Football all-stars: It was Taps for Stepinac's foes
Stepinac's Austin Taps is scary good on a football field
His varsity debut arrived last season at Iona Prep and it quickly resonated. Stepinac’s No. 85 had announced himself to both the league and the county as a two-way menace, one capable of dragging down quarterbacks and ball carriers for losses only to later leave would-be tacklers gazing at the sky.
First impressions are often fleeting. Not this one. “If we sold Austin Taps jerseys at our games this year, they would have been a very hot item,” coach MIke O’Donnell said. “Everyone who watched him loved the way he played the game — except for our opponents.”
They were terrorized throughout Taps’ senior season, one that earned the 6-foot-5, 235-pound force the CHSFL’s top defensive honor and helped drive the Crusaders to their first-ever AAA championship game. Now, with Division I colleges in competition for his services, the Mahopac resident can add The Journal News Westchester/Putnam player of the year to his credentials.
Taps finished with a team-best 10 sacks, forced two fumbles and ranked fifth on the defense with 51 solo tackles and 83 total. He often did so shedding double teams and avoiding cut blocks, but the added attention failed to diminish his impact.
With his team considered an underdog at home against speedy Xaverian in the CHSFL semifinals, Taps rallied the defense, flummoxing a backfield loaded with Division I prospects. He recorded 13 tackles and two sacks and helped teammate Vincent Narog force a fumble in overtime to end the game.
Taps then slowed St. Anthony’s dreaded option in the CHSFL final. He repeatedly got to the quarterback as Stepinac held the Friars to one offensive touchdown and none over the final three quarters.
When asked about his impact, Taps credited senior Garfield Heslop, who replaced Syracuse redshirt Donnie Simmons at the other defensive end. He also pointed to technique work with the team’s new line coach, Steve Moroney, a former three-year starter at Penn.
“I learned a lot from him,” Taps said. “Everything he taught us was just top notch. Without his coaching, I wouldn’t have had the defensive year we had. Having him was a big thing for our team.”
But Taps success doesn’t just hinge on his defense. He also ranked second on the team with 22 receptions, 358 receiving yards and four touchdowns catches as the starting tight end.In fact, consider this: Among the schools that have already offered Taps scholarships, William & Mary, Lafayette and Holy Cross consider him a tight end. Penn, Delaware and others who have offered official visits view Taps as a defensive end.
“I don’t really have a preference for what I play in college,” he said. “Whatever the team needs.”
That has been Taps’ mantra since he transferred in as a sophomore. He spent that first season as a sophomore sitting out due to league transfer rules, participating at practice mostly on scout teams.
Stepinac coaches and the team’s fans soon braced for a sudden impact, only the rest of the CHSFL felt it most.
“He had a great attitude and a never-ending work ethic to get better,” O'Donnell said. “Probably his greatest asset is that he plays angry every play. He is one of the nicest kids you ever want to meet. But when he is on the field and the ball is snapped? Watch out.”
The Journal News and LoHud.com announced its Rockland All-County team and Westchester/Putnam All-Stars today. If you missed it, here’s a look at the all-county picks.
The top honor in Westchester/Putnam went to Stepinac senior Austin Taps (left). The tight end/defensive end was a two-way terror for the CHSFL AAA runner-up. He caught 22 passes for 358 yards and four TD on offense and had 10 sacks, 81 tackles and forced two fumbles. It earned him the league’s defensive player of the year award and has helped earn scholarship offers from William & Mary, Lafayette and Holy Cross, plus official visits from Delaware, Penn and Georgetown, among others.
Read more about Taps here.
The coach of the year award went to another first-year guy, Dobbs Ferry’s Jim Moran. He led the Eagles back to prominence, guiding them to their first Section 1 championship in four years and to a Class C state title. After losing their season opener, they won 11 straight, including a 39-0 wipeout in the state final.
Thanks to all the coaches who offered their assistance in the selection process.
