Tags Posts tagged with "Jack Collins"

Jack Collins

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You had to see it to believe it. Joey Collins led his team out to the mat as the volume was raised on the sound system — the music blasted as WWE wrestler John Cena sang, “Your time is up, my time is now.  You can’t see me, my time is now.”

Collins, a senior with Down syndrome, has been on the Port Jefferson wrestling team for four years. He took center stage Dec. 22 during the Port Jefferson Bob Armstrong Tournament.

Facing a Riverhead opponent, Collins started the period on top before his opponent broke free. Face to face, his Blue Waves challenger grabbed his right leg, and instead of taking Collins down, fell on his back, where Collins jumped on the opportunity to hoist up his opponent’s leg for the pin and a win in the consolation match. He said the song he loves got him ready to compete.

Joey Collins gears up to compete. Photo from Joe Collins

“It got me more pumped,” he said. “It was the best moment of my entire career.”

As the mat was slapped three times to decide his fate, the cluster of wrestlers alongside him leaped up in celebration. Collins, engulfed by the excitement and cheers from the crowd, stood up and waved his hands, imploring the fans in attendance to keep up the noise.

“I love being a part of a team,” Collins said. “It’s exciting. I work hard and do something for me that betters myself.”

His father, Joe Collins, was moved by what he’d just witnessed, but said his initial thoughts were a little different based on his son’s reaction.

“Part of me was saying, ‘Jeeze Joey, you need to tone it down a little bit,’” he said, laughing. “He’s not the most gracious celebrator, but the reaction was so positive from everybody and I was really, really pleased that he was enjoying it so much. I felt proud of him and I loved the way he jumped into his coach’s arms and slapped hands with all his teammates. I also thought about how proud Joey’s mother would have been.”

Collins’ mother Mary Beth died last November following a lengthy battle with cancer. The father recalled the first time his son, who became an avid wrestling figurine collector in middle school after idolizing his cousin’s collection, took part in a wrestling match at the end of his freshman year. He had been practicing with the team, but finally competed in his first consolation match, which are matches that don’t factor in to a team’s score for a meet.

“My wife clutched my forearm, seeing his face against the mat looking up at her, and everyone was screaming for him to stay on his belly to keep from getting pinned,” Joe Collins said. “It was very exciting. We were nervous and proud to see him out there. We were thankful and grateful he’s getting the opportunity to play like that with other kids.”

Joey Collins practices for his next match. Photo from Joe Collins

Port Jefferson head coach Mike Maletta said he remembers when Joey Collins’ mother approached him following the Mount Sinai meet.

“She walked over to me very sternly, and I was afraid of how she was going to take it,” he said. “But she put her hand out and said, ‘Thank you,’ and walked away.”

From that moment Collins was hooked. He was used to cheering his teammates on from the side of the mat with Maletta, but finally got the opportunity to compete, although still frequenting the sideline to cheer on friend and teammate Matteo DeVincenzo, a prominent wrestler in the program who won county and state titles.

“It always warms my heart when I see Joey sitting next to the coach and yelling encouragement for kids like Matteo and his older brother Tristan,” Joe Collins said.  “It was a nice turnaround for Joey to be encouraging someone else. That was really neat to see.”

DeVincenzo also enjoyed it.

“I thought of Joey just like I thought of anyone else on the team — a wrestler,” DeVincenzo said. “He was a member of the team and deserved to be treated the same as everyone else. It felt great to have Joey’s support. It was evident that he looked up to me and that was gratifying and impactful.  Knowing that I was someone that he could use as a model and mentor was very self-fulfilling. It was inspiring working with Joey and watching him grow over the years. He truly grew into a young man on and off the mat. Joey was a symbol of hope and heart for the team. Whenever we were struggling or down in the dumps, one glance at Joey could enhance anyone’s day. If Joey could do it, anyone could.”

Joey Collins said he enjoys the camaraderie between him and his teammates, too, something he said he learned from Maletta.

“He taught me how to become a better wrestler,” Collins said. “He taught me how to train and how to work hard. I love to cheer my team on. I love getting involved with the sport. I love being a wrestler.”

Although Maletta said at first having Collins on the team presented a set of unique challenges, he and the wrestlers have warmed up to their fellow Royal.

