It has been almost three years since Thomas Cutinella died while playing football for Shoreham-Wading River High School in a game against Elwood/John Glenn. On Oct. 1, 2014, Cutinella collapsed on Glenn’s field. His death sent shock waves throughout Suffolk County and beyond.
And yet, Cutinella has been very much a part of the last three Long Island Class IV championships that the Wildcats have won. He has not been forgotten. His presence is felt.
Reminders of him are seen throughout the school. SWR’s field has been named Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field. Near the field stands a monument with a statue of Cutinella from the waist up, wearing a Wildcats jersey and shoulder pads, with one hand resting over the other in front of him. A wooden replica of his jersey hangs outside the press box. Before games the Wildcats march onto the field behind a blue banner with a gold No. 54, Cutinella’s retired uniform number. Even the front of SWR’s jerseys are emblazoned with the words “TOMMY TOUGH” in homage to him.
Sophomore quarterback Xavier Arline said Cutinella’s legacy is tied to the tremendous success the team has enjoyed over the past three years, during which the Wildcats have a 34-2 record, winning the Rutgers Trophy twice during that span. The Rutgers Trophy is awarded to the team recognized as the best on Long Island, regardless of class.
“A lot of it has to do with Tommy,” Arline said after a recent practice. “Every time we come out here, we have a reason why we’re playing. It’s something to play for.”
And the Wildcats play hard in Cutinella’s memory.
Asked what impact Cutinella’s death has had on SWR football, junior guard/defensive end Liam Mahoney said: “It just changed the whole program tremendously. You know, every time you step out here you’re playing ‘Tommy Tough’ football. You just come out here with that work mentality and you just get it done.”
Coach Matt Millheiser described Cutinella as the type of player a coach appreciates having.
“The one legacy that I think Tom leaves for us, day to day, is that he came out every single day ready to work,” Millheiser said. “He never took a play off. He was always paying attention. He was always focused on the task at hand, and that’s what made him such a great person and such a great player. And I think his legacy is we remember him for that and remind players of that. That’s what the important thing is. That’s the foundation of this program, the preparation and the attention to detail and the work in practice. That’s something that he valued and something that he brought to us every day.”
A plaque under the Cutinella statue reads as follows:
I LIVED. I LOVED. I LEARNED. I TAUGHT. I LEFT.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF THOMAS CUTINELLA
SON, BROTHER, FRIEND AND TEAMMATE FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS