Holy Cross. Langan made his return to the St. Anthony’s sideline, albeit with his clip board balanced on a walker.

“Tom was there all the time. And we counted on him all the time,” St. Anthony’s athletic director Don Buckley said. “So when he was out last season, it was obvious. Everyone was saying, ‘Where’s Tom?’”

Langan, who is still adjusting to using his titanium prosthesis, recently transferred from a rehab facility in Long Beach to an assisted living home in Medford. Each day is another closer to normalcy.

“I can get around,” said Langan, who is on disability after a career spent in retail. “I use the walker and I’m training with the cane right now. My goal is to walk without anything. It may take two years, but I’m going to do it.”

Today Langan’s life is packed away, boxed up in Reichert’s garage. He was an only child and never married. The football program is his family. Langan finds deeper meaning in everything now, especially on the sideline of a football game. It’s one small but significant step in the rehabilitation process.

“People say, ‘It’s a shame what happened to you,” Langan said. “I say, ‘It happened.’ You have to do your best to adjust. You do the best you can to get your life back.”

It’s not the first time. When Langan’s father died in 1964 – when Langan was all of 10 – Reichert’s dad took on the role of surrogate father figure. So the cousins spent a lot of time together and grew as close as brothers.

This is Reichert’s 24th season at the helm of the St. Anthony’s football program. Langan joined him on the sideline starting in 1991.

“Richie asked me,” Langan said. “He said, ‘Can you help me out? You’re good with numbers.’”

The closest he had been to a sports venue was as a vendor at Yankee Stadium growing up in the Bronx. But Langan took instantly to his statistician duties.

There were unexpected benefits. The winning was addictive. Being close to his cousin was great. He forged lasting relationships with the coaching staff. And the positive energy flowing from the teenaged players energized him.

“It keeps me young being around the teenagers,” Langan said. “The coaches treat me great. It’s like I’m part of the staff. I feel like I’m part of the St. Anthony’s family.”

That family has seen him though an ordeal.

When Langan discovered a pebble embedded in his left foot, he removed it with tweezers. It drew a little blood. He bandaged it up and didn’t think twice about it. That was August 2009.

But the wound became infected. Langan ignored it, expecting it would get better. Then the infection spread to the bone. Next thing Langan knew he was unable to get out of bed. He called his cousin.

“As soon as I saw his leg I knew he was in trouble,” said Reichert, a former Nassau County Police officer. “He almost died that night. It was really bad. Gangrene.”

Reichert rushed his cousin to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown. Langan was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which only exacerbated the injury. And his leg would have to go. Surgery was scheduled just 24 hours later.

“When you wake up you see what’s not there any more,” Langan said, “it’s a shock.”

All that seems like a lifetime ago. Langan has been to five games this season. He was on the sideline when Reichert won his 200th game last week. The title game will make six. He has a job to do.

“This gives me an incentive to do something,” Langan said. “It gets me outdoors. I’m seeing people again. I’m more determined. You have to push yourself to do it.”

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the courage of the everyday.

“He’s a true inspiration,” Buckley said. “He’s done so well with his rehab, most of the kids don’t even realize there’s anything wrong. He doesn’t draw attention to himself. He’s a guy behind the scenes.”

On the same turf where athletes push themselves to the limit for the glory of sport, so is the humble stat guy. He’s simply learning to stand tall and walk once more.

Patch: 2010 CHSFL Preview

September 3, 2010

Patch: 2010 CHSFL Preview

Patch: 2010 CHSFL Preview

Title: Long Island Football: 2010 CHSFL Preview; St. Anthony’s still the CHSFL team to beat
Publication: www.Huntington.Patch.com
Author: Jason Molinet
Date: Sept. 3, 2010
Word Count: 1,009

There’s little doubt that the Catholic football league is the toughest and most talent-rich in New York state. There’s also no contesting that one school sits atop the heap.

St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington is a Long Island football dynasty with all the trappings of royalty. Coach Rich Reichert has one of the biggest and most experienced staffs you’ll find on a high school field. The 80-man roster is as deep as any college program’s. And the Friars play on a lighted, turf field before packed crowds approaching 2,500, and with TV and radio crews regularly stalking the sidelines.

Little wonder the Friars, despite graduating several key players from last season’s 10-1 CHSFL Class AAA championship, are the top seed and favorites once again. Success breeds success.

Behind the play of QB Tom Schreiber, the Friars won eight games in a row to end the 2009 season. He engineered a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives to lift St. Anthony’s past previously unbeaten Holy Trinity, 28-21, in the title game. It marked the eighth league championship in the last nine seasons.

How will the 2010 CHSFL season play out? Holy Trinity, Chaminade and Holy Cross will vie for the title while the Friars break in a new QB. Regardless, the path to the championship still runs through South Huntington and St. Anthony’s. That because Reichert doesn’t rebuild, he reloads. Here’s a look at the CHSFL:

2010 Seeds

1. St. Anthony’s
2. Holy Trinity
3. Chaminade
4. Holy Cross
5. Iona Prep
6. Xaverian
7. St. Joseph Sea
8. Farrell
9. Mount St. Michael
10. Fordham Prep
11. Kellenberg
12. St. Francis Prep
13. Stepinac
14. Cardinal Hayes
15. Xavier
16. St. John the Baptist
17. St. Peter’s
18. Spellman
19. Bishop Ford
20. Christ the King

Team Watch

St. Anthony’s: The Friars will look to reach the CHSFL Class AAA title game for the 12th straight season with a new QB but the same unbeatable attitude. The difference maker for the Friars is up front, where their defensive and offensive linemen play on one side of the ball and have the heft to dominate.

Holy Trinity: Can the Titans fill the void left by the graduation of all-everything RB / LB Anthony Brunetti? The four-year star served as the sparkplug for Holy Trinity’s run to the CHSFL Class AAA title game a year ago. If Holy Trinity lets QB Chris Laviano air it out, then look out.

