ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | The NFL draft began Thursday night with the first round. Miguel Maysonet of Riverhead will be waiting to see if his name gets called, most likely Saturday during rounds four-seven.
In one month, Miguel Maysonet will return to LaValle Stadium, the field he made home with dizzying runs and acrobatic hurdles, surrounded by hundreds of classmates as his time at Stony Brook University draws to a close.
The cameras won’t be pointed squarely in his direction. There will be no scouts clocking his 40-yard dash, no ESPN analysts breaking down the event.
The day will be as much about everyone else as it is about its most famous current student, the man from Riverhead who put Stony Brook football on the map.
By the time Maysonet’s name rings out over the field on May 24, he will in all likelihood be a member of a National Football League team, an accomplishment never before achieved by a Stony Brook player.
Earning a chance to play football at its highest level will undoubtedly be the culmination of years of hard work and dedication. But it’s with the same fervor Maysonet speaks about accomplishing another goal, one that won’t draw the same headlines, but will bring just as much satisfaction to the 23-year-old star running back.
“I know for a fact that the NFL doesn’t last forever,” Maysonet said in the week leading up to the draft. “When I get that degree from Stony Brook, that’s definitely going to last forever.”
As the three-day NFL draft unfolds this weekend at Radio City Music Hall, Maysonet is expected to land anywhere between the fifth and seventh rounds.
As his notoriety continues to grow, Maysonet takes it all in stride, still the same humble kid who wowed football fans with his spectacular runs as a Riverhead Blue Wave from 2005-08.
“At the end of the day, I’m not getting hung up on whether I’m drafted or anything like that,” Maysonet said. “If I get drafted, cool. If I don’t, cool. I didn’t want to focus everything on me being drafted.”
DANIEL DE MATO FILE PHOTO | Maysonet cheered on his former school in November when the Blue Waves won the county championship at Stony Brook.
To say Miguel Maysonet came from nothing would be somewhat unfair. Sure, he lacked many of the basic comforts most of us take for granted, like a shower. He grew up in a small apartment in Riverhead above a now boarded-up auto repair shop where he would fill a bucket with water to shower. “I make sure it’s not burning hot so I don’t get burned,” Maysonet told Newsday in 2008.
The humble beginnings have become as much a part of Maysonet’s identity as his touchdown runs.
For all that the Puerto Rican-born Maysonet lacked, he possessed an unwavering desire to succeed.
“I think that fuels the fire, knowing that you can’t look back and you always have to move forward,” said Andrew Smith, who was teammates with Maysonet at Riverhead and for one season at Hofstra University. “I’ve always seen that in him. He knows where he came from and he’s trying to better his life.”
It was the values instilled in him by his mother, Yolanda Santana, — a gift more valuable than any monetary item — that allowed Maysonet to stay on the path toward stardom. Temptation existed all around him to stray as a youngster. But Maysonet understood there were consequences for negative actions and he did his best to avoid them. And it wasn’t so much football that motivated him to do the right thing as it was his desire to place no unnecessary burden upon his mom, who raised him by herself.
“Growing up, seeing the hard work that my mom was doing working two jobs to make ends meet, I didn’t want to be that child that she also had to worry about,” Maysonet said. “I didn’t want to be the kid out getting in trouble.”
Riverhead football coach Leif Shay said it can be difficult for any kid to stay on the right path, let alone someone in Maysonet’s shoes.
“He’s never wandered far away from what his goals were,” Shay said. “You have to respect a kid that knows what he wants out of life.”
ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Maysonet soars across the goal line to score a Stony Brook touchdown.
Anyone who watched Maysonet perform — and his games were very much a performance — can recount at least one play that left them with their jaw hanging.
For Shay, it was a game against North Babylon when Maysonet hurdled over the top of a defender.
“It was just an outstanding, athletic play where I was like, ‘Wow, this kid is really special, and might have the ability to go to the next level,’ ” Shay said.
Hurdling defenders became a staple of Maysonet’s running attack. His most famous hurdle came this past season against Syracuse on one of his team’s biggest stages. The 5-foot-9, 209-pound Maysonet took a handoff, cut up to the right and jumped over a diving defender. He bounced off another defender and charged up the right sideline for a 72-yard touchdown.
For Smith, who plays defensive tackle for SUNY/Albany, his Maysonet moment came during a home game at Riverhead. On the play, the offensive line was overwhelmed by a blitz, leaving a sea of defenders swarming toward Maysonet.
“He made moves to the right, to the left,” Smith said. “He literally broke eight defenders and scored. I’m like, ‘Wow.’ It was amazing.”