Joey Collins shows off his WWE wrestling belt. Photo from Joe Collins

“The first year it was a handful,” he said. “I tried to think of how I was going to work with guys that were focused on winning state titles, but by his second year he got better at being in practice. He was able to stay on task longer, and I treated him like every other kid. We try to raise expectations and he wrestled some good matches.  Joey goes out there and he wrestles hard no matter what.”

He competed in multiple matches in his sophomore year, and was joined by his twin brother Jack Collins, a football standout who is also currently on the basketball team.

“Wrestling with Joe was a blast,” Jack Collins said. “At practice you could really feel the radiance he gives off when wrestling and learning. Wrestling is a huge part of his life. He loves it and the sport has been good to him. It taught him a lot as well about morals. Athletics have been a great way for me and Joe to connect.”

After missing some of his junior season when his mother passed away, Maletta said he was excited to see Collins return to the team his senior year, noting that he’s one of six “watchmen,” seniors who have been on the team since they were freshman. Last year, none of the seniors had been on the team all four years, and prior to that, there were just two.

“Wrestling was a good distraction for him,” Maletta said. “I told him he’s a senior now, and I’m putting him in matches for real. It would be a disservice for him to not ever really go out there and know what it’s like to win or lose and feel the emotions of the sport.”

Maletta said it’s been a pleasure to watch Collins grow.

“He’s matured in the room, he’s part of the team,” he said. “It’s sad he won’t be in the room next year.”

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First Royal Division IV MVP break school records this season

Port Jefferson outgoing quarterback is officially royalty.

Jack Collins is the school’s first football player to be named MVP of Division IV. But if he had his way when he was young, the Royals senior wouldn’t even be a quarterback.

“I was a wide receiver,” he said, explaining how he played the position for almost two years before being told the middle school team was in need of a field general. “We had a little contest, and I ended up getting the job.”

Port Jefferson quarterback Jack Collins broke three school records this year and became the first Royals football player to be named the most valuable player in Division IV, an honor bestowed by the results of a vote by the division coaches. File photo by Bill Landon

Collins didn’t want to be a quarterback because being the center of attention seemed like too much for him. He’s quiet, reserved, qualities not normally associated with successful quarterbacks. But as the years passed he grew to love it, and others respected the way he played the position.

In his senior season, Collins broke school records for touchdowns (18), completions (143) and yards in a season (2,261). Being the first MVP, which is voted on by division coaches, also qualifies him for the Hansen Award, which goes to the most outstanding high school football player in Suffolk County, and the Boomer Award, which is awarded to the top quarterback. The winners will be announced at a Section XI dinner Dec. 4 at the Hyatt Regency Long Island in Hauppauge.

“We knew Jack had all the capabilities to handle the physical part of the position,” Port Jefferson head coach Andrew Cosci said. “What stood out even more was his maturity mentally. We knew he could handle anything we threw at him, and his work ethic early on was just one of those un-coachable things.”

Collins was called up to the varsity team his sophomore year and played in a handful of games toward the end of the season before being named the starter as a junior. He said the honor was unexpected, but felt encouraged after being recognized.

“I worked hard in the offseason — put my heart and soul into it — and getting called up made me feel more comfortable and prepared to be the leader of a team,” he said. “I think my coach made the right decision. It was a good learning experience.”

Cosci said the coaches immediately began tailoring routines and strategies so that the offense revolved around Collins. The quarterback had worked with an outside coach to enhance his accuracy, power and consistency, but also learned about leadership. The changes were noticed immediately.

As a result of the MVP nod, Jack Collins is automatically in the running for the Hansen Award and the Boomer Award, which will be given out at the Section XI football dinner Dec. 4. File photo by Bill Landon

“Jack is like no other quarterback I’ve played with,” senior wide receiver Marquis Feldman said. “He knows everything that’s happening on the field before it happens. It’s honestly like playing with a college quarterback.”

The senior’s head coach went one step further in his praise of Collins.

“He watches tons of film, tries to understand things better and fully, he never rests on his laurels — he thinks about what he has to do to get better and he continues to get better because of that,” Cosci said. “As a true leader and a true great player does, he made everyone around him better.”

Marquis said he saw his teammate develop on the field firsthand.