Chaminade: The 2009 season ended with Holy Trinity returning a blocked field goal for a touchdown with 18 seconds left in a 28-24 playoff loss. You can bet second-year coach Stephen Boyd, a former Pro Bowl linebacker, will have the Flyers playing inspired defense. Chaminade will be in every game.

Holy Cross: A semifinalist a year ago, Knights have top wideout Devon Cajuste (921 yards, 7 TDs) back. Holy Cross gave St. Anthony’s a scare in the regular season but bowed out with an injury-riddled lineup in a 28-7 playoff loss to the Friars. This cast will be motivated for more.

Mount St. Michael: Thanks to a No. 9 seed and easy schedule, look for the Mountaineers to play their way into the Top 8 and a spot in the CHSFL Class AAA playoffs. Veteran coach Mario Valentini gets his team to play and Mount finished strong in 2009 with a AA title. Multitalented QB Jaylen Amaker leads the offense. Think sleeper.

Player Watch

Devon Cajuste, Holy Cross, WR: The 6-4, 211-pound senior was unstoppable a year ago as an NYSSWA first-team All-State pick. He led the CHSFL in receiving with 921 yards and 7 TDs on 40 catches, good for 23 yards a reception. Committed to Stanford.

Isaiah Kearney, Xaverian, RB: After a standout freshman year in which he averaged 8.2 yards per carry and rushed for 774 yards and 6 TDs, all of Brooklyn is buzzing over Kearney. The sophomore back is sprinter fast and a true game breaker.

Chris Laviano, Holy Trinity, QB: MaxPreps calls him a Top 100 recruit. This 6-1, 180-pound sophomore will be the focal point now that 2,000-yard rusher Anthony Brunetti is gone. He threw for 1,122 yards and 8 TDs in 2009. He’s got a big arm and a heady sense of the game. Poised for a breakout year.

Tyler McLees, St. Anthony’s, LB: The 6-0, 210-pound senior led the league with 121 tackles a year ago and added 4 sacks. The son of former Carey coach Matt McLees (himself a linebacker at Southern Connecticut), he’ll be a leader on defense.

Charlie Raffa, St. Anthony’s, QB: An Under Amour All-American in lacrosse, the 5-10, 185-pound Raffa has great instincts. And like his predecessors, he can beat you with his arm or legs. Committed to Maryland for lacrosse.

Game Watch

Farrell at Kellenberg, Sept. 18: This is as important a game as Kellenberg will play all season. If the No. 11 Firebirds hope to qualify for the CHSFL Class AAA playoffs, then a win against No. 8 Farrell is a good place to start.

Holy Cross at Holy Trinity, Oct. 16: Holy smokes! A pair of CHSFL Class AAA semifinalists from a year ago collide. Buckle up. This one should be fun to watch.

Chaminade at Holy Trinity, Oct. 9: These Nassau rivals have met in the playoffs two of the last three seasons. It’s always close and heated. The winner of this game could be in the driver’s seat for a home playoff game.

St. Anthony’s at Chaminade, Oct. 16: This rivalry defines the two schools. While Chaminade hasn’t been a factor of late, there’s no one the Friars would rather beat. But it’s the middle of a tough stretch in the schedule for St. Anthony’s. Expect a physical and emotional game.

St. Anthony’s at Holy Trinity, Oct. 23: A rematch of the 2009 CHSFL Class AAA title game. St. Anthony’s has ripped the Titans in recent seasons (outscoring them 201-62 since 2005), bringing Holy Trinity back to Earth after sky-high expectations. This one will be for playoff seeding.

2009 Standings

CHSFL Class AAA-AA

TEAM W L PF PA
Holy Trinity 10 1 339 149
St. Anthony’s 10 1 398 165
St. Joseph Sea 7 2 357 240
Holy Cross 7 3 299 201
Fordham Prep 4 7 203 299
Iona Prep 4 6 248 293
Chaminade 4 6 174 198
Xaverian 4 6 173 238
Mount St. Michael 5 5 195 273
Farrell 4 6 139 184
Kellenberg 2 8 141 278
St. Francis Prep 2 8 192 276

 

2009 Playoff Results

CHSFL Class AAA

Quarterfinals
St. Anthony’s 49, Xaverian 7
Holy Trinity 28, Chaminade 24
Holy Cross 32, Fordham Prep 14
Iona Prep 40, St. Joseph Sea 29

 

Semifinals
St. Anthony’s 28, Holy Cross 7
Holy Trinity 27, Iona Prep 18

 

Championship
St. Anthony’s 28, Holy Trinity 21
CHSFL Class AA-A

 

TEAMS W L PF PA
Stepinac 8 3 287 144
Cardinal Hayes 8 2 299 216
Xavier 7 4 265 155
St. John the Baptist 4 6 173 223
St. Peter’s 5 4 199 149
Bishop Ford 3 7 154 240
Spellman 1 7 80 291
Christ the King 1 8 147 292

 

2009 Playoff Results

CHSFL Class AA

Quarterfinals
Mount St. Michael 21, Xavier 14
Cardinal Hayes 26, Kellenberg 24
St. Francis Prep 35, Stepinac 21
Farrell 41, St. John the Baptist 6

 

Semifinals
Mount St. Michael 28, St. Francis Prep 21
Cardinal Hayes 33, Farrell 7

 

Championship
Mount St. Michael 28, Cardinal Hayes 22
CHSFL Class A

Semifinals
St. Peter’s 27, Christ the King 20
Bishop Ford 38, Spellman 0
Championship
St. Peter’s 41, Bishop Ford 0

 

Howie Vogts And His Football Legacy

August 10, 2010

Anyone who knew Howie Vogts understands this wasn’t the way the iconic football coach was supposed to pass on. Not in a hospital bed with an IV tube, heart monitor and respirator hooked up to him, as he did on Saturday at the age of 80 at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre.

