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West Haven coach Ed McCarthy holds photo showing who is No.1. Photo courtesy of Russ McCreven.
Tom DeMorro (front far left) listens as Mayor Richard Borer honors the 2002 state champions. Photo courtesy of Russ McCreven.
‘Westies’ are #1
By Ned Griffen (NH Register 12/11/02)- Class S champion Ansonia (13-0), the state’s only other unbeaten team, placed fifth while Class SS champion Hillhouse (11-2) finished 10th.
Starting on Thanksgiving Day, the Westies knocked off one unbeaten team after the next. It began with a 29-14 win over Fairfield Prep, followed by a 47-26 Class L semifinal win over Norwich Free Academy on Dec. 3.
The Blue Devils ended their perfect season their win over FCIAC champion Greenwich.
Big game? Look for DeMorro
By Scott Cacciola
And now, with 29 seconds remaining in the third quarter of the Class LL state championship game against Greenwich in Bridgeport on Dec. 7, the two West Haven teammates exchanged knowing glances as DeMorro set himself as the right wideout on the Greenwich 27-yard line, opposite Jim Cabrera, the Cardinals’ outstanding defensive back.
DeMorro could not feel the cold or the sharp breeze that cut against his back or the pressure of the situation. The senior only felt anticipation.
After Amato took the snap, DeMorro sprinted seven yards straight downfield, made a quick inside move with a stutter step and realized that Cabrera had made a subtle adjustment, shifting his hips to the inside.
DeMorro, also one of the top defensive backs in the state, recognized it. With that, almost instantaneously, he broke to the outside and gained a half-step on his defender. Edging closer to the goal line, DeMorro looked skyward as the football fell like a heavy teardrop and settled in his arms. He dove into the end zone for the score.
DeMorro, the 2002 Register All-Area Most Valuable Player, had a knack for making the big play this season, on both sides of the ball. His two scores against Greenwich set the stage for Phil Banks’ fourth-quarter touchdown run, which pushed West Haven to a 20-13 win and its first state championship since 1989.
His coaches have marveled over his football acumen, his desire, his leadership and his instinctive feel for the game.
Ed McCarthy, the West Haven coach, said that DeMorro was a "marked man" by November but played his strongest football late in the season, when the klieg lights burned brightest.
"The bigger the game, the more he stood out," assistant coach Frank DeGennaro said.
DeMorro logged six of his 13 touchdowns this season in his final three games, matchups with teams that entered their tilts with the Westies sporting a collective record of 32-0-1. All three left with losses, all three – Fairfield Prep, Norwich Free Academy, Greenwich – done for the season. West Haven finished 12-0.
DeMorro caught 33 passes for 671 yards, scored 82 points and rushed for 138 yards on 28 carries, filling in during the middle of the season for a beaten-up backfield.
"I think we just wanted the ball in his hands, anyway," assistant coach Rich Boshea said.
On defense, he tied his own school record with nine interceptions and made 55 tackles.
He is kinetic and emotional both on the field and off. More than one coach described DeMorro last week as a "high-motor" individual, a description that was used endearingly. Once upon a time, it probably was not.
DeMorro calls himself a reformed "mess-up," a student who once lacked direction in school and may have dropped out if not for one stabilizing force in his life: "Football," he said.
Growing up in Meadowbrook was not easy. Although the West Haven neighborhood has been cleaned up to a certain extent in recent years, it was a gritty section of town, DeMorro said, a place rife with drug pushers and gangs, where the echo of gunfire sometimes rang across the streets, where machismo was worn like a badge.
"Every day at the football game outside, there was a fight," he said. "It was a wild neighborhood. There was a lot of stuff going on there – drugs going in and out, gangs. Somehow, you’ve got to get through with all of that."
By the time DeMorro reached high school, the neighborhood was very much a part of him. Bert Siclari, an assistant coach who also runs the in-school suspension program at West Haven, said that DeMorro was not immune to the occasional street fight.
"And he was real good at it," Siclari said. "Not as good as I once was, but he was getting good at it."
"I was a jerk," DeMorro said. "I didn’t care about my grades. I wasn’t taking school seriously, and my attitude was very immature. I didn’t care. I didn’t listen to anybody."
Toward the end of his sophomore year, DeMorro changed. His athletic ability had always been evident – his nine interceptions as a sophomore established a school record – but he still struggled to find maturity away from the field. The key was developing a way to extend the discipline of the football season to the rest of the year.
Part of his success was borne of self-realization – that he had a chance to earn an athletic scholarship to college but was throwing it away with bad grades. He simply grew older and wiser, he said.
In addition, Siclari took a vested interest in DeMorro. DeMorro soon was a constant presence in Siclari’s office, where he would do classwork and study game film during free periods.
"He just kept me in check," DeMorro said. "I don’t know, seriously, if I would have played football my senior year – or if I’d even be in school – if it weren’t for him."
With new focus and determination, DeMorro hit the weights this summer and added 15 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot frame, intent on becoming a two-way threat and rectifying West Haven’s loss to New Britain in the Class LL semifinals last year.
DeGennaro, who returned to West Haven after coaching at the college level for more than 10 years, worked with DeMorro from the preseason, emphasizing preparation and fundamentals. DeMorro refined his footwork on defense, DeGennaro said, and quickly became adept at reading varied coverages on offense.
