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Blue Chip Prospects

Gavin Buda hurls a pitch during the Blue Chip Prospects Grand Slam Challenge all-star baseball game. File photo by Bill Landon

Gavin Buda’s first word was “ball.”

“True story,” the Harborfields dual-sport standout athlete said. “I’ve been playing sports as far back as I can remember.”

Harborfields wide receiver Gavin Buda waits for the ball to drop along the sideline during the Empire Challenge football game. File photo by Bill Landon

Baseball was his first love, he said, signing up for every team he could play on. He played for the varsity team from freshman through senior year of high school, also competing on high-level travel teams and tournaments in other states.

“It just seemed my path was set to play baseball in college,” he said.

But during his sophomore year, he decided to try out for the junior varsity football team with some of his friends. The team went undefeated, and the wide receiver was hooked.

“There was a feeling I got playing football that I never felt playing baseball,” he said. “This bond that is created between teammates that only happens in football. The knowing that you have each other’s backs — that feeling made me think if I work hard enough, this is the sport I’d like to play beyond high school.”

He never gave up on either sport, spending three days training for football and the other three for baseball. He said winters were intense, spending time indoors at batting cages while also gearing up for the fall football season, working with trainers like Jay Fulco, Mike Bouranis, Mike Feldman, James Brady and Jay Fiedler.

Buda this month became the first Suffolk County athlete to play in both the Rawlings Blue Chip Prospects Grand Slam Challenge and Empire Challenge football game, with Wantagh’s Ryan Sliwak achieved the feat in 2011. Buda said he had no idea the history he’d made at the time he was selected.

Gavin Buda makes a catch between two Rocky Point football players during Harborfields’ homecoming spoiling win. File photo by Bill Landon

“From a young age you could tell the kid was super athletic — he stood out among his peers, and from there, he put in a ton of hard work to really hone that and continue to stay ahead of the pack,” said Harborfields baseball coach Casey Sturm, who coached Buda since he was in seventh grade. “He was a special player, and what really stood out at the end of his tenure wasn’t even so much what he did at the plate but his defense in the outfield and ability to pitch were huge.”

In Suffolk County’s 5-4 loss to Nassau June 8 at St. Joseph’s College, Buda tossed a baseball for what might be the last time. The pitcher and outfielder took over on the mound in the bottom of the fifth and retired the side in order.

“To end my high school baseball career being selected to play alongside players that were drafted to the MLB or heading off to colleges like Vanderbilt to play baseball is just awesome,” Buda said, although he joked if he let up a homerun he might not have been as happy. “To get on the mound and face those guys one last time was a great way to go out, and luckily, I did pretty good.”

A week later, he’d put down his glove and bat to strap on some football equipment.

In the Empire Challenge game, he made a 30-yard reception during a play he wasn’t even slated to be a part of. Knowing Northport quarterback Ryan Walsh, he said during the call in the huddle he told Walsh he could beat out the kid that was guarding him deep. Walsh trusted him, and Buda delivered. A step ahead of the defender, he said there was no way he was letting the ball drop.

Gavin Buda rips the ball deep into the outfield during the Blue Chip Prospects Grand Slam Challenge. File photo by Bill Landon

His two-year head coach Rocco Colucci said for him personally the moment was fitting. Being a teacher at Northport he’d coached Walsh on the junior varsity level.

“This is why I coach football,” he said. “To see these guys grow and excel.”

He said too it was a privilege to watch Buda excel the way he did.

“Right off the bat I knew he was going to be a playmaker,” Colucci said. “His hard work showed. He was always looking to get better. He was very coachable — anything I told him to do, he’d do it. And because of that, [when other teams] put their best defensive players on him,  he’d still make the catch. He likes that type of best-on-best competitiveness in football, and there’s a lot of areas in football where he excels.”

Buda will be taking his talents to Hobart and William Smith Colleges to join the football team, but said he’ll never forget where he came from.