No, after 56 years and a New York state-record 364 wins – all at Bethpage High School – it would have only been fitting if the giant of Long Island high school football expired during a game on the sideline. That’s how he would have wanted it, anyway.

I spent enough time with him over the years to know that much. He was a man who could have long ago taken his pension and retired to Florida with his longtime partner, Marilyn Murphy. And he did.

But each August Murph and Howie would drive up I-95 in the comfort of their Lincoln Town Car and return to their Bethpage house in time for the start of football practice. Because Howie Vogts’ real home was the sideline next to his boys.

“It’s the most fruitful thing working and helping young people,” Vogts once told me. “And each year you have a new group to work with.”

Vogts never had children. Yet after 56 years of coaching football in this working-class Nassau town, an entire community looked at the coach with fatherly respect.

A former Golden Eagles player, Erwin Dill, has served as the associate head coach to take the load off Vogts. Dill has manned the sideline for more than a decade while Vogts, in declining health, sat on the bench. It might have made for an awkward relationship if not for the selflessness of the staff.

It was an arrangement an entire town embraced. People get pushed aside in life. You probably know someone who was shown the door before they were ready to leave, at work or elsewhere. People get old. They become expendable.

Not Vogts. He was treasured – and rightly so.

“It’s Coach’s team,” Rich Solliday, a Bethpage resident whose son was an All-Long Island player in the 1990s, once told me. “Howie started the program and he should stay here to the day he dies.”

Thank goodness, he did.

Vogts, a Sewanhaka and Adelphi graduate, started with a freshman team in 1952 and then christened the varsity one year later. He spent one season as an assistant coach at Michigan State in 1966, but returned to the Bethpage sideline next fall. That’s where he’s been ever since.

This was a Grumman town. The Lunar lander was built in Bethpage. Aerospace was the life blood of the community. But the jobs left long ago. The other source of town pride? Football, of course.

Bethpage won 35 regular-season league or conference crowns, 16 playoff titles and five Long Island championships. Vogts was the mastermind behind them all. Even in his later years, he would spend much of his weekdays sequestered in the film room breaking down the opposition. He had a keen football mind to the end.

The death certificate will note Vogts died of congestive heart failure. But anyone who knows him will tell you no one had a bigger heart. How else do you explain a lifetime of devotion to one town and his boys?

Note: Visiting Tuesday and Wednesday 2-5 and 7-9:30 p.m. at the Arthur F. White Funeral Home, 234 Broadway, Bethpage, NY 11714. A Memorial gathering will take place Thursday 11 a.m. at the Howard C. Vogts Football Field at Bethpage High School. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Bethpage Football Dad’s Club. Bethpage High School, Stewart Avene, Bethpage, NY, 11714, in Care of the Bethpage Dad’s Club.

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

Conte Cuttino: Fuelling His NFL Dream

March 15, 2010

Conte Cuttino left school one semester shy of earning his business finance degree and moved back into his family home in Uniondale. This might seem like a setback to Stony Brook University’s all-time leading rusher. Quite the opposite.

It is all part of Cuttino’s master plan to land his dream job – a spot on an NFL roster. You only get one shot to be a pro athlete. The time is now for the ambitious 22-year-old, who was featured in the September issue of Long Island Pulse magazine. So he put aside his 2.9 GPA and the stigma of playing at the Division I-AA level to focus on getting faster, stronger – and noticed.

“I believe it is not a long shot,’’ Cuttino said. “A large percentage of players in the NFL come from small schools, even the great ones like Jerry Rice and recent players like Miles Austin. It will come down to my focus, drive, skill and dedication. I have all of those, so I know I have a great chance of making it to the NFL.”

After weeks of specialized combine training at the Parisi Speed School in Fairlawn, N.J., Cuttino took part in his first pro day March 9 at Fordham University. With scouts from the Bengals, Bills, Browns, Chargers, Colts, Eagles, Giants, Jets, Packers, Raiders, Saints and Vikings looking on, Cuttino went to work. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds, the 20-yard shuttle drill in 4.21 seconds, the three-cone drill in 6.5 seconds, broad jumped 10 feet, 7 inches, vertical leaped 40.5 inches and benched 225 pounds 17 times.

He was one of 26 participants at Fordham, including three Stony Brook teammates: LB Tyler Santucci, CB Chris Richards and DE Christopher Perri. Hofstra, which disbanded its football program in December, was also represented.

So how did Cuttino fare? While he wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month, his numbers make him an intriguing player. His broad jump and three-cone drill time would have been tops among running backs and his vertical leap would have placed second.

He’ll get another chance to improve his stock at a pro day at Albany on March 23.

“For the most part, I was very pleased,’’ Cuttino said. “The 20-yard shuttle and the bench press should have been better. I ran faster and benched more during my training. Also, I ran a 4.53 for the 40. I wasn’t too disappointed with that, but I feel like I could have done a bit better. Everything else, I did great. If you were to compare my pro day results to the contenders at the Combine, I would be amongst the top five percent of running backs.”

The 5-foot, 9-inch Cuttino has bulked up to 200 pounds and added to his entourage, signing with William Appleton from Appleton Sports Management in Virginia. NFLDraftScout.com rated Cuttino as the 90th best running back in the April draft, but that should change.

Regardless, Cuttino realizes it’s not all about getting drafted. It’s about signing with the right team as an undrafted free agent in the hours and days after the draft. Former Hofstra star Wayne Chrebet is a prime example. He went undrafted and walked on with the Jets. He played 11 NFL seasons.

Cuttino will pay close attention to the draft. Whether he gets drafted or not, Cuttino will need to make an impression at training camp to stick.

