Tom Itri paused during his final tribute speech on Tuesday afternoon, leaning up against the podium on the stage of Tuckahoe High School’s auditorium and glancing down at the six athletes seated in front of the room.
“I’ve spoken about these guys so much and this is actually very bittersweet,” the Tigers’ football coach said, “and this is probably the last time I’ll get to talk about them like this.”
Itri and the Tuckahoe administrators, coaches and teachers celebrated the unique and accomplished group of senior athletes during the school’s College Commitment Ceremony.
Six impending graduates were honored for continuing their athletic careers at the collegiate level:
Matt Annunziata – Football – Curry College (Mass)
Alex Williams – Football – SUNY Brockport
Alex Marcovici – Football – Buffalo State
Cameron Lee – Football – SUNY Maritime
Ryan Rockhill – Baseball – SUNY Maritime
Daniel Bellis – Tennis – SUNY Delhi
Matt Annunziata headlines the group after a record-breaking senior season and career as Tuckahoe’s quarterback. Initially, Annunziata committed to play at Buffalo State but changed to Curry College after visiting the campus last month.
“When I went to visit Curry College, I felt so much more at home there,” Annunziata said. “All of the guys welcomed me and the coaches were awesome. It was where I wanted to be.”
In two years as starter at Tuckahoe, Annunziata became the school’s all-time leading passer and set the single-season mark with 1,617 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1,007 yards and 14 scores last season as Tuckahoe went from 1-7 in 2016 to 7-2 and Section 1 champs last fall.
“They want me to play quarterback,” Annunziata said. “They run a West Coast style of offense. They like the way I run and they feel I can get better with my accuracy and my footwork.”
The most inspiring and emotional story of the day belonged to Alex Williams. The 6-foot-4 wide receiver is headed to SUNY Brockport despite missing most of his senior year with a torn ACL.
Itri told the story of the day Williams suffered his injury and learned there was no guarantee he’d be able to play football again. “I was so heartbroken for him,” Itri said. “Yet he was the one making me laugh and lifting my spirits, and he did it for his team.”
Williams said, if anything, the injury has motivated him now more than ever before.
“It was rough at first,” Williams said. “I never thought about (not playing again). A real athlete would never let themselves get dejected like that.”
Williams said said he was inspired by NFL star Adrian Peterson, who suffered the same injury and returned stronger. Brockport sought Williams despite the limited game tape.
“(Brockport) told me I have a lot of potential and I love that word,” Williams said. “But it’s about potential. It’s about results and I plan to work hard and get those results.”
Two other members of Tuckahoe’s section championship football team will play at the next level.
Alex Marcovici, a fullback/linebacker, committed to play at Buffalo State. Marcovici recorded 55 tackles last season.
Offensive lineman Cameron Lee celebrated his decision to continue his career at SUNY Maritime. Lee helped open holes for a Tuckahoe offense that amassed over 4,000 total yards last season.
Another Tuckahoe football player, Daniel Belles, will play tennis at SUNY Delhi. Belles is a baseball player in the spring at Tuckahoe but will change sports in college.
The final honoree was Ryan Rockhill, who may rank among the most underrrated baseball players in Section 1. The senior catcher will play at SUNY Maritime.
“I went to one of their games and I really loved the SUNY Maritime atmosphere,” Rockhill said. “Those guys really get after it there and, coming from a small school, I really wanted to be a part of it.”
Rockhill is a strong-armed catcher with an improving bat. He’s out to get Tuckahoe a Section 1 championship before competing at the next level.
“I have to work for playing time and I don’t mind that at all,” Rockhill said. “If there’s one thing in life I’m cocky about, it’s that I’m always going to work hard. I’m ready to go there and compete.”
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