“Everyone on my team gave 110 percent every snap of every game — we were relentless,” he said, adding that he only just moved to the district in August. “To see Jack get recognized for his efforts is phenomenal, because we all knew he was an MVP. I couldn’t be more proud to call him my quarterback and already a very close friend on and off the field.”

To Collins, success is not about him, but more a reflection on his coaches and teammates, he said.

“At first, I didn’t see the good in it as much as I was afraid of the bad,” he said of taking on the quarterback role. “My teammates made me see it’s not that bad. It’s awesome to see the other coaches respected what we were doing, but honestly, we’re all putting in the work together and our coaches are putting game plans out that work. I’m the one that gets a lot of the credit for it, but it was definitely a team effort.”

Collins’ successes have also served to shine a light on the program.

Jack Collins broke school records for touchdowns (18), completions (143) and yards in a season (2,261). File photo by Bill Landon

“You can always look at the bigger schools and shake your finger and say ‘We’re too small, we’re never going to win anything,’” Collins said. “But we’re proving everyone wrong.”

Another important aspect of being a varsity football player is having young kids on the sidelines at games, according to Collins. They reminded him of himself when he first watched the Royals, wishing to one day emulate what he saw.

“I wanted to be like them in every single way,” he said. “I hope when the kids look at me they think that and that I set a good example.”

It’s a mentality he has already instilled in all facets of the program, according to Cosci.

“Jack has been the cornerstone for us in taking the next step,” he said. “He’s definitely more of a lead by example, but when Jack opens his mouth everyone listens. He never really talks about himself, he’s grounded, and it’s refreshing. The first thing out of other coaches’ mouths was ‘What a quarterback you have.’”

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By Bill Landon

Jack Collins was the king of the Royals’ homecoming court.

Port Jefferson senior Jack Collins passes the ball during the homecoming football game Oct. 21. Photo by Bill Landon

The senior quarterback completed 23 of 30 passes for a whopping 356 yards and four touchdowns to lead Port Jefferson to a dominating 42-13 win over Southampton/Pierson Oct. 21, which ensured the Royals a playoff berth.

“The kids in the locker room cannot wait for this game,” Collins said. “At Port Jeff there have been times where we’ve lost big to these teams, but it’s different. This year our team’s a lot stronger, and these guys want to prove that. I, do too.”

To do so, senior running back Thomas Mark returned the opening kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown, and senior running Joey Evangelista capped it off with a 2-point conversion, also scoring on a 13-yard touchdown run of his own for a 14-0 Royals lead with just under five minutes left in the first quarter.

“We came out here knowing what we needed to do,” Evangelista said.

Collins threw three of his four touchdowns before halftime, on passes of 28 yards, 4 yards and 40 yards. A 2-point conversion was tried following all three, but only successful on the second, with senior running back Hunter Ginas running it in after Mark’s touchdown.

“It’s a great win; it’s a great feeling after coming off a tough loss last week,” Mark said, referring to Port Jefferson’s 45-8 loss at Elwood-John Glenn “During practice week all of the guys were really focused —put in a lot of work, and hard work pays off.”

Port Jefferson senior Marquis Feldman pushes to break free of a tackle during the homecoming football game Oct. 21. Photo by Bill Landon

Collins threw a 36-yard pass to Marquis Feldman for the senior wide receiver’s second touchdown of the game to open scoring in the third. Collins capped it off by throwing to Mark in the end zone for a 2-point conversion.

“It was awesome to see the fans come out, they really support us,” Collins said. “We came ready to play. It was a fun, good time.”

Feldman finished with 123 yards on eight receptions behind junior Jonathan Bachman’s nine catches for 154 yards. He said knows the importance of the Royals’ final game of the season at home against Shoreham-Wading River, especially for moving forward.

“This game’s in the past now, and we’ll get ready for the next,” Feldman said following the win. “We’ll work as hard as we can and won’t let up.”

Port Jefferson head coach Andrew Cosci said with Shoreham-Wading River being a little banged up he’s hoping it greatens his team’s chances, especially knowing the dominant history the Wildcats have over the Royals, but said not to count his team out of the Oct. 28 matchup.

“They’re a very good football team,” the coach said of his soon-to-be opponent. “We have our work cut out for us, but we have a different team this year — a team that believes they can play with the big boys.”

