Boston High School: Niko Sierra

Rotsko leaves lasting impression on MIAA football

June, 21, 2012
6/21/12
3:14
PM ET
LONGMEADOW, Mass. -- When people look back on Alex Rotsko’s tenure as head football coach at Longmeadow, it won’t necessarily be the eye-popping records set and accolades acquired that are remembered first.

It won’t be the career 184-39 record or the 15 straight Super Bowl appearances. It won’t be the 11 Super Bowl victories, 10 straight league titles or that 47-game winning streak that captured national recognition.

It will be the gigantic footprint Rotsko left on high school football in Massachusetts that first comes to mind.

Rotsko, who will become the head football coach at Marshwood High School in South Berwick, Maine this fall, obviously left quite the impression on the town of Longmeadow. But Rotsko’s influence didn’t stop at city limits. No, Rotsko’s impact was felt at all levels of high school football in Western Massachusetts and throughout the MIAA.

And, now, Rotsko’s most proud of how his involvement in such organizations has led to other area coaches becoming engaged.

“I’d like to think it’s improved over the years,” he said. “I see a lot more coaches involved. I know that when I was coaching at AIC and was involved in the National Football Foundation, the first year I came to Longmeadow, I was the only high school coach involved.

“Here’s an organization that does most of their work involving high schools and I’m the only high school coach. It was embarrassing. Now, you have a lot more coaches involved. (East Longmeadow’s) Scott Raymond, (Westfield’s) Bill Moore, (West Springfield’s) Chad Labonte; those guys have done a wonderful job getting involved.”

Rotsko has been instrumental in the growth of various local organizations devised to improve high school football and served as Western Massachusetts’ unofficial ambassador to the state’s football coaches association as well as the MIAA.

He became the president of the Western Mass. chapter of the National Football Foundation, helping the group grow to new lengths and serving as founder of the annual Shriners Chowder Bowl, which pits the top seniors from Western Mass. against those from Central Massachusetts. In 2009, he was honored by the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame for his leadership.

“He has the highest integrity,” said Nick St. George, who’ll take over the Lancers after being Rotsko’s right-hand man for the past 19 years. “He has work ethic you try to teach people about. I’ve heard many players refer to his work ethic. They see how hard he works and don’t want to let him down. He always does the right thing. He talks about playing football the right way and living the right way.”

Of course, when it comes to Rotsko, it will be hard not to speak of the impressive winning resume. Longmeadow, under his reign, won its 11th Super Bowl championship this past December at Gillette Stadium. With a team putting its third-string quarterback under center because of a rash of injuries, the Lancers didn’t skip a beat, ultimately dismantling upstart Springfield Central for yet another title.

It was among the best coaching jobs on a long list of them for Rotsko, who will remember the dirt-dog teams even more than some of his most talented.

“Some of the years we were 8-3 and had to work a little harder were among my favorite,” Rotsko said. “Those teams and the ones like we had year, those are the most fun for coaches. We may not have had the most talent but we got the most out of the kids.”

Rotsko was celebrated Wednesday at Longmeadow High School. Or at least he was supposed to be. In true Rotsko fashion, the coach spent time remembering the people and stories that will stick with him forever, regardless of his location.

He remembered Spencer Kimball, the player who practiced all season to play only on Thanksgiving Day because religious beliefs prevented him from playing on Fridays and Saturdays.

Or the one about Niko Sierra, who played the majority of the Lancers’ 21-0 Super Bowl victory over Leominster in 2007 with a broken foot. Sierra, a running back and linebacker, didn’t have the heart to tell Rotsko, who was fired up about proving wrong a report in the Worcester Telegram that questioned the toughness of kids from Longmeadow.

He remembered the 80-55 win over Minnechaug in 2008, which, as Rotkso puts it, was simply, “unforgettable.”

Or the time his team was receiving their Super Bowl rings at a ceremony in school and a student asked one of the players the cost of the rings. The player’s reply: “About nine months of hard work.”