Here’s a look at the rest of the all-star honorees:
Jessie Mainiero, Croton-Harmon: The 5-10, 185-pound senior led the Tigers to the Class B state final, winning most outstanding back honors in the Section 1 final and state semifinals. He passed for 1,056 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 1,129 yards and 25 touchdowns. Mainiero even added 76 tackles and three interceptions on defense.
Danny Caiola, John Jay: The 5-9, 190-pound senior rushed for a team-best 1,211 yards and 10 touchdowns on the Class A runner-up to earn his league’s most valuable back honors. He is considering Gettysburgh, Union, Cortland and RPI.
Christian Conway, Bronxville: The 5-10, 202-pound, Yale-bound senior led Section 1 with 1,885 yards rushing and scored 30 touchdowns. He produced six 200-yard games for the Class C runner-up, including a playoff game against Blind Brook in which he scored six touchdowns on just 10 carries.
Ke’shaun Stallworth, Pelham: Albany, Stony Brook, Towson and Wagner have shown interest in the 6-0, 180-pound Stallworth after he rushed for 1,003 yards and 14 touchdowns and caught 13 passes for 414 yards and three more touchdowns. He even had two interceptions at linebacker.
Vincent Narog, Stepinac: The 6-2, 175-pound two-year, two-way starter has begun to attract Division I interest after leading the Crusaders with 24 catches for 655 yards and scoring nine touchdowns. He also ranked fourth on the CHSFL AAA runner-up with 61 solo tackles and 3 1/2 sacks from his outside linebacker spot.
John Brennan, Croton-Harmon: At 6-4, 235 pounds, the senior was a terror at offensive tackle and on the defensive front, where he recorded 10 sacks and recovered two fumbles. He earned most valuable lineman honors in the league and in the Section 1 championship.
Kyle Ricciardi, Croton-Harmon: The four-year starter earned postgame accolades in all three of Croton’s state playoff games. The 6-2, 215-pound center/linebacker also recorded 93 tackles and 5 1/2 sacks.
Keith Robinson, Gorton: The two-year, two-way starter is a two-time all-section lineman. At 6-2 and 315 pounds, Robinson anchored an offensive line that paved the way for more than 2,700 rushing yards and helped the team snap a two-plus-year losing streak and eventually return the Wolves to the playoffs.
Ryan Sanders, John Jay: The 6-4, 240-pound senior earned his league’s most valuable lineman honors for shining on both sides of scrimmage for the Class A runner-up. He has received interest from several Division I colleges, including Marist.
A.J. Wolf, Hackley: The Duke-bound Wolf played tackle, linebacker, fullback, long snapper and kicker for the Hornets, averaging 15 tackles and one sack per game on defense. The 6-4, 247-pounder finished a storied three-year career with 251 tackles.
Anthony Caldararo, New Rochelle: Despite battling injury, the 6-4, 220-pound senior stood at the center of the Huguenots’ typically stout defense while also playing some tight end. He has received interest from Division I, II and III schools — including Albany, Villanova and Stony Brook — but remains undecided.
Lance McDowdell, Mount Vernon: The imposing 6-4, 290-pound senior recorded 84 tackles, including 14 for loss, and six sacks to earn the league’s most valuable lineman honor. He received interest from Syracuse and Towson but will likely attend prep school.
Kameron Tedder, Iona Prep: The 6-3, 235-pounder was a two-year, two-way starter for the Gaels. The all-CHSFL lineman has earned Division I interest from Villanova, Albany and Sacred Heart.
John Yozzo-Scaperrotta, Dobbs Ferry: The 6-2, 200-pound force had 48 tackles, eight sacks and two interceptions, one that he returned for a touchdown for the Class C state champ. He also rushed for 740 yards and 12 touchdowns at halfback, including a 92-yarder against Bronxville in the Section 1 final. He earned Class C’s top back honor and will play lacrosse at Brown.
Darien Bica, Dobbs Ferry: The defensive leader of the Class C state champ recorded a team-best 74 tackles at linebacker and was named Class C’s top lineman. As a 5-11, 180-pound guard, the future Manhattan lacrosse player anchored an offensive line that paved the way to 400-plus yards per game and a 39-0 shutout in the state final.
