Easterling stars on both sides of the ball for Stepinac
By KEVIN DEVANEY JR.
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: November 22, 2007)
WHITE PLAINS - Football coaches usually have that one memory of a star player tucked in the back of their mind. It's a jaw-dropping run or a game-saving tackle, and Stepinac coach Mike O'Donnell can recall ones for every great player he's had.
Except, though, for Maurice Easterling.
"The truth is," O'Donnell said, "Mo has about two or three of those plays every week."
Easterling is just that type of talent. At 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, he blends in physically on a Stepinac team loaded with size. But Easterling, a running back and safety, always finds ways to make his presence felt.
"From the moment he got here, you could see he's a true football player," O'Donnell said. "When he walks out on the field, he's already so polished and he knows the game so well."
Easterling highlights a defense that's guided Stepinac to eight straight victories, including Sunday's CHSFL AA Division championship victory, a 47-12 rout of Christ the King for the school's first championship since 1995.
The Crusaders are on the cusp of making school history. A win today over rival White Plains in the city's 27th annual Turkey Bowl at revamped Parker Stadium at Highland Middle School and they'll become the first team in program history to win 10 games in a season.
Easterling has done his part in every one of them. Stepinac's only two-way starter, he's rushed for 883 yards (7.4 average) and 10 touchdowns and caught 19 passes for 326 yards and seven scores. On defense, he's second on the team with 98 tackles and leads it with seven interceptions.
"It's become pretty hard for teams to stop me and Rashaad (Slowley)," said Easterling, who took over as the featured back in the three games Slowley was injured this season. "I've got to just keep myself in shape for when I have to do both again next year."
Aside from excellent vision, those around Stepinac will attest that nobody hits harder than Easterling. For somebody who's 5-8 to even be considered for that distinction is saying something.
"It's hard to find kids who play with reckless abandon the way he does," O'Donnell said. "When you find a kid who can take over that whole area of the field like that, it's priceless.''
"So many guys look at him and think 'I'm going to run right through this guy,' " junior linebacker Blake Rzemieniewski said. "Then he comes up and runs right through them. It's unbelievable."
There was a time when Easterling didn't think he'd last a week at Stepinac.
He contemplated transferring to Roosevelt High in Yonkers simply because he didn't know how he fit into the team, and especially life in a Catholic school.
"I didn't want to be here at first. I didn't feel comfortable," Easterling said. "But after my first game last year, my mind changed. We played Xaverian and I didn't even play that well. But I realized this was a good place for me."
Easterling stuck it out and made an impact as a freshman. He totaled 516 yards of offense and caught five touchdowns, and intercepted three passes on defense.
He's already on course to continue his career into college. O'Donnell has begun sending out highlight tapes to Division I schools and said the response has been very strong.
"We've got to wait and see how big he gets," O'Donnell said. "He's got unbelievable hips, which is something college coaches look for. Great athletes have great hips. I know over the years, I haven't had many kids I can compare him to."
Reach Kevin Devaney Jr. at email@example.com. Read his Varsity Insider blog at