The Rams winning football season has long since come and gone,
but the memories linger on. Coach Paul Santavicca relived the highlights of that
grid season to remember this past Monday (3/6) after a team awards dinner at
Port Chester's T&J Italian soul food haven. The team celebrated the
turnaround of a losing football program in Santavicca's second year as a head
coach who molded a close-knit group that became a kind of band of brothers with
a soul of its own.
In a kind of thanks for the memories salute, junior Jason Wiley
was named the team's offensive player and special teams player of the year
while hard-hitting senior running back/linebacker Erlin Duarte was honored as
defensive player of the year.
Honor grid feats
And that's not all: Wiley, the Rams' major breakaway running
back, was recognized for making the All-Section team, senior guard/defensive
lineman Aldair Angel made the All-Conference team and Duarte and fellow seniors
Brandon Defreitas, Jonathan Fingold, Bryan Gonzalez and Xavier Tyson all made
the All-League team as the anchors of the best Ram offensive and defensive
two-way line in years.
Their grid exploits came to life during a highlights film shown
at the celebratory dinner that brought it all home starting with the season's
opening game, a close 19-12 loss to Fox Lane Sept. 3 and the season's first
win, a 24-0 away romp over Ossining Sept. 9 under the Friday night lights with
speedy junior running back Jordan Lewis that game's top offensive player and
Duarte the Rams’ best defensive player.
Upset over Ketcham
The film lingered over the season's first upset over Roy C.
Ketcham, a 15-14 win Sept. 17 over a large school ultra-competitive Double A up-county
powerhouse with sophomore tight end/linebacker Melvin Molina named that game's
best offensive player and Duarte once again coming through as the Rams’ best
If there was any doubt that the resurgent Rams were no longer the
league's doormat, the film showed why during the team's 3-0 loss to league
champion Spring Valley. That club came into the Rams’ homecoming game
undefeated Sept. 24 but barely escaped with a last minute field goal after a
Wiley touchdown off an interception was called back following a questionable
illegal block downfield.
Next came the Rams’ biggest offensive display of the season
during a 35-21 away win over Horace Greeley Oct. 1. Junior Shawn Blackburn was the
team's major breakaway running threat this time around while senior tight
end/defensive end Bryan Gonzalez walked away with top defensive honors.
Let down, bounce back
There was a letdown during early and mid-October losses to up-county
Double A stalwarts Carmel and John Jay-East Fishkill (28-7 to Carmel Oct. 7 and
19-3 to JJ-EF Oct. 14). But the injury-riddled Rams nonetheless accomplished
what no other P.C. team had done in years. They made the playoffs and wound up
winning three back-to-back post-season games on the road against perennial
rivals Mount Vernon, White Plains and Mamaroneck by the scores of 30-16, 28-14
and 23-0 on Oct. 22, Oct. 28 and Nov. 3 respectively.
While Wiley was the top offensive player in all three games,
racking up a lot of O's with his running and pass-catching, different defensive
players won honors for the top D performances: Fingold and Quinonez against
Mount Vernon, Tyson against White Plains and Aldair in the Mamaroneck game.
The Rams wound up with a 6-4 record overall and finished 2-2 in league
But what was most impressive was that different players stepped
up as the team MVPs in just about every game. What was also impressive was the
fact that the Rams’ three outstanding running backs—Wiley, Blackburn and Lewis—are
all juniors and will all be back next year. So will quarterback heir apparent
Michael Boccarossa who got extensive playing time as a defensive back and pass
receiver during the season.
Wiley may well have had the Rams’ most impressive statistics with
776 rushing yards gained on the season on 159 carries that resulted in nine
touchdowns. He was also the Rams’ leading receiver with 217 yards on 16 catches
leading and a TD.
Duarte led the team in tackles with 54, 43 solo, with 11 assists,
a sack and a fumble recovery to lead the team in the greatest hits department.
And Lewis actually led the team in yards per carry, averaging 6.5 yards per
carry to Blackburn's 5.54 and Wiley's 4.58, all adding up to a strong
one-two-three punch following the lead of Duarte, the team's blocking back as
well as the Rams’ heart and soul, a heart and soul aided and abetted by a
virtually all-senior line that is going to be hard to replace because the only
juniors who got any real playing time were Max Araneo and Keyshawn Ellis.
The unsung hero
It was the player whose stats didn't exactly jump off the charts
who may have been the Rams’ unsung hero. Senior quarterback Colin Gillespie
passed for just 622 total yards, hitting on 43 out of 96 passes (44.79%) good
for just two touchdowns mixed in with eight interceptions. It was Gillespie who
was always cool under pressure, flawlessly handing the ball off to his running
backs and directing the offense with a flair that refused to be extinguished no
matter how many times he was all but buried during fierce rushes by rival lines
that frequently outmuscled but never completely outplayed their smaller,
grittier and well-coached Ram counterparts.