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By Bill Landon

Port Jefferson’s youngest football players practiced alongside the Royals varsity squad Aug. 26 during a camp designed to teach the fundamentals of the game while stressing the do’s and don’ts of safety in the sport.

Royals head coach Andrew Cosci had players break into groups of running backs, receivers, quarterbacks and linemen during the camp for which the idea he said was long overdue.

“I think it’s extremely important to involve the younger players, especially with the way football is being looked at across the nation, along with the NFL, with the emphasis on safety,” he said, also adding the desire to get the younger kids enthusiastic about and interested in the program. “It shows that we’re all in this together. The game is a great game, it teaches a lot of life lessons and you want to share it with the little ones because that’s where a lot of the fear is. When the young kids come up, [they can] see how we teach the athletes the right way to play the game.”

“I think it’s extremely important to involve the younger players … with an emphasis on safety. The game is a great game, it teaches a lot of life lessons and you want to share it with the little ones.”

— Andrew Cosci

For senior wide receiver and strong safety Thomas Mark, practicing with the younger players has been special.

“It’s definitely really important because when I was a kid coming to all the games I looked up to those players,” Mark said of seeing previous varsity athletes. “So to be out here and to see these kids look up to us is really rewarding.”

Port Jeff sixth-grader Shane Wardell said the reason he was at the camp was simple.

“To have fun and to see the varsity team,” he said. “I want to play on varsity some day.”

Senior running back Joey Evangelista echoed Mark’s sentiment, and said he thinks the camp is an important one.

“It shows them what we do up here at this level and it gets them ready for it,” Evangelista said, and then assessed his team’s chances this season. “We have a lot of our backfield coming back, which is awesome. A lot of our line left us last year, but we have some big guys, so I think we can do it.”

Cosci will rely on all 14 of his seniors to set the example for the younger generations and the underclassmen on the team. The hope is to make a deep run in the playoffs.

“From year to year you never know and you always get surprises, but hopefully they’re good surprises,” Cosci said. “We have a couple of holes that we knew we’d have to fill up front because of guys who graduated last year, but every day they’re getting better and they’re working hard and that’s all you can ask of them.”

“I remember when I was that age and we didn’t have a Port Jeff youth program, so it’s nice to be part of … it’s nice to be able to give back to the community and I’m happy that I’m able to be part of it.”

— Jack Collins

The Royals look to improve on the 5-3 conference season from last year, and have a new weapon in their arsenal to get the job done, according to senior quarterback Jack Collins.

“This year we have athletes like we’ve never had before,” the third-year varsity player said. “We have some new kids who are really good outside. We’ve lost some tonnage from last year’s team, so we’re going to have to work on getting the blocks down, but we got players to do it — we have the size to do it.”

Mark said he also likes what he sees in this year’s lineup.

“We have a lot of skill players — our receivers, running backs, quarterback — we’ve got a good bond so far and a lot of really athletic kids, so I’m looking forward to seeing how many big plays they can make,” he said. “But it’s knowing who to block and when, and knowing our schemes.”

Collins reflected on what it means to be involved with the local youth football players in their formative years.

“It’s very important to involve the younger players [because they] are the ones who keep the program going,” he said. “I remember when I was that age and we didn’t have a Port Jeff youth program, so it’s nice to be part of [it]. It’s nice to be able to give back to the community and I’m happy that I’m able to be part of it.”

The Royals will pick up where they left off as they open their season on the road against Miller Place, the team that ended their season in the playoffs last year. The Sept. 8 matchup has a kickoff time slated for 7 p.m.

Cosci said he is optimistic about Port Jefferson’s chances to go further.

“What I like a lot is our skill positions — they’re very dangerous on the football field,” the head coach said. “Even on defense our linebackers and our secondary, we’re very, very strong and as long as we keep going in that direction we’re going to be a dangerous team. Shoreham is the team to beat — we’ve always had a tough time with them, but we’re not just looking to make the playoffs, we’re looking to make some noise when we get there.”

Miller Place's Tyler Ammirato lunges into the end zone. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

You can’t catch Tyler Ammirato, or block Kevin Gersbeck.

The Miller Place seniors raced toward victory for their team, touching the end zone five times in a 42-12 victory over Port Jefferson in the Division IV qualifying round Nov. 4.

