Wildcats ready for football season after emotional loss last year

Wildcats ready for football season after emotional loss last year

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Jimmy Puckey and Kevin Cutinella carry Tom Cutinella’s jersey onto the Stony Brook University field for the Long Island Championship game. File photo by Bill Landon

By Clayton Collier

Following a 2014 season that began in tragedy and ended with the program’s first Long Island Championship, the Shoreham-Wading River football program returns to the field well-prepared to contend for another title.

The Wildcats persevered to complete a perfect 12-0 season while coping with the loss of teammate Tom Cutinella, who died following a collision during a game at John Glenn High School on Oct. 1.

“It is an incredible story, but one I’d never want to live through again,” Shoreham-Wading River head coach Matt Millheiser said. “In the end, we lost Tom, and although the season ended miraculously and kind of storybook, it’s something we wish we didn’t have to go through.”

Millheiser said it was difficult for everyone following the loss of Cutinella, but from a coaching perspective, it was particularly hard to handle.

A sign with Tom Cutinella’s jersey number sits above the press box above the soon-to-be old Wildcats athletic field. File photo by Bill Landon
A sign with Tom Cutinella’s jersey number sits above the press box above the soon-to-be old Wildcats athletic field. File photo by Bill Landon

“It’s not something that you can even find anybody to ask advice on how to handle that as a coach or as a person or a friend,” he said. “So we kind of did our best to be there for each other and get through it.”

To keep his memory alive, Shoreham-Wading River will name its new multipurpose athletic field after Cutinella. While construction takes place, the Wildcats will play home games at Rocky Point High School. Millheiser said he wants future Shoreham-Wading River athletes to know who Cutinella was.

“He lived his life in a certain way that we want our players and our team to live up to that and remember that always,” he said. “And naming the field after him is a constant reminder of how we want to do things and how we want to act. His name and his legacy will carry on.”

The Wildcats picked up right where they left off last year in their season opener Friday night in Riverhead against McGann-Mercy, besting the Monarchs in a 35-0 rout. Cutinella’s brother, Kevin, scored a touchdown in the first quarter.

“They play with a lot of enthusiasm and our kids matched that and were able to make some big plays early then stay in the lead,” Millheiser said. “It was a good game between two good teams, and fortunately we made a few more plays than they did.”

Millheiser said his team’s hard play was a positive but would like to see some improvement on blocking.

The game was also the first test for new quarterback Jason Curran, who replaces All-County quarterback Danny Hughes. Though Hughes was a special player, according to Millheiser, he has the utmost confidence in Curran’s abilities.

“I think he has the ability to do the things that Danny did, but he’s gaining experience,” he said. “He’s still going to have to learn the football side of it. You don’t just walk into a huddle and have the kids follow you. You got to kind of earn that from them. There’s no doubt in my mind that he will, but it’s going to take a little bit of time.”

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