Grid spotlight on what it takes to become best of the best even on high school level

February 21, 2019 at 7:29 a.m.
Grid spotlight on what it takes to become best of the best even on high school level
Grid spotlight on what it takes to become best of the best even on high school level

By By Michael Iachetta- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Just when you thought the football season ended with the Patriots beating the Rams in the Super Bowl in Atlanta, the following things happened that show why football is so popular on a pro and collegiate level and not so in high school, or at least in decline on the youth scholastic playing fields like the ones where the Port Chester Rams play.

At the same time, that football spotlight helped put the focus on competitive sports and the inherent risks therein. That includes risks at every level including the games the Rams and Lady Rams play and the price they pay to be good, very good, even among the best at what they do.

That number includes Port Chester High School seniors Tyler (TD) DeCrescenzo and Melvin Molina who just signed National Letters of Intent to play football in college on athletic scholarships.

The injury toll

It also takes in recent Port Chester graduates such as Jazmin (Jaz) Acosta, the Lady Rams all-time leader in scoring and assists in soccer as well as the school recordholder in the Track & Field long jump (18:2) who shredded her knee on a soccer kick the day after she signed her National Letter of Intent to compete for St. John's University on a combination T&F/soccer scholarship. St. John's honored the scholarship commitment.

And it includes junior basketball wunderkind Shamel (Mel) Jones, the North Carolina prep school transfer and sure fire college athletic scholarship prospect who came back to Port Chester to play for his hometown only to hurt his knee on a drive to the basket and now faces long hours of rehab to get back to where he once was as one of the greatest basketball players in Port Chester history.

So accidents happen in a variety of sports, from tennis elbow to fascia tendinitis in T&F to a variety of sprains from diving in swimming. It goes with the territory. Like it or not, it is part of the game.

But to start at the beginning with the major football happenings in the news:

Enter the AAF

1. The Alliance of American Football (AAF), a professional American football league, opened play on Feb. 9, 2019, one week after the National Football League's championship game, with eight teams playing a 10-week schedule. Their opening Saturday games on CBS averaged 3.25 million viewers, which was more than ABC's pro basketball Rockets-Thunder game (2.67 million), according to Nielsen.

The new pro teams

In case you are wondering whether any New York area teams are involved, the answer is no because the AAF consists of the Arizona Hotshots, Birmingham Iron, San Antonio Commanders, Salt Lake Stallions, Memphis Express, Orlando Apollos, San Diego Fleet and Atlanta Legends. All but Arizona and Atlanta are in markets lacking an NFL team. But all are stocked with ex-pros, former collegiate stars, minor leaguers and even coaches looking to claw their way into the NFL big time.

Collusion, concussions

2. Colin Kaerpernick, the once brilliant San Francisco 49ers quarterback, and his former teammate Eric Reid received an unspecified financial settlement and signed a non-disclosure agreement with the NFL last Friday (2/15), two years after they had accused the league's 32 teams of colluding against them for taking a knee for their beliefs during the playing of the National Anthem, resulting in their allegedly being blackballed from playing pro ball. (Reid was later signed by the Cardinals in September and played 13 games.)

The repercussions

As the practice spread, NFL owners ruled that players could no longer kneel during the National Anthem without leaving themselves open to punishment. The owners also said that players so inclined could stay in the locker room during the ceremony. The players’ union filed a grievance over the policy.

Just as memorably, during a furor over harmful concussion after effects resulting from continued hitting on the gridiron, the NFL settled grievances to prevent potentially embarrassing discloses during a protracted legal fight six years ago. That's when they agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to retired players who contended the NFL had concealed the dangers of repeated hits to the head. The NFL settled rather than face in court former players who had sustained neurological damage.

3. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association adopted new guidelines last Wednesday (2/13) to sharply reduce the number of contacts allowed in practice, addressing concerns about player safety in the wake of a significant decline in the number of students playing high school football.

College scholarships

4. On a local level, Rams football is just as popular as ever, however, with two Ram seniors—Tyler (TD) DeCrescenzo and Melvin Molina—signing National Letters of Intent Feb. 6 granting them full college athletic football scholarships during an after-school ceremony in the high school gym.

DeCrescenzo, the Rams’ leading scorer, top wide receiver and outstanding running as well as defensive back, will attend the University of Southern Connecticut. Molina, the Rams’ ace receiver, tight end and linebacker, will attend Pace University.

Both had senior years to remember, years that resulted in both making the All-League, All-Conference and All-Section football teams.