Even this year’s win at Gillette Stadium: “I won’t remember the game,” he said. “But the whole scene going to the stadium, walking past the Patriots, the sights and sounds and seeing the Patriots watch us play.”

Rotsko leaves Longmeadow football in terrific shape. The system has worked for years and St. George returns with 25 years of experience and a complete coaching staff.

“I think with Nick stepping in, it’ll be a natural transition,” he said. “He’s been around here longer than I have and knows the town, the people and the system. I don’t imagine he’s going to change a lot of things.”

The Lancers also return a large chunk of their 11-2 Western Mass. Division I Super Bowl championship team. Frankie Elder, who powered Longmeadow in the Super Bowl victory as quarterback, will return to his normal position and be the featured back in the team’s Wing-T offense. John Falcone, the incoming junior quarterback who missed nearly the entire 2011 season because of an injury, will enter camp as one of the top passing threats in Western Mass.

The only thing that will change, it seems, is the man roaming the sidelines.

“Right now, it’s about keeping the kids hungry and keeping the desire to excel and keep doing what we’re doing,” St. George said. “You can’t replace Alex Rotsko but we’re going to do the best job we can.”

Rotsko leaves Longmeadow with a lot of wins and only one regret. He wishes he would have enjoyed the run more.

“My biggest regret is not slowing down, relaxing and enjoying it,” he said. “It’s game after game, practice after practice, year after year. And, all of a sudden, it’s 19 years later and it’s done. You look back and say, ‘why didn’t you enjoy it more’ but you get focused on what you’re doing and that’s how it is.

“But, on a night like this, you get to look back and remember everything.”

Thanksgiving football leftovers

November, 27, 2010
11/27/10
7:00
PM ET
WHALERS' ACES IN THE HOLE
No. 21 New Bedford's worst fears were realized in the first quarter against Durfee. Although mired in a scoreless tie, the Hilltoppers carried play early behind their Wing-T attack and running back Keith Omosefunmi. Things only got worse when Whalers offensive and defensive lineman Lance Burlingame when down with a meniscus injury on a defensive play in the first quarter. Durfee later scored the first touchdown of the game, but New Bedford got it right back on the ensuing kickoff with Nate Lewis' 72-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Although the Whalers had to mix and match their line, New Bedford was more efficient on offense in the second half. The line provided ample time for junior quarterback Myles Medeiros to throw and created the lanes in which running back Phito Gondre could run. Darian Sousa-Bizarro moved over from guard to left tackle in Burlingame's absence and Tyler Ollivierre filled in at left guard, showcasing New Bedford's depth on the line. Ollivierre was also instrumental in clogging up the middle at defensive tackle.

"The way Coach [Dennis Golden] runs practices, all the linemen get time to practice," Medeiros told Scott Barboza on Thursday, "so when somebody goes down we have the confidence that the next guy can get the job done."

However, the Whalers might miss Burlingame more on the defensive side of the ball when it comes to Tuesday's Division I semifinal playoff game against St. John's Prep. Burlingame was dominant in New Bedford's Big Three win over Brockton in neutralizing Boxers running back Trevon Offley. The same could be said for the Eagles' physicla offensive line and speedy running back Tyler Coppola.

"We're just taking it one game at a time and one day at a time," Medeiros said. "We got to where we wanted to be. We're Big Three champions. Now, we'll focus on what comes next."


IT IS NOT A THIN LINE

The St. John’s Prep offensive line is becoming somewhat legendary. Besides from opening up holes, they also escort their running backs down the field for touchdowns.

“Those are the plays that you get pumped for,” said Dan Culkeen, a 5’11’’, 252-pound senior. “As a lineman, you don’t get much glory, but those are the plays that people will see. I’m out there leading my best friend Tyler, and he does his thing. I get one block and he’s gone.”

The quarterback draws worked well for St. John’s, running them through almost every hole on the line, to the point that it seemed that Tommy Gaudet was just looking to run through an open space, but that wasn’t the case.