“Conte Cuttino should play in the NFL because I am a ‘football player,’” the church-going Cuttino said. “It is in my blood; I live and breathe for this sport. I can walk the walk, not just talk the talk. I’ve worked extra hard to get to the NFL, and the chance to play for a team will never be taken advantage of. I will continue to always work hard to see success for any team that gives me a chance.”

After all, Cuttino did rack up 944 all-purpose yards and earn All-Big South honors as a senior. He finished with 3,607 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns while starting 31 games in his career.

He’s got the goods. He just needs an opportunity. If pro football doesn’t work out? Cuttino said getting his degree will be next.

“I wanted to pursue this dream of mine with 100 percent effort, so I decided to withdraw my last semester of school,” Cuttino said. “I made the Dean’s list twice while attending college. I have 15 credits to take to complete my degree. Education is important to me, and I know a career in football will not last forever, so I definitely plan on finishing my degree some time down the road.

“I will definitely go back to school and get my degree. Considering the economic state I would enter grad school to better my chances to work in the corporate world. I would consider a career as a financial advisor or sports agent, not too sure. My main focus is football right now. Anything outside of that is a distraction.”

You can follow Cuttino as he blogs leading up to the draft at www.contecuttino.com.

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

Long Island’s Super Connection

February 8, 2010

When a first quarter pass zipped in and bounced off his chest on Sunday night, you wondered what the game had in store for Marques Colston. The entire world watched as the New Orleans Saints receiver killed a promising drive with this drop.

Long Island’s lone connection to Super Bowl XLIV, Colston thrived in the spotlight all season as one of the NFL’s elite pass catchers. Now the former Hofstra University star had the look of a goat.

But Drew Brees went right back to Colston on the next drive as the Saints began to claw their way out of a 10-0 hole. The wideout ended up setting up the go-ahead, fourth-quarter touchdown and finished with seven catches for 83 yards.

“This is what I have dreamed about since I was four years old,’’ Colston said afterward. “It’s incredible.”

There were no shortage of New York storylines for Super Bowl XLIV, and each played a key role as the New Orleans Saints rallied past the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17.

They mostly revolved around former Jets and Giants castoffs Sean Payton, Jeremy Shockey and Jonathan Vilma finding redemption as Saints. Payton was the one-time Giants offensive coordinator who lost his groove and was fired. Vilma was once the heart of the Jets defense who the brass traded away because of a bum knee. And Shockey, well, he had simply proved impossible to tame and was shipped to the exile of New Orleans.

Each found new life with the Saints. And each had Super moments against the Colts.

But Long Island’s Colston probably had the longest odds of reaching the grand stage of the Super Bowl. That’s because the Harrisburg, Penn. native saw his father die at 14 and played Division I-AA football in college at overlooked and unheralded Hofstra.

“Coming out of high school, I was 175 or 180 pounds,’’ Colston recalled in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. “I wasn’t very polished as a receiver or a player. Hofstra ended up offering me a scholarship and gave me an opportunity to grow at a rate that I needed to grow. I just continued to work to get better as a player. Hopefully I’ve shown you guys what I am capable of doing.”

He played all four seasons for the Pride, starting 37 games and catching 182 passes for a school-record 2,834 yards and 18 touchdowns. The Saints drafted him in the seventh round in 2006. In just his fourth pro season, Colston is already fourth in franchise history in receptions and receiving yards and touchdowns.

Colston, now 6-4, 225 pounds, led the Saints in receiving this season with 70 catches for 1,074 yards and nine touchdowns. And in Super Bowl XLIV, he turned in a workmanlike performance. Forgotten was the early miscue. What people will remember about Marques Colston is his championship mettle.

“We knew coming in this was going to be a hard Super Bowl,” Colston said. “But we believed in one another and we got it done today.”

Colston is the fifth player from Hofstra to participate in the Super Bowl, joining Ricky Bryant (Patriots, 2004 season), Willie Colon (Pittsburgh, 2008), Mike D’Amato (Jets, 1968) and John Schmitt (Jets, 1968). And considering that Hofstra shuttered its football program in December, Colston will likely be the last.

Colston represented Long Island well. And on a night when the Super Bowl couldn’t have been further away from New Yorkers in body and spirit, he gave us all someone to root for.

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

Long Island Sports Figures of the Decade

January 4, 2010

With the first decade of the 21st century in the books, Long Island Pulse magazine decided to look back at the most significant figures on the Long Island sports scene. There were high profile athletes such as Kings Park and Houston Astros baseball star Craig Biggio and Hofstra and New York Jets wideout Wayne Chrebet. Prime-time events such as golf’s US Open at Bethpage (2002 and ‘09) and Shinnecock Hills (2004) put the region in the spotlight. Great teams abounded, from Speedy Claxton-led Hofstra in men’s basketball (2000) to the Bratton brothers-fuelled Huntington boys lacrosse run (2005-07). 

But the people who made the greatest contributions to Long Island sports in the last decade were often coaches and administrators, people on the bench or away from the public view. Others championed causes, opened the way for new sports to flourish or built the foundation for great teams. Here is our Top 10:

10. Louis Acompora: The Northport High School freshman died on March 25, 2000 after being struck in the chest by a ball during a freshman lacrosse game. Acompora, 14, suffered commotio cordis, a rare form of cardiac arrest. He could have been revived had there been an automated external defibrillator. His parents made it their mission to raise awareness and their son lived on through the Louis Acompora Foundation. The Long Island sports community reacted almost immediately, putting defibrillators at high school sports events. On June 27, 2002, with father and driving force John Acompora on hand, Gov. George Pataki signed into law a bill requiring one portable defibrillator in each high school. Louis’ Law was the nation’s first.

