ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead running back Jeremiah Cheatom races toward the end zone for one of his three touchdowns Saturday against Newfield.
DIVISION II SEMIFINALS | BLUE WAVES 34, WOLVERINES 20
The end zone was never farther away at any point this season. Still, that’s where Jeremiah Cheatom stared ahead, knowing that somehow, that’s where he needed to be.
Late in the third quarter Saturday, trailing by a point against Newfield in the Division II semifinals, Riverhead began its second straight drive pinned as far back as possible: inside the 1-yard line, the end zone a full field away.
“When I’m at the 1-yard line, I’m looking at the end zone,” Cheatom said. “That’s where I want to go.”
With their backs pinned against the wall and the game’s momentum slipping away, the Blue Waves mounted their most impressive drive of the season when it counted most. The Blue Waves marched 99 yards on 16 plays, capped by a stirring 22-yard touchdown run from Cheatom that helped lift Riverhead to a thrilling 34-20 victory at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field.
The Blue Waves punched their ticket to Friday’s Division II county championship game at Stony Brook University, where they’ll look to successfully defend their county title. Riverhead (9-1) will meet East Islip, the only team that’s defeated the Blue Waves this season.
There was nothing easy about taking down the fifth-seeded Wolverines, a team the Blue Waves defeated 21-8 in Week 8.
“This was a battle,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay, who was as emotional on the sideline in the second half as at any point in the season, even earning a flag for a sideline warning from an official.
The two-touchdown difference wasn’t entirely indicative of just how close it was. The Wolverines grabbed the lead at 20-19 on the third play of the second half when quarterback Dylan Harned bounced out of a scrum and bolted up the right sideline for a 64-yard touchdown run.
After Riverhead went three-and-out, the Wolverines got the ball back twice with a chance to add another touchdown. And both times Riverhead’s defense came through with a monumental stop on two fourth-and-goal plays.
The Wolverines missed two touchdowns by about four total inches.
“Those goal-line stands were great,” said Riverhead linebacker Mike Van Bommel. “I’m so proud of my guys.”
The first stop came on an 10-yard scramble from Harned on fourth-and-goal from the 11. He was stopped inches shy of the right pylon. The Blue Waves took over, but three plays later, Cheatom fumbled the ball on a play Shay was adamant should have been ruled down by contact. But the Wolverines got the ball right back on the Riverhead 6-yard line. And again, the Blue Waves got a stop when Josh Hanna was stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 4.
That set up Riverhead’s go-ahead drive, which spanned 6 minutes and 4 seconds.
“Our O-line took great pride in themselves,” Van Bommel said. “We were able to drive the whole length of the field for a score and I was really proud of our guys for that.”
When the Blue Waves defeated Half Hollow Hills West in the first round of the playoffs last week, Cheatom noted after the game how he didn’t break a big run. He predicted one was coming.
Late in the fourth quarter against Newfield, Cheatom delivered. After the defense came through with a huge three-and-out, Cheatom took the handoff on first down and sprinted 79 yards for the clinching touchdown, his third of the game.
“It came at the perfect time for us,” Shay said. “Jeremiah’s a special player. Obviously we’ve been leaning on him heavily this year. Hopefully one more game we’ll keep leaning on him.”
Van Bommel said as he saw Cheatom break open the run up the right sideline, there was no feeling like it.
“One second you’re blocking, the next second you see the best running back on Long Island sprinting down the sideline scoring a touchdown,” he said. “It’s great to know you have a guy in the backfield like that.”
ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead junior R.J. Foster returned the game’s opening kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown.
The Blue Waves have been a strong second half team all season and they proved it once again in the fourth quarter. Newfield had zero yards of offense in the fourth quarter, punting on both possessions after three-and-outs. After scoring a touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter, Newfield totaled 26 yards of offense the remaining portion of the game and did not score.