“We’re not a read team,” Gaudet said. “On the option we are, but mostly we’re running where we’re blocking. We try to move it up and down the line...get them to where they’re not comfortable in their defense. We were just trying to make it hard for them.”

“Every lineman on our team is All-Conference,” lauded Gaudet. “No matter what hole we run to, it’s the same. They’re all unbelievable at what they do.”

MIDDIES UP TO TASK
Dracut turned in one of its best defensive performances of the season during Thursday’s 19-12 triumph over No. 6 Methuen, which entered the contest averaging 31.6 points per game.

The Middies held the Rangers to 268 yards of total offense, but 105 of those 268 yards came on two plays – a 58-yard pass from quarterback Cal Carroll to Eric Lacroix, and Ryan Savastano’s 47-yard run.

“They got a couple of big plays, but they didn’t really drive the ball against us,” Dracut head coach Jason Houston said. “We wanted to stop the run. We felt that was the key, and we did a pretty good job of doing that.”

Dracut came up with three turnovers, including two interceptions in the second half.

Savastano, who entered the game with 1,225 yards rushing, was held to 75 yards on eight carries. The Middies (8-3) had surrendered at least 21 points in six of their other 10 games.

“It was one of the better defensive efforts I’ve seen in a while,” Houston said.

The victory gave Dracut a 26-19-3 edge in its series with Methuen, which dates back to 1963.

BIG PLUNGE FOR 'BIG A'

Malden senior Aaron Samano, the team's captain and a humanitarian (literally) off the field, was rewarded for his dedication on Thanksgiving morning in a unique way only befitting for a 6-foot-1, 300-pound nose tackle -- with the rock.

On the Golden Tornadoes' opening drive of their 29-0 win over storied archrival Medford, with the ball at the Mustangs' one yard line, head coach Joe Pappagallo called for a "tackle right", one of their standard plays, only with Samano as the ballcarrier. Samano admitted he was nervous at first when quarterback Kevin Valley came into the huddle with the call.

"It was almost like, I can't believe he's actually calling this right now," said the humble lineman, affectionately called "Big A" by his teammates. "I never thought it would come so early in the game, that we'd open up with it. I didn't want to let anyone down, so I held the ball as tight as I could."

Samano followed his blockers left, then took a reverse pivot and plunged right for the one-yard score, and then celebrated his score with a LaDainian Tomlinson-style flip of the ball and jumping around with his teammates.

"I was excited, I was fired up," Samano said. "It felt great to actually score a touchdown, after four years of blocking, then to actually run one in, it just feels great."

After a slew of preseason hype, the 2010 season was a disappointing one for the Tornadoes, who finished 5-5 and 3-1 in the Greater Boston League. But things are just heating up for Samano, who is being recruited by several Division 1 schools, including Harvard and Duke.

TWO JARRING COINCIDENCES

Flashback #1: It was two years ago, when Longmeadow traveled to East Longmeadow riding a state-best 47-game win streak into Thanksgiving Day weekend 2008. Longmeadow was trailing 16-13 but rallied behind junior quarterback Conor Hobert on a drive in the final minutes.

The game came down to a Longmeadow fourth down with 19 seconds left, when Hobert lobbed up a pass from around 20-yards out to Niko Sierra. Sierra dove for the ball but was covered well by East Longmeadow’s Dave Fraboni. Fraboni swatted the ball down in the end zone, and EL upset Longmeadow in thrilling fashion.

2010 implications: Sophomore Austin Sierra, younger brother of Niko, recovered a fumble in the end zone to upend the Spartans 13-7 in overtime on Thanksgiving. The fumble was recovered in about the same spot in the end zone (in front of the right side goal post) where Fraboni knocked down Hobert’s pass in 2008.

The fumble recovery won the AA conference title for the Lancers.

“I just saw it drop and all I was thinking was, ‘jump on it!’” Austin laughed about after the game. “I think it was great, kind of a hard game and we just came out with the win.