The No. 3-seeded Panthers will travel to No. 2 Shoreham-Wading River Nov. 11 for a 6 p.m. semifinal matchup.

Miller Place's Kevin Gersbeck jets down the left sideline. Photo by Bill Landon
Miller Place’s Kevin Gersbeck jets down the left sideline. Photo by Bill Landon

“I thought our kids prepared well all week,” Miller Place head coach Greg Murphy said of the days leading up to the seeding-round match. “They did exactly what we thought they were going to do; they performed well.”

After just 12 minutes, Miller Place had a four-score advantage over the Royals.

First, Gersbeck, a wide receiver, returned the ball 72 yards on the opening kickoff for the early score, and Ammirato, a running back, tacked on the second when he broke outside and ran 15 yards with five minutes remaining in the opening quarter. Senior wide receiver and defensive back Eric Cisneros did what he’s done all season, and split the uprights both times to help his team to a 14-0 lead.

Port Jefferson’s running backs tested Miller Place’s defensive line, but time and time again found nothing.

Miller Place junior quarterback Anthony Seymour bowled his way up the middle with 2:44 left on a quarterback keeper for the third touchdown of the game, and the Royals were forced to punt the ball away on their next possession. Gersbeck struck again when he shed two tacklers and bolted down the left sideline. Cisneros, who was perfect on the evening, put Miller Place out front 28-0.

“They’re a tough team — they always put their heart out there,” Gersbeck said of Port Jefferson. “Our hard work and our preparation — we were focused in practice all week so that was a big part of our win.”

Port Jefferson's Brian Mark makes a leaping catch. Photo by Bill Landon
Port Jefferson’s Brian Mark makes a leaping catch. Photo by Bill Landon

The Panthers’ offensive attack featured several players under center. On the next possession, Ammirato took the snap on a keeper, and grounded out 14 yards for the first touchdown of the second quarter.

“They came out and punched us in the face on defense a little bit, but we knew that was coming,” Ammirato said. “They played tough, but I think we wore them down a little bit. We definitely got our job done.”

Again, the Royals struggled for traction and went three and out.

“They’re a very good football team over there, they have excellent athletes — they have some size and they’re coached very well, so I’m not surprised that they came out ready to play,” Port Jefferson head coach Andrew Cosci said. “I don’t think we played our best game. We played better as the game went on, but after that first quarter, it made it tough to come back.”

Cisneros set up the next score after a catch and run where he was forced out at the 1-yard line, and again, it was Ammirato who finished it, giving the team a 42-0 lead heading into the locker room at halftime.

“Looking at Port Jeff on film, I thought they had some good kids — decent size — but with their lack of numbers, I thought we could wear them down through attrition with the kids we have,” Murphy said. “We took advantage of that first half and we played Miller Place football.”

Forced to go to the air, Port Jefferson junior quarterback Jack Collins started to thread the needle, finding receivers over the middle to move the chains for the Royals. It was their first sustained drive of the game, but Miller Place senior linebacker Shane White put an end to it when he stepped in front of an intended receiver and intercepted the pass.

Miller Place's Anthony Filippetti intercepts the ball. Photo by Bill Landon
Miller Place’s Anthony Filippetti intercepts the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

Murphy had rested his starters to open the second half, and although the Royals were on the move again, the drive was halted when junior safety Anthony Filippetti caught a floater for the Panthers’ second interception of the game. He returned the ball 32 yards.

Miller Place sophomore quarterback Tom Nealis handed the ball off to his running backs to keep the play inbounds while taking time off the clock, but Port Jefferson averted a shutout with just over eight minutes left to play when Collins took matters into his own hands and bulled his way up the middle on short yardage. Port Jefferson failed to complete the 2-point conversion when Miller Place sophomore defensive back Jon Scarlatos stuffed the runner, but with seconds left in the game, Collins threw a strike to senior tight end Brian Mark who scored a 32-yard touchdown as time ran out.

Ammirato said despite the margin of victory, his team still has work to do.

“We’ll study film, practice hard, and go over our game plan every day [for next week],” he said leading up to the game against Shoreham-Wading River. “Our defense has struggled a little all year, but we’ve finally turned that around.”