Time remembered

DeCrescenzo, 5:11 and 180 pounds, played a lot bigger than he looked. He transferred from Stepinac, last year's state football champion, so he could play his senior year with his hometown team alongside the players he grew up with. And what a year he had. He scored four touchdowns in his first game against Mount Vernon in one of Port Chester's greatest varsity debuts ever and proceeded to lead the Rams in scoring despite playing the last half of the season with a shoulder injury and a high ankle sprain that limited his speed and cutting ability. But that didn't stop him from scoring three touchdowns in a last-minute comeback win over Scarsdale, perhaps Port Chester's best comeback win in history.

Molina played a key role in that win, as he had in so many other games in which he starred on both offense and defense. Against Scarsdale, Molina caught the winning 18-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Stephen Carroll with just eight seconds left to play. He also caught the two-point conversion that iced the game. And as he plucked the football out of the air, he thought back to all the hours of practice, the hitting, the drills that went into getting himself ready for those moments of excellence.

Bests of the best

Both he and DeCrescenzo excelled in the Westchester-Rockland-Lower Hudson Valley senior All-Star game, DeCrescenzo walking away with the game's outstanding defensive back award after making three interceptions and running one of them all the way back for a touchdown.

Winning those scholarships has DeCrescenzo and Molina running neck-and-neck front runners during what figures to be a down-to-the-wire race to see who will be named Port Chester's outstanding male senior athlete.

As the fall/winter season winds down with the spring season still to come, other top candidates emerging at this time include Carroll, the All-League quarterback who won the Mayor's Leadership Award, and a behind-the-scenes triple threat in Taleahk Wells, the unsung Rams lineman, gritty forward on the hoop Rams as well as a solid shot putter, javelin and discus thrower on the outdoor Track & Field team.

Star quality contenders

Still other seniors worthy of consideration include:

*Feisty, inspirational Roney Verdezoto who messed up his knee wrestling and playing football to the point where he couldn't compete yet still came to football practice every day to work out and root for his fellow Rams, going home afterwards to hit the books as hard as he once hit opponents to expand his collegiate horizons.

*Chris Pennella, the long-range shooting forward on the Rams hoop squad who made All-League as well as the Dapper McDonald All-Tournament Team and wound up as the Rams’ leading scorer with more than 250 points on the season.

*George Tsoukalas, the Rams’ fastest sprinter and the best long jumper and triple jumper on the Track & Field team.

*Brayan Mendez, who made the All-Section wrestling team and went over the century mark in career wins in his final two clutch matches while grappling in the 126-pound weight class after wrestling up and down the ladder in whatever weight class the Rams needed him as a point scorer throughout the season.

*Mario Flores, the backstroker who made it into the Sectionals as the Rams’ leadoff leg on the sprint relay as well as making a splash as the inspirational co-captain of the team that scored Port Chester's first dual meet win after six years of varsity competition.

*In soccer, standouts include Steven Lugo, Brandon Mejia, Edgar Tellez, Oscar Garcia and Alejandro Llanos.

Lady Ram standouts

When you look at the Lady Ram candidates for Port Chester's best female athlete, the front runners include Ayenaliz (Nani) Velasquez, the outstanding long jumper and sprinter on the Track & Field team, and her training buddy Amanda Andreoli, the All-League champion long jumper as well as a top sprinter. Also, triple threat Arianna Carlucci, four-time varsity basketball captain and high scorer as well as a highly regarded volleyball player, sprinter and high jumper, and Kyah Kramer, the hoop Rams’ best ball handler and an All-League softball player. Ace soccer players Anessa Brito and Ashley Alvarez are also in contention with Alvarez a top T&F performer as well.

So, while football is front and center news-wise right now with the AAF and Kaepernick nationally and DeCrescenzo and Molina locally, lots of other Port Chester student athletes are emerging as forces to be reckoned with in selecting the school's best male and female senior athletes at the end of the year.


What happens during the upcoming spring season could well be the deciding factor. Including the possibility that what happened to Jaz Acosta and Shamel (Mel) Jones could happen again in any sport because risk is inherent in competition.

Those who take that risk know it is part of the price they must pay for the adrenaline rush, the any/many sports equivalent of the runner's high, the sense of self-knowledge and satisfaction that comes from seeing your body perform at its peak because of conditioning, repetition and the extra effort derived from pushing to the limits that take you to the beyond the beyond, wherever that is, only each individual knows.

It is what former Rams coach Greg Domestico called "the commitment to excellence rather than mediocrity."

That is easier said than done. Because that kind of commitment requires time, effort, determination and desire with no guarantees. But for those who give it their all, there is no explaining what it means to them. And no need to explain. It just is. Even the hurt that may come with it.


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