“Defensively we did great, offensively, well -- we had a couple of fumbles.”

The Lancers did have several fumbles but only one was recovered by East Longmeadow. It’s safe to say that the Lancers will be alright if Austin keeps picking up the mistakes like he did on Thanksgiving.

Flashback #2: Longmeadow had not lost a home game since 2004, and to lose to East Longmeadow would compound the pain. The Lancers had gone up 21-19 over the Spartans on Thanksgiving but were crossing their fingers on a 45-yard field goal that could win the game for EL.

EL’s Ray Holloway was well short on the field goal (which was pushed back after an intentional grounding call on the previous play) and took the brunt of the blame for the loss after time expired.

2010 implications: Holloway had a chance at redemption. After his team cut up the Longmeadow defense in the fourth quarter. EL was looking to take the lead 10-7 with 18 seconds left. Instead of going for the end zone though, coach Scott Raymond wanted to play it safer with a field goal attempt. He called a timeout, and the team ran a belly to the left to center the ball between the hashes.

Raymond then called another timeout and after a Longmeadow timeout, Holloway stepped up to the plate again. It is hard to imagine that in a rivalry so close and intense, a circumstance would present itself in such similar circumstances two years in a row.

The crowd hushed as Holloway’s kick was pushed well right and short of the goal posts, and Longmeadow survived an epic defensive collapse. The Lancers then seized momentum stopping EL first in overtime and then scoring afterwards.

After the game, it was a tough scene as Holloway and his co-captains let their emotions show on the field. When the fans cleared from East Longmeadow High School, almost 10 minutes had gone by and Holloway was still going over the kick in his mind standing in the same spot.

“You hate to lose the way we lost at the end here, but what are you going to do?” Raymond said after the game.

“I hate to see them hurt. I hate to see them hurt as bad as they are right now,” “Especially a kid like Ray…its an awful lot to put that pressure on a kid two years in a row.”

No one can blame Raymond for the call. No one can blame Holloway for the kick.

Holloway played his heart out on Thanksgiving even if the numbers didn’t show it. He was an integral part of a defense that shut down the number one offense in Western Mass, and a top-15 offense in the state.

Holloway is a stud running back, emotional leader, and certainly in contention for the Daegenais, Bertelli and ESPNBoston.com WMass Player of the Year Award.

COACHING DUEL

Longmeadow coach Alex Rotsko and East Longmeadow coach Scott Raymond both run the Wing-T offense. Both coaches are sticklers for leverage, positioning, timing and execution, and around Western Mass, anyone can tell you that neither call “sexy” plays.

However their bland running styles took a turn on Thanksgiving and both debuted some new additions. In fact, both even showed off an inside shovel pass -- which is uncharacteristic of the Wing-T disciples. East Longmeadow actually brought out a Wildcat set, early in the second half, and used an empty backfield to spread the field on their fourth quarter drive.

“We were trying some different things, but its just that they played so tough,” Raymond said. “…it was pretty good football.”

“I don’t think you could ask for two more evenly matched teams at this point,” Raymond said. “Both teams are the best in Western Mass and they’re so competitive -- you can’t deny that it’s been exciting.”

“Our defense played really well -- except for the last series of the game,” Longmeadow senior Jeff Anderson said. “Our teams run identical offense so we know the insides and outs of them. So we knew basically it was going to come down to who was going to make plays.”

“We couldn’t establish anything with the inside run game or the outside run game,” Rotsko said. “They were just pressing the line of scrimmage.”

Both coaches will have to rally their teams back into shape quickly. The first playoff game is set for Tuesday and both teams are hoping for super bowls this year. After the game Rotsko’s team was very somber during the post game speech listening to the coach intently.

However when asked about the speech Rotsko paused, and then answered: “I actually don’t remember what I said,” Rotsko said with a laugh.

Coaches, players and families were caught up in the emotion across the state on Thanksgiving Day 2010, and it was surely one for the ages.

SPONSORED HEADLINES