“Harborfields is a great school, but for some reason we are always under the radar in athletics — it’s a smaller school so I guess that’s why,” he said, adding that while other top athletes chose St. Anthony’s or Chaminade, he never questioned becoming a Tornado. “There were some great players that came through Harborfields before me, and there’ll be more after me. I just hope that I did my part to help put Harborfields sports on the map. The experience these last two weeks of playing in both all-star games is something I will carry with me forever.”

This version was updated June 20 at 12:43 a.m. to indicate that Gavin Buda is the first Suffolk County athlete to be chosen for both all-star games, not Long Island. 

By Bill Landon

After a New York City 30-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass, the team went for a two-point conversion to outright win its third straight Empire Challenge football game under Hofstra University’s Friday night lights, but Long Island’s James Lyons, of Sayville, batted away the two-point conversion pass in a 28-27 thriller.

Up to that point Westhampton running back Dylan Laube has been the center of all things Long Island offense June 15, powering his way to three touchdowns — accumulating 151 all-purpose yards. He was voted most outstanding player of the game.

He opened Long Island’s scoring running off left tackle on the opening play of the second quarter and punching into the end zone to help tie the game 7-all.

Miller Place’s Tyler Ammirato, Long Island’s defensive captain, called signals on the field in an attempt to contain an explosive NYC offensive attack. His plan ended up in a Long Island defensive stop to take over on downs, and Laube was back to work on offense. Farmingdale’s Bryan DeFelice made the extra-point kick following Laube’s second touchdown to put Long Island out front 14-7 with three minutes left in the third.

“It’s an awesome experience — you read the paper every week and you see all these guy’s names and to finally meet them and get to play with them,” Ammirato said. “I thought, ‘Our defensive stand right here will be the turning point of this game — we’ve got to get a stop right here,’ but our offense is [also very] talented, they’ll punch it in.”

After NYC retied the game, Harborfields wide receiver Gavin Buda ran a sideline route and grabbed a 39-yard pass from Northport quarterback Ryan Walsh to put Long Island in excellent field position.

Buda, the only athlete in history to be chosen for both the Empire Challenge and the Blue Chip Prospects Grand Slam Challenge baseball game earlier this month, said it was a fitting way to conclude his high school career.

“It’s sad, but this is one of the greatest games I’ve ever played in my life,” Buda said. “To meet all of these great superstars that I’ve played against and I’ve seen on the field, and to be friends with them now and to be their teammates, is just amazing experience that I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”

Laube finished what Buda started for a 21-14 advantage to end the scoring for the third. A rare NYC miscue helped Westhampton’s Nola Quinlan pick off a pass and nearly return it for a touchdown before being forced out of bounds with 32 seconds left in the quarter. NYC’s defense was able to make a stop that forced Long Island to try for a 36-yard field goal attempt, which was blocked.

With just over eight minutes left NYC made it a new game 21-all, but Long Island let time tick off the clock on a long drive to three consecutive first downs before Oceanside wide receiver Derek Cruz’s old-school flea-flicker jump ball. Cruz faked continuing his run and tossed the ball back to quarterback Tommy Heuer, who waited for Massapequa wide receiver Owen Glascoe to break free.

Heuer hit Glascoe in the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown pass and DeFelice added his fourth extra-point kick for a 28-21 lead with 41 seconds left, which ended up being the game-winning point.

Ward Melville linebacker Zach Hobbes, who was instrumental in the Patriots’ rout of West Geneseein the state lacrosse championship the weekend prior, was euphoric taking part in his final football game.

“I can’t think of a better way to end my senior year,” Hobbes said. “Winning a state championship and then to play in front of 9,000 people for the last game of my varsity football career, and to get a win like that, it’s an unbelievable experience.”

With time running out NYC went hurry-up offense and hit three consecutive pass plays down the sideline, getting out of bounds each time to stop the clock and save what precious seconds remained. With five seconds left,  NYC quarterback Mike Nicosia threw the Hail Mary to the left corner of the end zone, where he found Titus Leo, who made the catch as time expired.