Cheatom finished with another monster day. He tallied a game-high 199 rushing yards on 30 carries. Quarterback Ken Simco, filling in for the third straight game in place of injured senior Cody Smith, was 8-for-10 passing for 112 yards. He threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to senior Daren Jefferson that put Riverhead ahead 19-6 in the second quarter.
“The more reps he gets the better he’s going to get,” Shay said.
For the second straight game Riverhead opened with a huge special teams play. The Blue Waves recovered an onsides kick to start the Hills West game. And against Newfield, junior R.J. Foster returned the opening kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown. Riverhead led 12-0 after the first quarter. Cheatom scored on a 9-yard run with 30 seconds left in the first.
The Blue Waves will face a tough challenge against East Islip, which defeated Smithtown West in overtime Friday night.
The Blue Waves wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We’re looking for revenge,” Cheatom said. “They beat us early in the season so we’re definitely looking to get the win.”
ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Ryan Hubbard (2) celebrates with Jeremiah Cheatom after returning a punt for a touchdown in the first quarter Saturday against Hills West.
BLUE WAVES 44, COLTS 21
As Ryun Moore surged across midfield, bring the Blue Waves one final first down, Riverhead coach Leif Shay yelled out the next play: “Aces! Victory!”
All the remained was a kneel down, as the Blue Waves put the finishing touches on a 44-21 victory over Half Hollow Hills West in the first round of the Division II playoffs Saturday afternoon at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field.
The top-seeded Blue Waves excelled in all facets of the game, from offense to defense and special teams.
Backup quarterback Ken Simco, filling in for the second straight week for injured senior Cody Smith, scored two rushing touchdowns (both QB sneaks) and threw for another on a play-action pass to Mike Van Bommel. Senior Ryan Hubbard returned a punt for a touchdown on special teams. And the defense intercepted two passes (Andrew Kinard and Ethan Greenidge) and forced a safety.
Running back Jeremiah Cheatom powered the offense on the ground with 171 yards on 39 carries. Moore had a big day as well, adding 85 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown.
Riverhead advances to the semifinals next Saturday where the Blue Waves will host No. 5 Newfield, the winner over No. 4 East Islip. Teams are reseeded after the first round. No. 2 Smithtown West won Friday night and No. 3 East Islip defeated Smithtown East, so the teams remain in the same bracket.
The Blue Waves haven’t trailed very often this season, but they were staring at a 14-7 deficit after Hills West quarterback Anthony Lucarelli connected with a wide open Jake Klose on a 54-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the first quarter.
But the Blue Waves rallied to score the next 28 points and blow the game open. The Blue Waves took the lead into halftime at 21-14 when Cheatom scored from three yards out with under a minute to play in the second quarter.
Riverhead then opened the third quarter with an 11-play, 58-yard drive that Simco capped with a 1-yard touchdown run. The score remained the same until the fourth quarter when Simco completed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Van Bommel to make it 35-14.
Simco completed 10 of 14 passes. Jaron Greenidge, who missed last week’s game, had 4 receptions.
ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead senior Ryan Hubbard intercepted two passes and caught a 56-yard reception in Saturday’s win over Walt Whitman.
BLUE WAVES 28, WILDCATS 0
Dylan Pace briefly played quarterback during his younger days in P.A.L. Now as a junior on the Riverhead varsity, Pace is listed as an offensive lineman and defensive end, although his niche has been on special teams as a kicker.
In Saturday’s homecoming game against Walt Whitman, Pace’s role expanded to punter after the Blue Waves lost Dan Czelatka to an injury last week during their win over Smithtown West.
Over the last few weeks, the Blue Waves have practiced a fake punt play over and over, waiting for just the right time to unveil it. After two stalled drives to start Saturday’s game and the Blue Waves facing a fourth down in Whitman territory, Riverhead coach Leif Shay decided it was time.
Pace took the snap deep in punt formation, grabbed the ball with his right hand and fired a pass to Jaron Greenidge, who scampered 40 yards for a touchdown that stunned the Wildcats and put Riverhead ahead 14-0.