9. Sarah Hughes: The figure skating prodigy from Great Neck burst onto the world consciousness with a remarkable gold-medal performance at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Then 17, Hughes jumped from fourth to first with a flawless long program and joined the ranks of local Olympic immortals Derrick Adkins and Al Oerter. Hughes has served as a spokesperson for breast cancer awareness and supported the outreach program Figure Skating Harlem. Younger sister Emily Hughes also developed into a figure skating star in her own right. Emily Hughes competed at the 2006 Olympics.  Sarah Hughes graduated from Yale in 2009.

8. Russ Cellan: The Freeport High School football coach turned a downtrodden program into one of Long Island’s best, developing talent and innovating along the way. The result was a feared program that played in six Nassau Conference I championship games this decade and won four. He popularized the spread offense on Long Island, coached NFL standouts D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Morlon Greenwood and led one of the great teams in state history, the 2003 Red Devils. Cellan closed the decade in November the way he began it in 2000, winning a Long Island Class I championship.    

7. Tim Cluess: The C.W. Post men’s basketball coach is a fierce competitor, a master tactician and a great teacher. He was a legendary high school coach, dominating the Catholic league at St. Mary’s. He went 262-87 in 14 seasons with the Gaels, winning a pair of state Class B Federation championships before tensions between he and the administration led him to leave in 2005. He coached current NBA player Danny Green. Cluess jumped to Suffolk CC-Brentwood and led it to the NJCAA Division III quarterfinals in 2006. Division II C.W. Post hired him weeks later.  Last year, Cluess guided a Long Island-heavy roster to a 30-1 season and the elite eight of the NCAA Division II tournament. He is very likely Long Island’s next big D-I prospect, a la Billy Donovan at Florida.

6. Jim McGowan: The longtime Bay Shore High School softball coach has dominated the game like no coach in any other sport. He is the winningest softball coach in state history and a pitching guru who has developed dominant windmillers throughout Long Island. This decade alone, Bay Shore won state Class A titles in 2000 and 2005 and five Suffolk titles from 2000-07. And the Marauders are in the hunt each season. They lost in the county championship series last spring. Beyond his work as a coach and an instructor, he’s been instrumental in building up the coaches association and championing the game. With former players now becoming coaches themselves, his influence will live on.  

5. Boomer Esiason: You know him today as a TV commentator and radio host. But the former East Islip standout and NFL quarterback is an iconic Long Island sports figure. Sure, he played in a Super Bowl and starred for the New York Jets. But he’s emerged as an even more influential force off the field. The Manhasset resident started the Boomer Esiason Foundation after his son, Gunnar, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in 1993. BEF generated $6.4 million in 2008. Meanwhile, Esiason turned his twin passions – football and fundraising to fight CF – to promote Long Island football. There’s no event quite like the Outback Steakhouse Empire Challenge, an all-star football game played each June at Hofstra before big crowds and regional TV. The Empire Challenge only strengthened the sport, giving Long Island coaches an opportunity to grow while helping the development of youth and high school programs in need. For example, austerity-plagued Roosevelt High School received game helmets and uniforms. By the way, graduating seniors got a first-class showcase event.

4. Don Buckley: The longtime athletic director at St. Anthony’s High School helped build the Catholic power into one of the nation’s premier sports programs. Sports Illustrated recognized the school as the best in the state from 2005-09. The football program won eight CHSFL titles in the decade and boys basketball captured a state Federation crown. Girls soccer has been a powerhouse and boys soccer finished ranked second in the nation in 2008. But the former track coach’s true love is running and the Friars have a boys and girls program with several hundred participants. Yet Buckley’s influence goes well beyond Huntington Station. Buckley has served as president of the CHSAA and the state Federation, forging a reputation as a key figure in New York high school sports.

3. Cathy Gallagher: The long-time executive director of Section XI was a pioneer in women’s sports and a strong voice in New York state high school athletics. She retired from Section XI, Suffolk County’s governing body for high school sports, in 2003 after 21 years at the helm. Gallagher first taught at Smithtown and Cold Spring Harbor. She officiated girls basketball, volleyball, softball and field hockey. Her career path became clear in 1972, thanks to the landmark legislation known as Title IX, which leveled the playing field for women and promoted a nationwide explosion in sports participation. At Section XI, she implemented scheduling of games, brought content online, oversaw the addition of numerous sports from girls lacrosse to girls golf, helped streamline procedure and educated schools on safety issues. Gallagher helped usher in the Long Island football championships and transform high school sports in the process. Ed Cinelli succeeded Gallagher and deserves mention. So does Todd Heimer in Nassau. But Gallagher was a ground-breaking administrator for three decades.

2. Jim Fiore: He’s presided over the rapid rise of Stony Brook University athletics. The Long Beach native took over as Stony Brook’s athletic director in August 2003. In the years since, Fiore has overhauled staff, upgraded facilities and set the Seawolves on a path toward Division I competitiveness. Football was non-scholarship when he arrived. Now it’s the only Division I program on Long Island. Under his watch, men’s and women’s lacrosse, baseball, softball and men’s soccer each qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Fiore also inked the first TV contact in school history, with MSG, in 2005. He helped secure $30 million in state funds for school facilities and opened the Goldstein Student-Athlete Development Center in 2006. With lacrosse primed for another NCAA run this spring, the Seawolves roar into the new decade as a force on the Long Island sports scene.

1. Charles Wang: From merely big-named Long Island businessman as co-founder of Computer Associates to iconic figure in the community, Charles Wang is Long Island Pulse magazine’s sports figure of the decade. As owner of the New York Islanders, Wang is unquestionably the biggest backer of Long Island sports. He became part-owner of the struggling NHL franchise in 2000 and added immediate stability, ending speculation of a move and opening his check book to bring in fresh talent. Wang assumed full ownership 2004. The Islanders reached the playoffs four times in the decade, beginning in 2002 after a seven-year drought. In 2001, Wang relocated an Arena Football League franchise to the Nassau Coliseum. The New York Dragons won three division titles and made the playoffs six times before the league folded in 2009. He’s been in contentious negotiations with Nassau County to build a new arena and redevelop the area around the Coliseum. If the Lighthouse project ever does move forward, Wang might go down as Long Island’s most influential power broker since Robert Moses.