The Panthers lost to the Wildcats, 27-14, Oct. 14, so Miller Place is looking to improve from its one of just two division losses this season.

“We’ve even been preparing for Shoreham this week in practice, and we’ve been looking for redemption against them since we lost,” Gersbeck said. “It’s going to be a big game.”

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Hail the homecoming kings.

The Port Jefferson football team outscored Center Moriches 36-20 Oct. 8 to put a wet and wild homecoming victory into the record books.

Port Jefferson wide receiver Brian Mark started the scoring in the opening quarter when he caught a 46-yard pass from quarterback Jack Collins for the early lead. The Royals failed to make the 2-point conversion, and Center Moriches tied the score on a three-yard run after the extra-point kick attempt failed. Port Jefferson running back Joey Evangelisa rushed home a two-yard touchdown to re-extend the lead shortly after. The Royals again failed to make the two-point conversion, leaving the score 12-6 entering the second quarter.

Center Moriches scored first in the second stanza, with a touchdown on a 43-yard pass, but the two-point conversion failed. Again, the two teams were tied, this time 12-12. Wide receiver Thomas Mark, Brian’s brother, caught a 57-yard throw from Collins, and Evangelista’s run for a good two-point conversion put Port Jefferson out front 20-12.

Collins continued his strong showing when he rushed seven yards into the end zone for a touchdown in the third quarter. He completed another two-point conversion pass to bring the score to 28-12. While the Royals held Center Moriches scoreless in the third quarter, Thomas Mark got back to work, and caught a 10-yard pass for his second touchdown of the day. Evangelista rushed into the end zone to complete his third two-point conversion in the homecoming game.

Center Moriches caught a 57-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, but the Red Devils couldn’t mount a comeback.

Thomas Mark had 67 receiving yards and 24 rushing yards. Evangelista rushed for 201 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Collins was 3-for-7 passing for 113 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 40 yards on seven attempts with a touchdown. Brian Mark made two interceptions.

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Eleven Royals place in Division II tournament

Port Jefferson's Matteo DeVincenzo competes for a county wrestling title. Photo by Bill Landon

For the fourth time in his varsity career, Matteo DeVincenzo has done it again.

The Port Jefferson wrestler is headed back to states after a 15-0 win over Lajess Sawyer of Center Moriches in the 126-pound final of the Suffolk High School Wrestling Division II championship Saturday night — a win that earned him his fourth county champion title.

Teammates Rick D’Elia and Joe Evangelista also took first at 99 and 120 pounds, respectively. Vin Miceli took second at 113 pounds, falling 3-2 to his Mattituck challenger Jack Bokina, and Dallas Brett was pinned by Babylon’s Bryan Larsen at 145 pounds to put him at second atop the podium.

As a sophomore, DeVincenzo became the first Long Island wrestler ever to capture a D-II state title when he won at 106 pounds. As a junior, he finished third in the state tournament, and this is his last year to try for another state title.

After the disappointing end to his junior season, DeVincenzo is hoping to join Jamie St. John as the only Port Jefferson wrestler to win two state championships in any division.

So far this season, DeVincenzo earned a first-place finish at the David Sorenson Memorial Invitational held at Long Island Lutheran in Brookville, and a week later got a second first-place crown at the Eastern States Classic, held at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake. To earn that latter title, DeVincenzo defeated three other state champions from a field of 60 wrestlers, and was voted Champion of Champions by his peers.

DeVincenzo’s winning season continued when he set a school record of 141 career wins during the Armstrong Cup, held in Port Jefferson on Jan. 30.

The graduating senior, who will attend Princeton University in the fall, is now a four-time Armstrong Cup champion, which according to head coach Mike Maletta has never been done before by any wrestler. He surpassed brother Tristin DeVincenzo’s record 137 wins in his first match there.

Also placing in the consolation finals at the county championship were Brendan Rodgers at 99 pounds, who pinned his opponent at 2:59; the 106-pound Robert Williams, who outscored his opponent 6-3; Joe Longo at 132 pounds, who was pinned by his challenger; Alex Frohnen, who was defeated by his opponent 2-1, at 138 pounds; Jack Collins, who lost 7-1 at 160 pounds; and Ryan Walsh, who did not have a challenger at 195 pounds.