“I don’t even know how I threw it,” Pace said. “I wouldn’t call it lucky,” but I can throw it pretty good.”
Pace’s first varsity touchdown helped the Blue Waves roll to a 28-0 win over Whitman in front of a packed house at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field.
The Blue Waves notched their second straight shutout to improve to 5-1 in Division II.
After Pace threw the touchdown, he didn’t have time to celebrate. The Blue Waves needed him to kick the extra point. Then, he had to kick off.
“I’m just glad I threw a touchdown and got my first touchdown,” Pace said.
Even the coaches were pleasantly surprised.
“Dylan’s really stepping up as an athletic kid,” Shay said. “We didn’t know he could throw that well.”
ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead senior Jaron Greenidge makes one of his team-leading four catches against Whitman.
Pace has gotten better and better kicking extra points for Riverhead after the Blue Waves opened the season unsure who could kick. Shay said earlier in the season that it was important for the Blue Waves to be confident in kicking extra points.
Pace has now made his last seven kicks over the past two games.
“Toward the beginning of the season I was struggling with my extra points and kickoffs,” he said. “I’ve been practicing more and got better and better.”
Pace doesn’t consider himself an “actual kicker,” but said if the team needs him, he’s ready.
Senior Ryan Hubbard, who also had to step up in the absence of Czelatka, had a big day with two interceptions. He got the Blue Waves on the board in the first quarter with a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown. Late in the second quarter he picked off another pass.
“He’s been great for us all year,” Shay said. “He’s stepping up because Czelatka’s down, but he’s always been solid for us.”
Riverhead’s defense carried the load on a day where the offense didn’t generate the same spark it has in some earlier games. The Wildcats, despite a 1-5 record, made life difficult for the Blue Waves on offense.
Senior Jeremiah Cheatom still churned out 116 yards on 18 carries. He scored the Blue Waves’ final touchdown on a 12-yard run in the third quarter.
“They did a good job of presenting us some fronts that we hadn’t seen yet,” Shay said.
Riverhead’s defense didn’t allow much of anything. Whitman mustered just 53 yards of offense.
“Defensively we knew they were quick,” said Riverhead linebacker Mike Van Bommel. “No. 10 (Jaron Batts), small, shifty, we knew we had to corral him.”
The Blue Waves limited Batts to only 10 yards on 10 carries. The Blue Waves’ defense produced seven tackles for a loss.
“We finally started meshing,” Van Bommel said. “Playing as a team, we’re playing good responsible football.”
The Blue Waves scored two of their touchdowns on fourth down plays. Pace’s touchdown in the first quarter and then quarterback Cody Smith threw a 32-yard pass to Andrew Kinard in the second quarter on fourth-and-eight. That put the Blue Waves ahead 21-0. Kinard snatched the ball right out from under Terhon Legros, who was in disbelief that he let the ball go right past him.
Riverhead’s win sets the stage for what should be a good one next week against West Islip. The teams came into this week in a three-way tie for first place along with Smithtown West.
Before the season, one of Riverhead’s goals was to win “two out of the three W’s,” Van Bommel said, eluding to Smithtown West, Walt Whitman and West Islip.
So far, the Blue Waves are two-for-two.
“We would definitely like to go three-for-three,” Van Bommel said.
NOTES: A moment of silence was held before the game in honor of Benjamin Goodale, a Riverhead police officer who died suddenly Oct. 15. Mr. Goodale graduated from Riverhead in 1990 and played football during his high school years.
DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Riverhead running back Jeremiah Cheatom breaks through the line to score a first-half touchdown Saturday against Bay Shore.
BLUE WAVES 40, MARAUDERS 18
Shortly before kick-off Saturday afternoon, Riverhead offensive coordinator Steve Gevinski approached running back Jeremiah Cheatom. His message to Cheatom was simple: Prepare for a big day.