“That was a crazy experience — that’s just how I expected the game to go,” Buda said. “I knew both teams would put up a fight and right when we scored that last touchdown I knew you could not count them out. We had to make a defensive stop, but they drove down; they’re a great team. Our defense came up with a humongous stop and that sealed the deal.”

Shoreham-Wading River’s Tyler McAuley was unable to play in the 23rd annual Empire Challenge football game. Ward Melville outside linebacker Thomas Kutchma and running back Nicholas Messina; Miller Place defensive end Matthew McNulty; and Northport quarterback Ryan Walsh were other area athletes that took part in the senior all-star game.

Shoreham-Wading River, Miller Place three-sport athletes excel at Blue Chip Prospects Long Island combine

“By no means is Long Island considered a hot bed for football players, but we have a ton of talent here,” horeham-Wading River defensive back and quarterback Xavier Arline said, hoping to show off his skills on the
gridiron at the Blue Chip Prospects Long Island football combine May 6.

The event at Sachem High School North, put on in conjunction with the Suffolk County Coaches Association to showcase top Long Island football talent, ran the 70 athletes that attended through six stations before breaking off into specific position drills. The football players participated in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, standing broad jump, 185-pound bench press, 5-10-5-yard shuttle and 3-cone drill.

Shoreham-Wading River quarterback Xavier Arline leaps over a defender. File photo by Bill Landon

Arline ran the second fastest 40-yard dash (4.55) and 5-10-5-yard time (4.41), behind Brandon Didier of North Babylon, who ran a 4.51 and had a 4.39.

“Knowing I have a good foundation to build off of is confidence boosting,” the sophomore said. “It just shows that with additional training and hard work I can compete with athletes across the country.”

Miller Place junior Tom Nealis, a 6-foot 4-inch wide receiver, ran a 4.91 40-yard dash and had a time of 4.67 in the 5-10-5.

“It was great to be out on the football field again and it was cool to see a lot of other top players and great
athletes there,” said Nealis, who also plays baseball and basketball. “I feel that playing baseball may have put me at a slight disadvantage. Baseball takes up a lot of time that could have been used to practice these drills and work on quickness.”

But he said that won’t hold him back from his dream of being a Long Island standout like Sachem North’s Dalton Crossan, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in February, and William Floyd alum Stacey Bedell, who just received an invite to the rookie minicamp of the San Francisco 49ers.

“The way the game is played is like nothing else,” Nealis said. “No other sport can you physically feel
the effort and intensity of your opponent. Seeing these guys make it to elite programs opens my eyes to the possibilities.”

Miller Place’s Tom Nealis grabs a catch. File photo by Bill Landon

Arline said the success of more recent graduates who have gone on to play Division I football, like Sayville’s Jack Coan (University of Wisconsin) and his former teammate Ethan Wiederkehr (Northwestern University) helps ignite a fire in him. Despite verbally committing to the University of North Carolina to play lacrosse as an eighth-grader, the sophomore is keeping his options open.

“This was a great opportunity for me to see where I am at as a player and athlete,” he said. “I wanted to attend this event to gain experience, find my highs and lows and compete against myself. It created a baseline and foundation for me to build on as I begin the football recruiting process.”

Hans Wiederkehr, Ethan’s father who is the president of the football coaches association, and a two-time Long Island championship winner while he was the head coach at Babylon, said since football doesn’t have travel teams, an event like this helps get student-athletes exposure.

“I’ve always thought it was a great tool for all the kids,” he said of the combine, that’s in its 16th year. “The best part for me is every kid really wants to be there and every kid wants to do great. They all have hopes and dreams, and some leave with a reality check while others get to see how good they really are.”

Arline said he thinks he has what it takes to shine at the next level in his favorite sport.

“The most difficult part about the combine was not knowing what to expect — I had very little to no preparation going in,” he said. “With hard work, perseverance and a little luck I believe I can get there.”

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