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

Contemplating Long Island Without Hofstra Football

December 7, 2009

In a week of stunning announcements – from Tom Suozzi’s concession to ‘Junior’ Gotti’s mistrial – nothing compared with the sudden death of Hofstra University football.

School president Stuart Rabinowitz made the announcement to immediately terminate the football program at a hastily-called press conference Thursday morning, and the news struck the Long Island sports community like a punch to the gut.

There’s no arguing the merits of the decision. Running a major college football program can be prohibitively expensive. And in these tough economic times, the small private school in Hempstead – investing $4.5 million annually on the sport – made a prudent call with the best interest of the institution at heart.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be lasting repercussions. Football stirs a sense of pride – even among students who have never attended a game – that no other function or event can replicate.

The football program also served as a calling card to all of Long Island for 72 years. There was no better ambassador. The connections ran deep.

To name two: Wandy Williams began his career at Hofstra before moving on to the NFL in 1969 and then settling into decades as a successful high school basketball coach in Long Beach. Freeport football coach Russ Cellan, who just guided the Red Devils to the Long Island Class I championship, routinely called on the staff at Hofstra for coaching insight.

Hofstra regularly gave tickets to high school and youth league groups. The entire coaching staff, from Dave Cohen on down, served as a resource for coaches across Long Island. The skills camps the Pride ran helped aspiring teenagers grow.

Even the facilities were wide open to any number of events, including the Long Island football championships. The Road to Hofstra meant something to every budding high school athlete in Nassau County, hoping to make the playoffs and land a scholarship to play at the next level.

Now Hofstra’s 63 scholarship players, many of them from Long Island, must attempt to find new homes or give up the game. An entire football community must look elsewhere for inspiration too.

Sure, Stony Brook’s growing football program (this was their first year as a fully-funded scholarship Division I-AA team) will reap the rewards. Greater exposure. A monopoly of talent. It will even land a few of Hofstra’s best players in an instant talent infusion. But it cannot ever completely fill the void.

It’s a sad state for Long Island sports fans. The New York Nets of the ABA once played at the Nassau Coliseum. So did the Arena Football League’s Dragons. And the Saints of indoor lacrosse. The women’s pro soccer league Power played down the street at Mitchel Athletic Complex.

Let’s not forget that the New York Jets relocated their home office from Hofstra to new digs in New Jersey after the 2007 season.

Those are just a few of the pro teams that once called the region home. Now the Islanders are threatening to bolt if the Lighthouse project doesn’t get green lit. With a new Nassau County executive set to step into the fray, that’s a big if.

So Hofstra’s capitulation is more heartbreak on top of decades of heartbreak. Say it ain’t so.

Four former Hofstra stars are still carrying the banner by playing in the NFL, from New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Stephen Bowen, Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Willie Colon to New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston. Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris spent his formative years at Hofstra.

They will continue to represent Hofstra Pride for years to come. In fact, Colston converted a big third down in overtime on Sunday, setting the stage for Garrett Hartley’s 18-yard game-winning field goal as the Saints moved to 12-0 with a 33-30 win over host Washington.

Colston finished with two catches for 46 yards, highlighted by a second-quarter 40-yard touchdown grab. Colston is on pace for another 1,000-yard season. And his Saints may well reach the Super Bowl. His play offers some consolation.

Hofstra may have pulled the plug on football, but Hofstra football isn’t dead yet.

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

LI Pulse: Giants Punter Jeff Feagles

December 1, 2009

December 2009 issue of LI Pulse magazine featuring Giants punter Jeff Feagles
Title: Ageless Wonder Of The Meadowlands: Giants’ punter Jeff Feagles keeps on kicking through 22 NFL seasons
Publication: Long Island Pulse magazine
Author: Jason Molinet
Date: December 2009
Start Page: 52
Word Count: 1,087

He’s the guy no one wants to see trot onto the field at Giants Stadium. An appearance by Jeff Feagles means something went wrong with the Giants’ offense. But few people are better at salvaging the moment and the 43-year-old punter has been doing it for a remarkable 22 NFL seasons.

In an era when dangerous punt return specialists lurk like pumas, Feagles owes his staying power to a unique skill—he is a directional punter. Through rain, snow or swirling wind—all common occurrences at the Meadowlands in December and January—Feagles can drop a football down a chimney and handcuff even the most dangerous return man.

“A lot of punters are going to it these days because of the quality of returners in the league,’’ Feagles said. “I was a little ahead of my time. When you have Darren Sproles, DeSean Jackson and Devin Hester, players who can change a game on a punt return, directional kicking becomes even more of an asset.”

It’s transformed him into an unsung magician; a strategic weapon who can turn the tide of a game by altering field position with a single boot of his resilient right foot.

Feagles never had a powerful leg. He went undrafted out of the University of Miami in 1988 only to emerge as the surprise winner of the job in New England. By the mid-1990s as a member of the Arizona Cardinals, his third team, Feagles began his mastery of a technique only a handful of other punters showcased. Instead of driving the ball deep, Feagles finessed the ball like a golfer on the green. His game is about angles, trajectories and touch.

“It is a rare talent,’’ Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “And of course we are a directional punt team and a field-position-conscious special teams outfit. And he does a very good job of that.”

After five seasons in Seattle, Feagles landed in New York in 2003. And the ageless wonder of the Meadowlands has padded his resume ever since. He won a Super Bowl with the Giants in 2007 and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl last season.

No NFL punter cracked the 40-yard net average—a benchmark on par with Maris’ 61 in 61—until 2007. It’s been done six times the last two seasons with the veteran Feagles earning a trip to the Pro Bowl with a 40.2 net in 2008. Feagles, 13 years between his last Pro Bowl, joined teammate John Carney as the oldest players to ever make the game.