That the Blue Waves would rely on Cheatom, a senior and three-year varsity player, came as no surprise. But not even Cheatom could have envisioned just how often the coaches were about to put the ball in his hands.
In the end, Cheatom carried a career-high 41 times against Bay Shore. He accounted for more than 65 percent of Riverhead’s plays from scrimmage.
And he more than delivered, racking up an astounding 263 yards with three touchdowns, more than enough to lift the Blue Waves to a crucial 40-18 Division II victory at Bay Shore High School.
“That was the most I ever had in my whole high school career,” Cheatom said. “It didn’t even feel like it, honestly. I came back to the sideline and they said 41 carries. I didn’t even realize.”
After attacking Central Islip last week through the air with an array of quick passes and screens, the Blue Waves shifted their game plan this week to an old-fashioned ground and pound.
“We thought [Bay Shore] was a very good finesse team,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay. “They had a lot of athletes. But they like to play in open space. They don’t like to play bare-knuckle football. We decided we were going to control time of possession and give a heavy dose of Jeremiah.”
Cheatom was consistent all throughout, churning out at least four yards on half his carries. He had seven runs for double-digit yardage, the longest a 40-yard scamper in the second half that he nearly broke for a touchdown.
His first touchdown came just three minutes into the game on a 20-yard run. The play was set up by a Bay Shore miscue. After Riverhead forced a three-and-out, the Marauders lined up to punt. But on a low snap, the punter went down on a knee to pick the ball up and the official ruled him down. In high school football, a player is automatically ruled down when a knee hits, regardless of whether an opponent touches him.
The 3-1 Blue Waves caught a big break and started their first drive on the Bay Shore 28.
“Those are the type of plays you got to capitalize on,” Shay said. “If they’re going to give you a short field like that, we feel like we have an offense to take advantage of that. That was a big play early on I think to set the momentum that we’re here to play.”
Riverhead took a 21-6 lead into halftime. Cheatom’s second touchdown with 20 seconds left in the second quarter came on a two-yard run on fourth down.
In the third quarter, the Blue Waves put together a 16-play, 76-yard drive that ate up nearly seven minutes of the clock. Cheatom punched it in from a yard out to make it 27-6 Riverhead and effectively ended Bay Shore’s hopes of a victory.
“Bay Shore was a good team,” Cheatom said. “We just did our job and did what we had to do.”
Riverhead’s starting running back on opening day while Cheatom was injured, Ryun Moore got only one carry. He made the most of it, scoring a 40-yard touchdown for the Blue Waves’ final touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Moore did see significant time on defense.
The victory was a big one for Riverhead because Bay Shore was seeded No. 2 in the preseason. Victories against high-seeded teams are huge in the power rankings.
“Now we’re playing on house money,” Shay said. “We got a lot of points out of this game. If we win two of the next three, we’ll be a top-four team.”
That would guarantee Riverhead a home playoff game in the first round of the playoffs.
While Cheatom got the headlines Saturday, quarterback Cody Smith had an effective game when asked to throw the ball. He completed 8 of 12 passes for 55 yards. Five of the passes went to Jaron Greenidge, who also caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Smith early in the second quarter. The score put Riverhead ahead for good at 14-6.
Riverhead’s defense held its own against one of the more athletic teams in the division. Bay Shore’s top rusher, Simeon Eato, gained 65 yards on the ground. He scored on a 23-yard pass play from quarterback Ryan Mazzie for Bay Shore’s final score.
Jaquan Moore’s touchdown from 11-yards out tied the game at 6 early in the second quarter.
Riverhead returns to action next Saturday for a 4 p.m. game at Smithtown West.
ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Riverhead senior Jaron Greenidge will be a key player on both sides of the field for the Blue Waves.
When the Riverhead Blue Waves take the field Thursday afternoon in their season opener, the starting running back may get a few curious glances from the crowd.
No. 7? Who’s No. 7?