Kemet McLean, New Rochelle: The 6-0, 185-pounder took over as both the featured back and inside linebacker and became an instant star. He earned his league’s most valuable lineman honors, and led the Huguenots past rival White Plains in the playoffs thanks to a 100-yard day.
Andrew Miller, Rye Country Day: The 5-9, 175-pound Middlebury-bound senior was voted first-team all-New England after recording 69 tackles. He also led the unbeaten Wildcats with 1,243 yards and had 17 touchdowns.
Justin Combs, Iona Prep: The 5-9, 165-pound senior defensive back recently considered scores of major Division I overtures before committing to UCLA. He also shifted to quarterback and passed for 614 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for another 196 yards.
Declan Myer, John Jay: In just his first season as a starter, the 5-10, 175-pound senior safety became the top defensive playmaker on the Class A runner-up. He also returned two kicks for touchdowns, including a 99-yarder in the playoffs against Somers.
Sam Stern, Rye Country Day: The 5-7, 165-pound senior earned first-team all-New England honors for the second straight year after rushing for 1,226 yards and 11 touchdowns, as well as intercepting two passes and returning two kicks for scores. Several top Division III schools have recruited the speedster, including Hobart and Ithaca.
Garrett Washington, Rye Country Day: This 5-10, 180-pound first-team all-New England senior intercepted four passes and forced four fumbles for the Fairchester champ. He also had 867 yards from scrimmage as a quarterback and 17 total touchdowns and has drawn interest from several colleges, including Albany.
Justin Ciero, Horace Greeley: Fordham, Villanova, Rhode Island, Byrant, Marist and scores of Division III school have shown interest in the 6-foot, 200-pound senior, who had 1,000 yards passing and rushing for the second straight season. He rushed for 1,035 yards and 17 touchdowns and passed for 1,047 yards and four touchdowns in his third season as a starter.
Mark White, Stepinac: At 5-10, 175 pounds, the junior shuffled around the offense with aplomb. He led the CHSFL AAA runner-up with 1,092 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. He also passed for 341 yards and three scores, caught eight passes and returned kicks and punts.
Roberto Bruno, Harrison: After helping the Huskies reach the Carrier Dome last season, Bruno kicked five field goals his senior season. He also went 37 for 38 on extra points and delivered touchbacks on 80 percent of his kickoffs.
Coach of the year
Jim Moran, Dobbs Ferry: In his first season, the former Rye Country Day assistant and Hastings native returned one of the section’s most storied programs to prominence. The Eagles finished with 11 straight wins en route to the program’s fourth state championship. All but one came by two touchdowns or more, including a 39-0 romp in the state final. Dobbs also ended a four-year drought by winning the Section 1 Class C title, 38-14 over defending state champ Bronxville, thus avenging its only loss.
QB: Nick Mariano, Jr., Yorktown
RB: Brett Poniros, Sr., Mamaroneck
RB: Eddie Ritch, Sr., Dobbs Ferry
RB: Shaquille Townsend, Jr., Iona Prep
WR: Jack Lambert, Jr., John Jay
TE: Caleb Gilligan-Evans, Sr., Stepinac
OL: Travis Coleman, White Plains
OL: Eric Cooley, Sr., Yorktown
OL: Charlie Credendino, Jr., Harrison
OL: Chris Groton, Sr., Somers
OL: Tommy Hopkins, Jr., Westlake
DL: Odaine Franklyn, Sr., White Plains
DL: Garfield Heslop, Sr., Stepinac
DL: Dennis O’Connell, Sr., Croton-Harmon
LB: Jackson Conway, Sr., Bronxville
LB: Mike Scotman, Sr., White Plains
LB: Joe Simolacaj, Sr., Rye
LB: Dan Stein, Sr., Ardsley
DB: Steve Bencosme, Jr., Sleepy Hollow
DB: Chris Cooper, Jr., Iona Prep
DB: Shaquille Evans, Sr., New Rochelle
DB: Dan Fischer, Sr., Iona Prep
K: Przemyshaw Popek, Sr., Stepinac
Athlete: Spencer Avalos, Sr., Dobbs Ferry
Athlete: L.J. Garrant, Sr., Sleepy Hollow
QB: Jeff Avery, Sr., White Plains; Brian Connolly, Sr., Ossining; Brian Crosby, Sr., Sacred Heart; John D’Onofrio, Sr., Westlake; Khalil Edney, Jr., New Rochelle; Tyler Keech, Jr., John Jay; Jaime Ketchabaw, Sr., Blind Brook; Vin Nicita, Sr., Harrison; Justin Riccio, Jr., Woodlands; Nick Vallo, Sr., Sleepy Hollow.