That staying power has Feagles hoping to play into the next decade. Feagles, a team captain, has played in 344 consecutive games, an NFL record that may never be broken. He is third in league history for total games played (Morten Andersen kicked in 382 games over 25 seasons).

Too bad the position gets no respect. Take his consecutive games streak. Former Minnesota defensive end Jim Marshall, the next closest player on the list, played in 282 straight games. You’d expect Feagles to get more attention for his Iron Man feat. Just the opposite.

“There are people who don’t think it’s a big deal because I’m not in the game on every play and I understand that,’’ Feagles said. “That’s fine. But just to be able to show up and play for 22 years straight and not miss a game, there’s a lot that goes into that. You have to be lucky and avoid injuries. You have to be in great shape. More importantly, I’m proud of it because it shows how consistent I am. There’s only 32 guys in the world who do what I do. My team can depend on me.”

Numbers don’t lie. Feagles entered 2009 as the NFL career record holder for most punts (1,649), yards (68,607) and punts inside the 20 (531). Those are Hall of Fame stats. Just one problem: No punter has ever been enshrined in Canton, something that draws the ire of the otherwise affable Feagles.

“To not have a punter in the Hall of Fame to me is a disgrace,’’ Feagles said. “One day there will be one in there. Ray Guy is certainly deserving. It needs to be represented because it is an integral part of a football game. Field position is a huge aspect of football. For them not to recognize that—I think they’re blind.’’

This may be the final season for Giants Stadium, but Feagles has no plans to retire. Feagles is in the final year of a two-year contract. His negotiating strength lies in his accuracy. Feagles has the ability to pin opponents inside the 20 or point a punt toward either sideline.

“Coming out of college I really didn’t think I was going to get a shot at the NFL,’’ Feagles said. “You never think you’re going to play 22 years. You take them one at a time.”

Feagles has been around so long that former Hurricanes assistant Butch Davis—both members of the 1987 national championship squad—is now the head coach at the University of North Carolina, where Feagles’ son, C.J., is a redshirt freshman punter.

Distractions tug on Feagles, who lives in New Jersey. Spending time with family is important. He wants to see his sons play. And Feagles, an avid golfer, collects great golf courses the way teens stockpile Facebook friends. He spent a picture-perfect day in the Hamptons in July playing a round at Shinnecock Hills.

He understands like few pro athletes ever could, that each day in the NFL is a blessing.

“I’d like to play another couple of years. It all depends on the Giants,’’ Feagles said. “I know one day it’s going to come to an end. It’s difficult at 43 to keep in shape. There are a lot of things you battle on a daily basis when you get into your forties. Aches and pains and other things that act up. You wake up some days and go ‘Why does this hurt today?’

“I know I can keep going,’’ he added. “The tough part is one day someone is going to say you can’t. And you always are going to believe you can.”

Opposing players are not the enemy. The bracing winds of Giants Stadium no longer faze Feagles. He’s conquered them all a lifetime ago. Age is his greatest foe. The NFL’s Iron Man will soldier on in relative anonymity, putting the finishing touches on one of the great careers of any New York Giant, until he can no longer.

Long Island Fall Sports Wrap

November 30, 2009

Memorable plays and magical playmakers marked this high school sport season on Long Island. The fall saw many dynasties continue – from South Side girls soccer to Ward Melville girls swimming – and new faces reach the pinnacle – welcome to the show Half Hollow Hills West football. 

It also saw several great athletes finish high school careers in style from Holy Trinity running back Anthony Brunetti, a four-year starter, rushing for 2,000 yards to South Side girls soccer star Crystal Dunn fulfilling her promise with a state crown.

Long Island Pulse magazine followed it all with giddy excitement. Here are our highlights:

Best Finish: When Freeport lost quarterback Paul Ketchens to injury in the Nassau Conference I quarterfinals, it turned to running back Kevin Allen to show senior leadership and direct the offense. All Allen did was power his Red Devils to the Long Island Class I football championship. Freeport’s 38-14 win over Floyd ended five years of Suffolk dominance over Long Island’s largest classification. In fact, it was the first Nassau victory since a powerhouse Freeport squad blew out Floyd in 2003. Allen rushed for 1,095 yards and 17 touchdowns in four playoff games and finished the season with a Nassau-record 35 touchdowns. Amazing!

Best Career: Rockville Centre is Soccer Town, USA. And after churning out one great team after another, the South Side girls soccer program produced a player who will go down as one of the best in Long Island history, and certainly the area’s best since Team USA forward Christie Welsh starred at Massapequa in 1997-98. Who? Crystal Dunn.  The four-year player wrapped up her senior season by winning her third state title. She blasted four goals as South Side routed Section V champ Greece Arcadia, 6-0, in the state Class A championship game. Dunn, who signed with the University of North Carolina, tallied nine goals and six assists in the playoffs. Not coincidentally, South Side failed to win a state title in 2008 when Dunn missed all but three games playing for the U.S. under-17 national team. That’s a strong finish to a great career.   

Best Repeat: After dropping a 2-1 decision to Newfield and tying with Ward Melville to open the season, the Comsewogue boys soccer team set aside the shaky start and reeled off 20 straight wins. The culmination came in Oneonta on Nov. 23 with a 2-0 win over Section III New Hartford to claim the state Class A championship. Keith Vigorito, a prolific scorer the last two seasons, put a goal in the title game to help the Warriors win back-to-back championships. Only two other boys programs have repeated as state Class A champ since the tournament began in 1978. Sachem claimed consecutive crowns in 1997-98. Section II champ Shenendehowa won or shared the state Class A title four straight seasons, from 1990-93. So give the Warriors their due.