That would be Ryun Moore, a sophomore who played on the JV last year as the varsity team rolled to its third county championship since 2003. Few might have expected a sophomore to be next in line to start opening day, but that’s the situation facing the Waves.
As Jeremiah Cheatom — last year’s featured back — deals with a hamstring injury, the Blue Waves will turn to a promising young runner to carry a hefty load.
As an opportunity presented itself early in training camp, Moore seized it. Shay said he’s seen Moore getting more comfortable as training camp has progressed.
With the dynamic passing duo of quarterback Ryan Bitzer and wide receiver Quinn Funn gone, the Blue Waves still feel confident their passing attack can give opposing teams trouble. Senior quarterback Cody Smith, who spent the last two years backing up Bitzer, now gets the opportunity to start under center.
“He’s going to get better and better every week,” Shay said.
The Blue Waves return three talented receivers: seniors Dan Czelatka, Darren Jefferson and Ryan Hubbard.
Shay has high expectations for Czelatka, who saw some action on both sides of the field last year.
“I think he’s as good as anyone we’ve had at that position,” Shay said.
Senior Mike Von Bommel slides to tight end this year and will be a pivotal player blocking and running passing routes. Von Bommel was a star defensively last year and led the team in tackles. He’ll play middle linebacker again this year and look to anchor the defense.
Senior Jaron Greenidge is another key returning player from last year who will play a fullback/tight end position.
Shay said Von Bommel and Greenidge should solidify a lot of the blocking up front and help assist the offensive line, which is still a work in progress.
“We have some new guys up there,” Shay said. “They’re getting better every day, but they’re making mistakes, which I would expect they would.”
The Blue Waves will feature senior Mike Drexel and junior Ethan Greenidge at the tackle positions. Senior Michael Curtis will start at center. Shay said Curtis was “a nice surprise at camp.”
Senior Ryan Harkin will start at guard. The other guard position is still up for grabs between three players, Shay said.
On the other side, senior Jonathan Lee, Ethan Greenidge and Drexel will play defensive tackle.
Sophomore Tyrese Kerr — the only other 10th-grader on the roster in addition to Moore — will play defensive end along with Harkin.
While Von Bommel anchors the linebacker core, the Blue Waves’ depth at the position was weakened from injuries and academic issues. Junior Raheem Brown will start at middle linebacker opposite Von Bommel.
Moore and senior Taiheem McKay will both start at outside linebacker.
On special teams Czelatka will handle the punting duties. Moore will return kicks — giving him triple duty as a sophomore. The Blue Waves begin the year without a bona fide kicker.
As defending champs and the No. 3 seed in Division II, the Blue Waves will face a challenging schedule, starting with Thursday’s opener, a rematch of last year’s county final.
It’ll be an uphill climb back to the top — no team has repeated as champion in Division II since Bellport won in ’05 and ’06 —but the Blue Waves are ready for the challenge.
“They believe they’re going to be the best team ever, so I like that attitude,” Shay said.
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mike Van Bommel was followed by Ryan Harkin during an agility drill on Monday morning.
On an unseasonably pleasant Monday morning, with a refreshing breeze blowing under a blue sky shaded by gray/white clouds, the Riverhead Blue Waves were back to work on the practice field. As with all other high school football teams in New York State, the clock on the new season began for Riverhead.
The race to put together a team for the 2013 season that the Blue Waves hope will successfully defend their Suffolk County Division II championship has begun. Some personnel changes have been made since the last time Riverhead was on the playing field for a loss to Garden City in the Long Island Class II championship game last November. Ryan Bitzer is gone. Quinn Funn is gone.
Some lesser known names will be moving into the spotlight this coming season, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play.
“There are new names, but remember, the program is conditioned to bring those kids through the middle school,” coach Leif Shay said. “You may not know that name, but we’ve known that name for five years.”