RB: Stefano Bicknese, Jr., Somers; James Blank, Sr., Carmel; Rob Carinci, Sr., Eastchester; Spencer Chernus, Sr., Fox Lane; Kevin Degnan, Sr., Irvington; Byrant Dain, Sr., Haldane; Malcolm Downey, Sr., Woodlands; Dan Eremita, Sr., Lakeland; Tim Hedge, Sr., Mount Vernon; A.J. Kalmancy, Sr., Byram Hills; Tim Leone, Sr., Scarsdale; Tim Soave, So., Dobbs Ferry; Thomas Watson, Sr., Gorton; Rob Yurkowski, Jr., Kennedy.
WR: James Cole, Sr., Woodlands; Andrew DiRienzo, Sr., New Rochelle; Gabe Kardish, Jr., Ardsley; Sam Lacour, Sr., Ossining; Jon Marrero, Sr., Briarcliff; Charlie Montgomery, Jr., Pleasantville; Jahiem Seabrook, Sr., Port Chester.
TE: Christian Dedvukaj, Jr., Yorktown; Thomas Fleming, Sr., Dobbs Ferry; Henry Heintzman, Sr., Haldane.
OL: Sean Barry, Sr., Hen Hud; Joseph Bellantoni, Jr., Tuckahoe; Mike Bonilla, Sr., Brewster; Sean Callahan, Sr., Bronxville; Ray Durrett, Sr., New Rochelle; Evy Elledias, Sr., Byram Hills; Jesse Gwin, Sr., Stepinac; Matt Keough, Sr., Rye; Will Oliver, Sr., Gorton; Daniel Ryjov, Sr., John Jay; Brian Sillery, Sr., Putnam Valley; Jenn Somboonthum, Sr., Scarsdale; Sean Triandis, Sr., Bronxville.
DL: Joe Hanley, Sr., Somers; Dylan Lynch, Sr., Rye; Jon Miller, Jr., Pelham; Gary Moss, Sr., Tuckahoe; Chibueze Nwakeze, Sr., Rye Country Day.
LB: Allen Arrington, Sr., Sacred Heart; David Arturi, Sr., Somers; Sherlon Bacchus, Sr., Mount Vernon; Alex Bennett, Sr., Irvington; Matt Berni, Jr., Iona Prep; Tom Cirillo, Sr., Eastchester; Miguel Diaz, Jr., Peekskill; Chris DiNardo, Sr., Irvington; Jon Kulik, Sr., Blind Brook; Sebastian Montenegro, Sr., Ossining; James Moss, Sr., Haldane; Jimmy O’Reilly, Sr., John Jay; Nick Shaw, Sr., Stepinac; Aaaqil Sheppard, Jr., Iona Prep; Ryan Wasylenko, Sr., Stepinac.
DB: Daniel Liriano, Sr., Gorton; Jake Meyerson, Sr., Rye; Rick Ortiz, Sr., Putnam Valley; Jordan Samuels, Sr., Carmel; Adam Tavolilla, Sr., Brewster.
Athlete: Anthony Cugini, Sr., Scarsdale; Patrick Donahoe, Sr., Mahopac; Connor Gembecki, Sr., Putnam Valley; Nick Grous, Jr., Croton-Harmon; Julien Higgs, Jr., Harvey; Matt Fata, Sr., Dobbs Ferry; Elias Lopez, Sr., Haldane; Shoran Tamura, Jr., Irvington; B.J. White, Sr., Sacred Heart.