Best Defense: Great defense defines championship football teams on the high school level. But few defenses in recent memory have done more than the unheralded group at Garden City. The Trojans’ immovable D allowed four touchdowns—and 28 points – all season to finish 12-0. That includes nine shutouts. The highlight came in the Long Island Class II title game when Garden City shut down previously unbeaten North Babylon to win 9-6. A fumble recovery on special teams set up the winning 38-yard field goal by Ryan Norton. Now that’s clutch.

Best Marketing Mogul: Nobody jumped onto the national stage quite like Half Hollow Hills West basketball standout Tobias Harris. He was considered a top 100 recruit heading into the summer. But through relentless travel with his AAU team and workmanlike effort at countless skills camps, the 6-8 Harris became one of the most talked-about talents Long Island has ever seen. Adding to his national profile: Harris Twittered his every move and became every basketball fan’s friend on Facebook. After several high-profile visits this fall to hoops hotbeds, from Syracuse to Kentucky, Harris waited until the day after the early signing period ended in mid-November to announce – on ESPNU and in Times Square, no less – that he was attending the University of Tennessee. P.T. Barnum’s got nothing on this kid.

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

Long Island Football Championships Preview

November 23, 2009

State champions in field hockey, soccer and cross country were crowned over the weekend, played out with all of New York hanging on the outcome. Yet the blissful isolation of Long Island high school football – which long ago opted out of the state tournament – creates buzz and a level excitement not seen in any other sport or venue. 

Four Long Island championship football games take place at Hofstra and Stony Brook, each with its own history and legacy. Many of the schools are title-game regulars, from Amityville to Garden City. Thanksgiving week is all about these monumental games. So enjoy the show. Here is the rundown on each contest:

 Class I

Who: Floyd vs. Freeport

When: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 4:30 p.m.

Where: LaValle Stadium, Stony Brook University

On Floyd (10-1): The Colonials won their fourth Suffolk Division I crown in five seasons by knocking off previously unbeaten Sachem North, 27-6, on Sunday. Coach Paul Longo turned loose a young prospect to win as sophomore Stacey Bedell ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns.

On Freeport (9-2): Kevin Allen, who moved to quarterback the last two playoff games, rushed for 244 yards and three touchdowns to help the Red Devils get past rival Farmingdale, 34-20, in the Nassau Conference I title game. Allen raised his season TD total to 31, passing former NFL star Amos Zereoue for the most in Nassau history.

The Skinny: Freeport, which won its sixth county title, has played five games decided by a touchdown or less this season. Floyd has also had its share of close calls, but relied on stingy defense to deliver when it matters. These two programs have big-game coaches in Longo and Freeport’s Russ Cellan. But it will be the playmakers – Bedell and Allen — who decide this one. 

 

Class II

Who:  North Babylon vs. Garden City

When: Friday, Nov. 27 at 4:30 p.m.

Where: Shuart Stadium, Hofstra University

On North Babylon (11-0): The Bulldogs earned their ninth trip to the LIC since 1992 with a 17-10 win over East Islip. Preshod McCoy ran for 134 yards and a touchdown in the Suffolk Division II final. Coach Terry Manning has a history of riding great backs to championships. McCoy, who amassed 1,416 yards on 226 carries and 22 touchdowns, is the latest.  

On Garden City (11-0): Brian Fischer has emerged as the top producer in a crowded backfield. Coach Tom Flatley owns the highest winning percentage of any high school football coach (100 wins minimum) in Long Island history. And this season was all about great coaching translating to the field. The defense recorded its ninth shutout in a 14-0 win over Wantagh in the Nassau Conference II title game. It marked the 17th county title (Flatley’s 14th) for the Trojans.

The Skinny: North Babylon has done enough to win, but hasn’t rolled through foes like the Bulldogs of years’ past. It’s been a group effort for Garden City. These two teams have used sheer force of will at times. Expect this one to be a physical, low-scoring affair where one play may decide it.

 

Class III

Who:  Half Hollow Hills West vs. Lawrence

When: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 12 p.m.

Where: LaValle Stadium, Stony Brook University

On Hills West (11-0): Stony Brook recruit JeVahn Cruz rushed for 303 yards and three touchdowns as the Colts shut out Hauppauge, 29-0, for the Suffolk Division III title. The electric quarterback has run for 21 touchdowns and helped Hills West average 37 points a game. 

On Lawrence (9-2): Kenny Barnett ran for 162 yards and four touchdowns to roll past No. 1 Lynbrook, 41-7. Syracuse-bound quarterback John Kinder is an exceptional athlete, the school’s best since C.W. Post QB Rob Blount.

The Skinny: Lawrence avenged two regular-season losses in impressive fashion, downing Plainedge, 56-28, in the semis and then routing Lynbrook in the Nassau Conference III championship. The Golden Tornado is on a tear. Each team can score in a hurry and relies on multi-dimensional quarterbacks. The defense that can do the best job at containing the quarterback wins. 

 

Class IV

Who:  Amityville vs. Seaford

When: Friday, Nov. 27 at 12 p.m.

Where: Shuart Stadium, Hofstra University

On Amityville (9-2): Amityville trailed Glenn, 11-2, with 4:01 left before exploding for two scores to rally for a 17-11 win in the Suffolk Division IV championship game. Sophomore wideout Willie White caught 39- and 60-yard touchdowns in the final minutes. The Warriors will need that type of explosiveness to upend Seaford.  

On Seaford (11-0):  The Vikings shut out Locust Valley, 33-0, to capture the program’s third straight Nassau Conference IV title and fifth since 2002. Coach Rob Perpall has put together some great defensive units during the run. This team, with five shutouts, is no different.

The Skinny:  The Rob Anderson to Mike Gallo connection has come up big for Seaford all year. And running back Justin Buckley has a knack for finding the end zone. Mark Jerrick, Da’rell Hatcher and Gavin Kretz have all gotten the ball for Amityville and have each scored important touchdowns. Who will step up with all of Long Island watching?

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

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