The similarities are striking.
Tristan Falisi and Kyle Kelly are both senior quarterbacks, competing for the starting job on the Riverhead High School football team. They have nearly identical physiques (Falisi is 6-foot-1, 185 pounds; Kelly is 6-1, 190) and playing styles. Although mobile, their arms are their best weapons.
“Two senior quarterbacks,” Kelly said. “We’re both pretty smart. I think we know what we’re doing. We’re just battling it out for the position.”
The most striking difference can be seen when they throw the ball. Falisi is righthanded; Kelly is a lefty.
Falisi enjoys the edge in experience. He started for the middle school and junior varsity teams before making the varsity team last year. A year ago at this time he was embroiled in a quarterback competition with Sharon Trent, more of a running type of quarterback who has since graduated. Falisi took the lion’s share of snaps, though, playing in seven games. He went 47-for-111 passing with eight touchdowns and three interceptions for a 71.3 quarterback rating.
“I think I played as good as I could last year,” Falisi said. “It was like a little debacle kind of thing with two different quarterbacks playing two different offenses, but I would have liked to have played better, so I’m trying to work harder and play better this year.”
Kelly, who backed up Falisi, saw action in three games, going 7-for-13 with a touchdown pass and no interceptions.
Both players say competition is a good thing.
“It makes you work harder. It makes you want to be better,” Falisi said. “Coaches never pick who’s going to be starters yet. You have to deserve it. You have to earn it.”
Kelly, who said he is stronger and faster than he was last year, agreed. “The competition always brings out the best in everybody, so it’s always a good thing,” he said.
Coach Leif Shay said the competition for the job forces both players to be on top of their game. “Right now we have two quarterbacks battling it out,” he said before Friday evening’s practice. “Right now, if I’m a betting man, it’s 50-50. It’s heads or tails.”
Regardless of who is declared the starter for the team’s season-opening game at home against North Babylon on Sept. 3, the other player should stay ready. When Shay was asked if he could envision a scenario in which he mixes things up and uses both quarterbacks, he answered: “Yeah, I can because I think the way the season is going to go, it’s going to be a long season for us. There may be times where we struggle and we’re looking for a jump-start, so maybe switching the quarterback will help.”
Shay indicated he feels comfortable with the quarterback situation, whether it be Falisi or Kelly calling signals. He said, “I think those guys, they’ve earned the right to represent us and be out there and I feel good about it.”
Anderson Dislocates Elbow. John Anderson, who is expected to be a two-way starter at defensive end and center, will be out three to four weeks with a dislocated elbow, Leif Shay said on Friday. Shay said Anderson suffered the injury during a tackling drill. “It’s one of those freak injuries,” he said.
The good news for Riverhead is its player numbers have been given a shot in the arm. On the first day of practice, Shay said it looked as if the varsity roster would only have about 28 players, with another 22 or 23 on the JV team. Shay said Friday that the varsity team will carry 36 players and the JV squad will have 30.
“The numbers have stabilized a little bit,” he said, adding, “It’s a much brighter outlook.”
Photo caption: Riverhead seniors Kyle Kelly, left, and Tristan Falisi are in competition for the starting quarterback job. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)