Maysonet’s introduction to football came at a later age than most. When he was in eighth grade on the junior varsity team, Maysonet was playing offensive guard. After several kids became academically ineligible, the coaches moved Maysonet to tailback out of necessity.
“He took the ball and ran for a touchdown,” Shay said in an interview after Maysonet won the Hansen Award as the top player in the county in 2008.
As a Blue Wave, Maysonet ran for 5,971 yards, placing him second all-time in Suffolk County behind Jason Gwaltney of North Babylon. He scored 75 touchdowns, 33 of which came during the Blue Waves’ undefeated season in 2008 that culminated with a Long Island championship and Rutgers Trophy as the best team in Suffolk.
At Stony Brook, Maysonet capped off his career last fall with a sensational year in leading the Seawolves to their best season in program history. He finished the season with 1,964 yards and 21 touchdowns to earn Big South Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors.
He was one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award as the top player in the Football Championship Subdivision and received multiple all-America honors.
RIVERHEAD SCHOOL DISTRICT FILE PHOTO | In February 2009, Maysonet and teammate Andrew Smith signed to play football at Hofstra University.
If not for a cruel twist of fate, Maysonet may never have ended up on the radar of nearly every NFL team (28 teams attended his Pro Day workout at Stony Brook last month).
As Maysonet’s high school career began to take off, he still had no idea of the possibilities that existed. He didn’t know how he could earn a scholarship or how college coaches would be traveling to see him, pulling him out of classes on a daily basis.
He ultimately settled on Hofstra and in February 2009, he and Smith joined together for a signing ceremony in the high school library, inking their futures together to play for the Pride.
Smith and Maysonet were friends since fourth grade. As seniors, Maysonet led the offense, Smith the defense.
“Everything he did looked natural,” Smith said. “His movement — he made it look easy. I was always impressed with how he would go through practices just because he would practice really, really hard.”
Their career together at Hofstra ended after one season when the school’s football program was unexpectedly dropped, leaving Maysonet and Smith without a home.
For Maysonet, the choice was simple. He would head to Stony Brook so he could stay close to home.
“I tell people all the time, the whole Hofstra dropping of the program hurt,” Maysonet said. “People loved Hofstra football so much. But I was able to land on my feet. My style, it worked out better for me at Stony Brook than it would have at Hofstra.”
Placed in an offensive system that favored the running game, Maysonet blossomed playing alongside another Long Island star, Brock Jackolski of William Floyd. The two quickly became a perfect complement of runners, Jackolski the speedster, Maysonet the grinder.
“Having Brock there was awesome,” Maysonet said. “Off the field he was able to let me know what I was going to get into my first year there. Like Brock, I didn’t get red-shirted. They just threw me into the fire.”
JOHN NEELY FILE PHOTO | Maysonet hurdles over a helpless defender while playing for the Blue Waves.
Around Riverhead these days, Maysonet remains very much a celebrity figure. Not a day has gone by in recent weeks when someone didn’t ask about the upcoming draft. Random people approach him regularly, just hoping for a quick chat and to say they’re behind him.
Maysonet’s always willing to oblige, flashing his patented smile and talking football with whomever is asking.
When his schedule allows it he attends Riverhead football games, sometimes surprising the players with a locker-room visit to offer a few words of advice.
When the Blue Waves advanced to the county championship game last fall, Maysonet got to watch his former team play at Stony Brook.
“To Miguel’s credit he always comes back and talks to the younger kids,” Shay said. “He tries to motivate them. I think that helps that he’s stuck with his hometown roots.”
It’s a humbling experience, Maysonet said, when people approach him to congratulate him on his success.
“I definitely appreciate them going out of their way just to say good job,” he said. “A lot of people are like ‘Riverhead is behind you all the way’. That’s definitely an awesome feeling to have people in my town standing behind me.”
After attending the NFL combine in February and then showcasing his athletic ability at his Pro Day in March, it’s come down to a waiting game for Maysonet.
On Saturday, when the final four rounds of the draft begin, Maysonet will be home in Riverhead, surrounded by some friends and family while he waits for his cellphone to ring.
And if it doesn’t, Maysonet will take it in stride.
Even if he goes undrafted, he should still receive an invitation to training camp from at least one team for a chance to prove himself.
“I’m pretty relaxed about the situation,” he said. “No anxiety, no nerves.”
The NFL may very well be in his future. But if it isn’t, that won’t be the end of Maysonet’s dreams.
He hopes to go back to school and continue his education toward becoming a teacher and coach.
“You never know with this whole NFL thing where my life may take me when it’s all said and done,” Maysonet said.
Another chapter remains to be written. One that begins this weekend.