Jeremiah Cheatom, an all-county senior running back and outside linebacker who was named to Newsday’s All-Long Island Second Team, voiced confidence in his up-and-coming teammates. “We always had guys in the shadows who are excellent, too,” he said. “These are good players. Everybody on our team, they know what our guys can do. Just guys out of town, they don’t know. We’re going to have to show them.”
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead senior Andrew Kinard said the Blue Waves have the ability to return to the Long Island championship game.
Unlike last year, Riverhead doesn’t have to contend with the hype that comes with being the top seed in the division. This year they aren’t ranked No. 1, but No. 3 isn’t far away from that. They face the challenge of playing a schedule that coach Leif Shay believes is about as tough as it gets. That schedule includes road games against No. 1 East Islip and No. 2 Bay Shore.
No doubt about it, it will not be easy, but then again, Riverhead has a number of things working in its favor. For one thing, Cheatom, a splendid runner, isn’t a bad player to form an offense around. Also, the Blue Waves are blessed with athleticism and look good at the skill positions, with plenty of starting spots up for grabs.
“Right now everything is wide open,” Shay said. “This is probably one of the deeper teams I’ve had.”
Where Riverhead took a big hit, though, was on the offensive line. Building the line, Shay said, is going to be something for the team to focus on.
The team does have impact players: middle linebacker/tight end Mike Van Bommel; defensive end Troy Trent, a junior transfer from Longwood; wide receiver/cornerback Danny Czelatka; free safety Jaron Greenidge; left tackle/defensive tackle Ethan Greenidge (6-foot-4, 290 pounds); outside linebacker/running back Ryun Moore.
And a new quarterback: senior Cody Smith. Smith, who backed up Bitzer last year, brings a contrasting playing style to the one his predecessor had.
“He’s going to bring a very different type of quarterback to this team,” Shay said. “He’s not going to have those finesse throws that maybe Ryan had, but he’ll make those gritty plays. When it’s fourth-and-one he’ll stick his neck in there and make a tough play for you. The toughness that he brings to the position is kind of fun. He’s more a Brett Favre-type of quarterback than a Tom Brady-type of quarterback.”
Smith holds the advantage in the competition for the starting job, but Shay said Kenny Simco, a junior, has been looking sharp, too. Simco was the starting quarterback for the junior varsity team last year.
Andrew Kinard, a senior who played defensive end and outside linebacker last year, said the outlook is good. “We have a physical, mental team, and if we play together, play strong, play hard, play smart, we’ll get there; we’ll get back to LIC,” he said referring to the Long Island championship game. “We have better skill players, a lot more speed, and I feel our run game is going to be better than it was last year.”
That 29-16 loss to Garden City was a tough way to end a 9-3 season, but it may yet bring a benefit to the Blue Waves.
Cheatom said the experience of winning the county championship game against North Babylon was one of the best experiences of his life. The loss to Garden City was something else. “It was devastating,” he said. “The thing that ran through my head was, ‘What could I have done to fix those mistakes?’ But you can’t take it back. Things happen for a reason. That must have happened for a reason because it’s given me more fire and motivation for this year.”
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.
ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead’s Jeremiah Cheatom ran for 200 yards in the first half and 31 in the second half.
LONG ISLAND CLASS II FINAL | TROJANS 29, BLUE WAVES 16
A mere glance reveals that Garden City’s football team does not have much in the way of size. Scanning across the field at the Trojans, one will not find a single bulky lineman among the bunch.Yet, while the Trojans are undersized in stature, no one can question the size of their heart.
After posting come-from-behind wins over Carey and Wantagh in the Nassau County semifinal and final, respectively, Garden City pulled off another comeback on Saturday, this time for a Long Island Class II championship at Riverhead’s expense.
Brett Stewart passed for two touchdowns and then ran for two more as Garden City turned the game around in the second half for a 29-16 triumph at Stony Brook University’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium. It was the fifth Long Island title for Garden City, which has played in 14 such finals.