No matter what happened, the Rams never seemed to get flustered
with a single play, perhaps best illustrating how cool the Rams could be. It
happened against White Plains away under the lights. Quinonez dropped back to
kick an extra point when the game was still close only to see the snap soar
over his head. He raced back to retrieve the bouncing ball around midfield,
looked downfield as his line kept blocking charging opposition linemen and
spied Gonzalez running alone towards the end zone. Quinonez, ordinarily a guard
and defensive lineman, proceeded to throw a perfect strike as though he had
been playing quarterback all his life, hitting Gonzalez in stride for what may
go down as the longest extra point in Port Chester history.
The season highlights film had lots of moments like that. But
none better although each one of the coaches--Santavicca and his assistants--Mike
Bruno, Frank Girdauskas, Joe Plato and Ron Santavicca, a high school Hall of
Fame coach in his own right who came out of retirement to work with his son—had
his own favorite moment.
Go down in history
So did each member of a Ram roster that will go down in P.C.
history as the team that turned around a losing program with a smallish,
undermanned team of around 30 players, frequently going up against bigger teams
with rosters almost twice the size. In one memorable game they were so banged
up they showed up to play with just 19 players who weren't hurting and still
gave as good as they got.
That was no accident because the Rams put a lot of effort into
becoming the team that turned around a losing program, from grueling pre-season
summer practices and scrimmages to long hours in the weight room off-season to
going the extra mile during arduous in-season practices heavy on repetition with
lots of focus on the basics.
In an ironically symbolic way, Wiley and Duarte, selected as the
team's best two players on O and D respectively, are also two of the smallest
players on the team. They are also flesh-and-blood symbols of a Ram squad that
personified the little engine that could when it came to winning games against
"I have a feeling we are going to surprise a lot of people
and I guarantee we are going to make the playoffs," Duarte said at the
start of the first practice way back in September, the sweat running down his
face, an eloquent testimony to the fact that he and his fellow Rams meant
"We've been playing together like forever, we really have
each other's backs, we feel like family, cliché though that that may be, and we
have the ability to be a really good team this year, actually better than good,
a lot better than good," added Lewis.
Both turned out to be prophetic.
Roster worth remembering
Their sentiments were echoed up and down the roster, that number
including seniors Gillespie, Gonzalez, Giovanni Zanetti, Charles Vasquez,
Christian Perez, Duarte, Fingold, Cody Caputo, Defreitas, Angel, Nicholas
Campos, Angel Flores, Quinonez and Tyson. Wiley, Blackburn, Lewis and
Boccarossa headed a junior contingent that included Cole Russo, Araneo ,Tyler
McCook and Ellis with Molina the only sophomore to make the team.
Each and every player thrived on the ultra-demanding practices
run with the precision of an intensive program that was more collegiate than
high school, those practices run by a coach who has been there, done that and
virtually lived football from the cradle. Paul Santavicca grew up in a familial
atmosphere that served up Xs and Os along with the antipasto. Regular visitors
at the Santavicca table in Yorktown included the DeMatteo brothers, Dom and
Tony, both High School Hall of Fame football coaches who palled around with
Paul's dad. As a troika, they were known as GOATS, the acronym for greatest of
all time, so it seemed almost fated that their youngest disciple should become
a Ram in time.
Seemed to be destined
On his way to P.C., Paul seemed to be pre-destined to be an
All-Section running back who also made All-American as a Yorktown high school
lacrosse player, played ultra-competitive Division One collegiate lacrosse at
Marist, and coached LAX at Pelham before he became a math teacher at the Port
Chester Middle School, coached modified football there and made the jump to
becoming the Rams’ head grid coach two seasons back at age 30, the youngest
head coach in Section One Class AA football, a rough and tough league nobody
thought P.C. belonged in until the young Santavicca molded a team that proved
Double A athletic teams play schedules according to student
population, and with a student body of around 2,000, P.C. belonged in there
with the area's largest schools, schools with football programs more like the
scholastic equivalent of the collegiate Big 10 than the
step-above-developmental league football the Rams were more suited for.
In over its helmet
It looked as though P.C. was in over its helmet when they found
themselves scheduled to play Double A football against the Carmels, John Jays,
Ketchams, Fox Lanes and their more established football programs until Santavicca
tossed the Rams a life preserver and helped breathe new life into a losing grid
Each and every Ram bought into the streamlined Santavicca
program. Each and every Ram believed him when he said they could be the team
that helped return P.C. to its former football glory days. Each and every Ram
player gave it his all. Each and every Ram player was feted at the celebratory
dinner at T&J. And each and every Ram player walked away thinking this
year's team will be a tough act to follow. But the returning players think they
have what it takes to carry on what they hope will be the start of a winning
tradition when it comes to football at P.C. Santavicca and his coaches
certainly agree. And they hope to serve up more winning portions next year at