"He made me a star this year," DeMorro said. "He didn’t let me get away with anything. Because he was looking at me during practice, it made me push myself harder."
No one will ever accuse DeMorro of lacking confidence. After burning Greenwich’s single coverage in the championship, he said, "I don’t care if it’s two-on-one. I’m going to make the play." He also just happened to mention to the entire student body at a pep rally last week that he was named All-State (an announcement that was met with loud cheers.)
"I talk more trash at school now than I ever did," he said. "I think I’ve earned it."
It might seem surprising, then, that DeMorro is highly superstitious. He said that he would not be able to compete on the field without his game-morning breakfast: orange juice and a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich on a hard roll, which he would pick up with teammates on the way to school. Fran Lytwinick, his first-period math teacher, quickly grew accustomed to young Tommy protein-loading in the back of her classroom.
"She knows on Fridays that I’m in another world," DeMorro said. "She’s cool. She just lets me be."
And every week, he would break out a fresh pair of $40 gloves. Without them, he said, he would likely struggle.
"Gotta be a new pair every week," DeMorro said. "If I look good, I’ll play good. That’s just me."
"If those things helped him," DeGennaro sniffed, "then God bless him."
College recruiters have been dropping by West Haven. DeMorro said that he would prefer to stay relatively close to home so that his mother, Joanne, can attend his games. She did not miss more than one of his high school games, home or away, in the past three years, he said. He also said that he needs to continue to improve his grades.
After all, Tom DeMorro is a work in progress. He has found respect and honor through football, and those who know him best are pleased with the results.
McCarthy, who does not seem the sort to recklessly share his emotions, said that if DeMorro were his son, he would be very proud.
"And that’s the greatest compliment we can give," he said.
2002 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Dec. 7 at Kennedy Stadium, Bridgeport
1 2 3 4 Total
#2 Greenwich (11-1-1) 7 0 0 6 - 13
#1 West Haven (12-0) 0 7 6 7 - 20
1Q G - Kevin Longo 5 run (Zach Ostrowski kick)
2Q W - Tom DeMorro 10 pass from Derek Amato (Amato kick)
3Q W - DeMorro 27 pass from Amato (run failed)
4Q G - Longo 43 pass from Jim Cabrera (kick failed)
4Q W - Phil Banks 50 run (Amato kick)
MVPs: Tom DeMorro (West Haven), Kevin Longo (Greenwich)
Phil Banks scored on a 50-yard run with 38 seconds to play to give West Haven a 20-13 win in the Class LL championship game Saturday at Kennedy Stadium in Bridgeport.
Banks scored on a 4th-and-1 play when it looked as though the game was destined for overtime.
Tom DeMorro scored two touchdowns on receptions from quarterback Derek Amato for West Haven (12-0). DeMorro caught passes of 27 and 10 yards. Greenwich got a 30-yard touchdown pass from Jim Cabrera to Kevin Longo to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Longo opened the scoring in the first quarter on a 5-yard run.
Greenwich ended the season 11-1-1. Banks led all carriers with 87 yards on 13 carries as West Haven finished the season 12-0.
Dec. 3 at Ken Strong Stadium, West Haven
1 2 3 4 Total
#4 NFA (11-1) 12 7 7 0 - 26
#1 West Haven (11-0) 3 23 13 8 - 47
WH - Derek Amato 26 FG.
NFA - Zach Niland 36 pass from J.J. Justice (run failed).
WH - Maurice Little 4 run (Amato kick).
NFA - Justice 5 run (pass failed).
WH - Phil Banks 1 run (Levi Jordan pass from Amato).
NFA - Will Bashelor 51 run (Chris Bohara kick).
WH - Tom DeMorro 33 pass from Amato (Amato run).
WH - Banks 1 run (Amato kick).
NFA - Niland 70 pass from Justice (Bohara kick).
WH - Little 40 run (kick failed).
WH - DeMorro 8 run (Amato pass from DeMorro).
West Haven scored on nine of its 12 possessions in the game on the way to a 47-26 win over Norwich Free Academy at Strong Field Tuesday night.
Phil Banks and Maurice Little both scored a pair of rushing touchdowns and Tom DeMorro rushed for one score and caught a touchdown pass for the Blue Devils.
West Haven, the Class LL's top seed, improved to 11-0 on the season and will face Greenwich in the final at Kennedy Stadium at Bridgeport on Saturday at 2 p.m.
NFA finished the season at 11-1. The Wildcats got a pair of touchdown passes from J.J. Justice, who also ran for another.
Dec. 3 at Boyle Stadium, Stamford
1 2 3 4 Total
#3 New Britain (9-1) 7 7 0 7 - 21
#2 Greenwich (11-0-1) 14 6 13 7 - 40
G - Charles Kolb 4 run (Zachary Ostrowski kick)
NB - Mike McLeod 8 run (Mike Garcarz kick)
G - Tielor Robinson 1 run (Ostrowski kick)
G - Kevin Longo 43 run (kick blocked)
NB - Julian Cartie 80 kickoff return (Garcarz kick)
G - Jim Cabrera 2 run (run failed)
G - Robinson 1 run (Ostrowski kick)
G - Robinson 64 run (Ostrowski kick)
NB - Elfren Quiles 4 pass from Andru Maisto