Stewart, who recalled the pain of losing to Newfield in last year’s Long Island final, went from his worst football experience to his best in one year’s time. Clutching the championship trophy, he said, “I’ve never been happier than this moment here.”
It was a different feeling for Riverhead, which had lost to Garden City in a 2003 Long Island final. The Blue Waves, behind the impressive running of Jeremiah Cheatom in the first half, looked on the way to what would have been their second Long Island crown. Then, after a first half that ended with Riverhead ahead, 16-7, the game turned dramatically in Garden City’s favor. The Trojans (11-1) made adjustments, put eight players in the box and clamped down on Cheatom. Cheatom, who ran 24 times for 200 yards in the first half, managed only 31 rushing yards from nine carries in the second half. Meanwhile, Riverhead’s normally explosive passing game was limited to 104 yards.
“The way we played in the first half, the game was in our favor,” said Riverhead junior Michael Van Bommel, who was involved in nine tackles, including a sack. “We had it in our hands. The way they came out and played really shocked me.”
Garden City has been full of surprises this year. Even its revered coach of 28 years, Tom Flatley, said he would have been happy with a 5-3 record this year. Flatley said this year’s Garden City team surprised him more than any team he has coached in his 48-year coaching career.
“These kids were happy to play,” Flatley said. “Football is not a chore to them.”
Garden City has an offensive line with two sophomores who never played offensive tackle before, a 170-pound center who was a fullback one week before the season started, one guard who weighs 165 pounds and another guard who had never played on the offensive line before.
What the Trojans do have, however, are athletes.
“We get the ball in space to our playmakers and they score touchdowns,” said Stewart.
Stewart went 13 of 23 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, a 28-yarder and a 24-yarder, both to Ed Blatz (seven catches, 141 yards). But Stewart used his legs to put Garden City in front. The junior quarterback, who ran up 136 rushing yards on 27 attempts, scored the go-ahead touchdown on a naked bootleg around the left side from three yards out. Justin Guterding’s pass to Kyle Skramko for the two-point conversion made it 22-16 with 22.3 seconds left in the third quarter.
It was a quarter Riverhead (9-3) would prefer to forget, but then again, the fourth quarter wasn’t especially kind to the Blue Waves, either. On the second play of the fourth quarter, James Sullivan recovered a fumble, giving Garden City possession for a drive that ended with another three-yard touchdown run by Stewart.
That pretty much sealed things before Garden City’s postgame celebration.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Scott D’Antonio, who was in on a game-high 11 tackles for Garden City. “The stakes were so high here, and we got the job done.”
The first half was all about Cheatom, with the fleet-footed junior touching the ball on 25 of Riverhead’s 36 plays in the half. Cheatom set up the game’s first score, a six-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Bitzer to Jaron Greenidge with 4.5 seconds to go in the first quarter. Cheatom scored himself on a one-yard burst in the second quarter.
“I just kept the intensity up,” said Cheatom, who registered his fourth 200-plus-yard game of the season. “I wanted this thing so bad.”
Devrim Kucuk’s career-best 36-yard field goal made it 16-7 Riverhead with 1:16 left in the first half. That was before the momentum swung against the Blue Waves, who uncharacteristically struggled on offense. They went 2 of 11 on third-down plays.
Facing reporters after the game, Riverhead coach Leif Shay said: “I think we had a great season. We’re Suffolk County champions. We’re one of three teams that have been able to do that in Riverhead’s history, so we got to be proud of that accomplishment. We fell short of the Long Island championship, but we had a championship.”
Cheatom, speaking about the season, said: “It’s a great experience, but you know, everybody always wants to be a champion, so you never want to stop here. You always want to keep going.”
In the end, the day belonged to Garden City, It was a day the Trojans will talk about for years to come.
“This is huge,” Stewart said. “This is the happiest day of my life. I’m happy that we proved the people who doubted us wrong. We’re Long Island champions.”