By Joseph Wolkin
Ward Melville has recently made headlines for having another pitcher drafted to the New York Mets, following in the footsteps of Steven Matz.
But for the second year in a row, the high school is sending multiple football players to the collegiate level. In 2015, five Patriots were sent to either Division II or III schools, highlighted by former All-County quarterback Jeff Towle, who set the standard by making the jump to Pace University.
Quarterback Matt O’Hea, linebacker Patrick Morelli, defensive end Tom Lorusso and running back Nick Cervone will each be playing college football come this fall.
Led by second-year head coach Chris Boltrek, the Patriots finished the year 5-3, sixth out of 14 teams in Division I Section 11, ending with a playoff loss at Connetquot.
While the team usually makes headlines for baseball or lacrosse, Boltrek hopes to continue the recent trend of sending football players to that next level.
“I think it’s a reflection of their hard work and dedication to the sport, the team and the program,” Boltrek said. “You can see what football does for student-athletes. It provides them with opportunities. We’re talking about helping students get into a Division III school with great academics, and it helps them get into that school they might not have gotten into before. When you have that, it really gives you the ability to have more options when high school is over.”
And that was one of Boltrek’s main goals when he took over the program.
“It’s about continuing this process and hopefully getting them into larger schools,” he said. “One kid has been in Division II, and the other eight are all Division III. There’s a difference in competitiveness and the level of competition as you go from division to division. There is definitely more Long Island football out there in recent memory, and I’m trying to get the Ward Melville guys to be a part of that as well.”
With each of this year’s recruits being sent to Division III teams, Boltrek feels there will be more opportunities for future players, and he wants to get the attention of the bigger schools.
“I think it just comes with success, and hopefully, the work the coaches and kids put in turns into success on the field,” he said. “We’ve been trending in the right direction. The longer you can keep that up, the better chance you have at becoming [like] the lacrosse program or the baseball program because they’ve been consistently successful for years.”
O’Hea threw for 1,933 yards in nine games his last season, giving him the 11th most passing yards in New York. With a 119.2 passer rating, he was named to the second team All-Long Island, along with the first team All-Division, offensive MVP, and was Ward Melville’s Male Athlete of the Year.
O’Hea is heading off to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he will fight to become a starter. Looking to continue his success off the field, he plans on majoring in mechanical engineering.
“I’m going to have to go there and work for it,” O’Hea said. “My high mechanics throughout high school haven’t been up to par, so I need to work more on my mechanics when I go to college.”
Playing quarterback his whole life, O’Hea made the transition to wide receiver last year. However, he returned to his original position during the 2015-16 season, tossing 20 touchdowns in his final year with the Patriots. He grew up playing basketball and baseball, but evidently decided football was his focus because of what he calls “a college year.”
“A lot of it is about attracting kids to come out for football,” Boltrek said, using O’Hea as an example. “The good lacrosse athletes do not specialize. We have to get them to play football and make them recognize that playing football will actually help them with their other sports.”
Morelli will be going to Hamilton College in the fall, and Lorusso is traveling to Endicott College in Massachusetts.
Named one of the captains of the Patriots, Lorusso emerged as a team leader in his sophomore year, and started every year after, at defensive end and tackle, along with playing fullback and offensive tackle. Leading Ward Melville with three sacks, Lorusso also had a team-high nine quarterback hurries. He became a second team All-Division honoree this year, and was named the team MVP.
Cervone is joining the Allegheny College Gators in Pennsylvania this fall. Serving as one of the team’s captains this past season, he received the team leadership MVP, along with leading the team with 680 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
As a result of Boltrek’s dedication and drive to push his players, his athletes are now off to college, attempting to build on what they started with the Patriots.