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Sterling Nenninger stares intensely at his opponent before a match. Photo from Mike Maletta

“Watch out for us this year, we’re gonna be good.”

That’s what senior wrestler Matteo DeVincenzo had to say about his Port Jefferson high school team, and the New York State champion may be right.

With a 13-4 League VII record over the last three seasons and a slew of All-County wrestlers returning, the Royals have been working hard in the off-season to bring everything they can to the mat this year.

“Last year we had a bunch of holes in our lineup, [but] with all of the guys we have returning, plus the newcomers, we can spread our lineup out if we have to,” Port Jefferson head coach Mike Maletta said. “To fill out 15 weight classes in a small school is almost impossible, and we’re in a good position right now.”

Despite losing several All-County wrestlers to graduation in June, the team still has seven seasoned seniors and plenty of new additions.

Vinny Miceli has his arm raised after winning his first Suffolk County title. File photo by Deb Ferry
Vinny Miceli has his arm raised after winning his first Suffolk County title. File photo by Deb Ferry

Three guys are fighting for the top spot at the 99-, 145- and 152-pound weight classes. One of the 145-pounders is senior Alex Frohmen, who is coming off of a 28-day intensive wrestling camp in Minnesota.

“It’s not just the wrestling aspect when you go to that camp — it’s the amount of discipline you learn [from] being fully immersed in wrestling for 28 days,” Maletta said. “It’s a huge commitment and the expectations are not only for him to place, but to be on top of the podium in February.”

Frohmen also sees his teammates improving, both new and old.

“Some people are really growing and could definitely break through that threshold,” he said. “We’ve been doing a lot of sprinting, which definitely helps with our conditioning. Port Jefferson prides itself in its ability to wear down people and not be the ones panting at the end of the first period.”

At 106 pounds will be returning varsity starter Robbie Williams, who will build off of his experience from last year, when he wrestled at 99 pounds. Also at 106 pounds will be Joey Collins, whose freshman brother Jack, the quarterback of the football team, will compete at 145 or 152 pounds.

Joey Collins has Down syndrome, but Maletta said the athlete doesn’t let his condition bring him down.

“He brings a special excitement to any match that he wrestles in,” the coach said.

At 113 pounds will be returning county champion Vinny Miceli, who has almost 50 wins as a sophomore. His workout partner, Joe Evangelista, is a two-time All-Country wrestler who will be competing at 120 pounds and also has close to 50 wins.

At 126 or 132 pounds will be seniors DeVincenzo, Sterling Nenninger and Dallas Brett.

DeVincenzo is a three-time All-State wrestler and All-American, and Nenninger, also an All-County wrestler, is looking to improve on his fourth-place finish in the county last season.

“He’s our big gun,” Maletta said of DeVincenzo. “To have him anchoring the team is really exciting.”

Maletta said Brett, who was also named an All-County wrestler, is his wildcard.

“He has a funky style — he can surprise anyone,” Maletta said. “He’s never out of a match with the way he wrestles. He’s got a very unorthodox way of wrestling and sometimes he can surprise a guy with a roll or a throw and he lands on top and he can pin somebody.”

Senior Pedro Nobrega is Maletta’s “160-pound Brazilian import,” in whom he’s seen a vast amount of growth.

Chris LePore, who the head coach said is intense when he gets his motor going, will wrestle at 170. Maletta said he can see that sophomore flipping his record from last season.

Matteo DeVincenzo battles his way to his third Suffolk County title. Photo from Mike Maletta
Matteo DeVincenzo battles his way to his third Suffolk County title. Photo from Mike Maletta

Freshman Harry Cona, who Maletta said is willing to learn and attentive in practice, with great body movement for a big guy, will wrestle at 182. His fellow classmate is 152-pounder Sam Caltagirone.

All-County returner Ryan Walsh will compete at 195 and Nick Kafeiti, a junior who is new to the team, will complete the lineup at 220 pounds.

“Last year we were on the cusp of doing great things, so now we’ve been working hard over the off-season and we think we’re at that point where we can perform,” Walsh said. “You can feel the excitement in the wrestling room. It’s very positive.”

The Royals kick off their season with a tournament at Huntington on Saturday and have their first league meet on Wednesday at home against Southampton at 4:30 p.m. On Dec. 16 at 5 p.m., Port Jefferson will host Babylon on its “White Out” night. The team encourages fans to wear white, and the first 150 in attendence will receive “We Are P.J. Nation” T-shirts.

Nenninger said the expectations are high this season, and the team is sticking to its “PJ Nation” motto of not letting anyone cross its borders, while also making the Royals’ presence known despite being a smaller school.

“We face big schools and it’s not like we just give them the win — we’re always going to put up a fight,” Nenninger said. “We have such a small group of guys, but that only inspires us to work harder. We’re a group of strong wrestlers who feel we can take on the world.”

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By Bill Landon

Although Mother Nature smiled on Port Jefferson Saturday morning during the school’s homecoming day parade, the same could not be said for the football game that followed two hours later. Despite the cold and drizzling rain as gusts of wind spoiled the kicking game for both teams, the Royals (2-2) were able to still show Wyandanch what they’re made of, reigning over the visiting team, 34-8, for a sweet homecoming victory.

Port Jefferson struck first in the Division IV matchup when senior fullback Garret Hiz punched into the end zone for a touchdown eight minutes into the game. Although the ensuing two-point conversion attempt failed, the Royals found themselves with an early lead.

“We came out and gave it everything,” Hiz said. “It was rainy, cold and the field was a mess. It was hard to run out there, but we held our own and we got the win.”

In a game riddled with turnovers, Port Jefferson was on the move again thanks to a fumble recovery by junior outside linebacker John Knapp, which set up the next score. After a long run by Hiz to the 3-yard line, senior quarterback Nick Caltagirone finished the drive. The quarterback also helped score on the 2-point conversion attempt, to help the Royals extend their lead to 14-0 with five minutes left in the half.

Caltagirone and sophomore Jack Collins shared the quarterback duties all afternoon, and like Hiz, Collins was also happy with his team’s performance.

“I thought we played well — our backs just powered through their defense,” Collins said. “The ball was tough to handle, there’s a lot of mud out there and the grass is a lot slipperier than turf.”

Wyandanch coughed the ball up again, and this time, it was the junior linebacker Brian Mark on the recovery as the wind gusted and the rain intensified.

The possession did not lead to another score, but Royals opened the second half looking to put the game away.

Caltagirone got the call on the opening drive, and capped it off by diving into the end zone to make it a three-score game. With a failed conversion attempt, Port Jefferson settled for a 20-0 lead.

The senior quarterback said his team had several miscues, but grew stronger as the game wore on.

“Honestly, I thought we played a little bit sloppy, but overall we kicked it in, especially in the second half,” Caltagirone said. “The conditions were rough, it was a dogfight, it was slick — everybody’s slipping all over the place — but other than that, it was a good game.”

Wyandanch couldn’t get any traction, and turned the ball over yet again. This time, junior linebacker Eddie Park recovered the ball to set up the Royals’ next score.

In the closing minute of the third, with the ball at midfield, Port Jefferson senior running back Michael DiCalogero went to work. When the handoff up the middle went nowhere, DiCalogero bounced it outside and went the distance down the right sideline as he scampered into the end zone. The Royals lost traction, and again failed to convert on the two-point play, as they surged ahead 26-0.

“We wanted to play a clean game — as clean of a game with the elements you have here — but the conditions are definitely more suited for our style of play,” Port Jefferson head coach Andrew Cosci said. “We came out in the second half looking to finish the game, so I was proud of the guys for playing hard the whole game and not letting up.”

Two minutes into the final quarter, the Warriors scored when Christian Flowers bulled his way up the middle, broke free from tacklers and found the end zone. Flowers finished it with two more points, as his team trailed 26-8.

With five minutes left, Caltagirone found the end zone for his third touchdown of the afternoon.

Cosci said it has been a frustrating start to the season, after opening with a win to drop two big losses, 23-8 and 34-6, and he looked for Caltagirone to have the kind of game he did.

“This is the first time we’ve seen him play the way he’s capable of playing, and he can carry a team when he plays like that,” Cosci said.

DiCalogero put the icing on the homecoming cake with the two-point conversion, to put the 34-8 victory into the record books.

The Royals will have their hands full on Saturday when they host undefeated Shoreham-Wading River. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.

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