The Player of the Week Award was made for people like Mendham’s Anthony Del Russo. After, a brutal season boobie trapped with injuries to key players, freak bad luck and a very competitive schedule, Del Russo and his Minutemen were given an unlikely opportunity to completely turn around their 1-7 season. If they would beat 1-7 Morristown, and get a little help from some other teams in their state section, they could actually make it to the state tournament and compete for a state championship. Not only Del Russo respond, but he responded big time!
Since their season had been plagued with tough breaks, this was one chance Mendham was not going to let slip away. Last Saturday Mendham buckled down and played shutdown defense allowing Morristown only 13 points. Offensively, they exploded for 35 points on the back of Del Russo who rushed 22 times for 300 yards and three scores.
As the results of the other sectional match-ups materialized, the Minutemen realized that their performance against Morristown helped propel them into the state tournament. Considering Del Russo was the at the heart of Mendham’s win, Morris Sussex Football named the Week 8 Player of the Week in his honor.
Morris Sussex Football caught up with Del Russo to talk about his team’s performance against Morristown, the Minutemen’s early season woes and what it means to make it to MetLife Stadium for a state final appearance.
Morris Sussex Football: With the hopes of a playoff birth depending on the outcome of this game against Motown, was their any way you guys were going to lose this one?
Anthony Del Russo: The entire team knew what this game meant and we all came into the game with the mentality that this was the moment we were going to turn the season around. With that attitude the rest just worked itself out. We played harder, better, faster and stronger because we all had something to fight for.
MSF: It seemed like this was a whole new team during the last two games. What is going on with you guys?
AD: The team is just finally coming together. After facing a bunch of just hard nosed teams in the beginning of the season we were disappointed but never discouraged. We kept our heads up and worked relentlessly and now we seem to finally be playing mistake free football and that is what is making the difference.
MSF: You’re not a weak team. Why do you think Mendham struggled during the first half of the season?
AD: The first half of the season was marked by many injuries and personnel changes all over the team. But that is no excuse. We knew what we were up against in the beginning and just struggled to play at the level we needed. Our team had many tough breaks at crucial points in many games that broke us apart, but those are surely going away.
MSF: When did you guys start to realized that even with an 0-6 record you still had a chance to make the State Tournament?
AD: After the crushing defeat against Roxbury we all had to find something to hold onto to keep us believing in ourselves. We all eventually did the math and, with some luck, deduced that it was not unlikely that we would make the playoffs. We just stopped feeling sorry for ourselves, pulled ourselves out of the dirt and played tough football from that moment on.
MSF: Who are the unsung heroes of your team?
AD: As a run heavy team, our offensive line is definitely the driving force of our team. From end to end, John Obiedzinksi, Captain John DelTufo, Anthony Marconi, Captain Matt Kuhn, Sam Ridenour, Chris Stoltenborg, and Matt Flanagan. Not to mention our defense who has been consistently effective all season. Scott Smullen and Sophomore Tim Byrne are LOCKDOWN edge players. Our secondary consisting of Sophomore Chris Jones, Joe Beneducci, and Ross Coapman are very hard working and some of the best athletes I’ve seen. Lastly, it goes without saying, the notoriously hard hitting Captain Luke Tamburello at linebacker.
MSF: Who on your team is the flat out best athlete?
AD: One of our Captains, Matt Flanagan. I have never seen a player play as good as he does with such consistency. He is always there in every play making integral blocks, key catches on offense, or big tackles and sacks on defense.
MSF: Of you and your teammates, who would win in the forty?
AD: Chris Jones would definitely give me a run for my money.
MSF: If you had to run five yards for a TD, who on your team would you NOT want to face?
AD: Matt Kuhn. That Captain of ours could squat four of me and bench two of me. Needless to say he is an ox.
MSF: Who is the best team you faced all season?
AD: Roxbury. They just capitalized on us every chance they had. We didn’t have too many yards against them, but they made us pay for each one.
MSF: Who was the best player you played against during your high school career?
AD: Roxbury’s Donald Panciello was one of the most penetrating linebackers I’ve found myself up against. I always had to account for him on each play
MSF: What was the highlight of your high school career to date?
AD: Definitely the recent Morristown game.
MSF: Who is your role model?
AD: My father. He embodies everything I would like to be. He is a hardworking and self made man from a young age.
MSF: What player lightens the mood with humor on your team?
AD: When the team is down, Joe Beneducci is always there to lighten the load. I don’t think anything gets to Joe.
MSF: What was the funniest thing that has happened on your team this year?
AD: Definitely cannot discuss that here.
MSF: What past or present NFL player do you think your play most resembles?
AD: I have no idea, but a lot of people compare me to Ahmad Bradshaw. Probably because everyone I know is a Giants fan.
MSF: What famous person should play Coach Kirk in a movie?
AD: Probably Beau Bridges
MSF: What makes Coach Kirk the most furious?
AD: When we don’t execute at 100% speed all the time in practice. Nothing less that 100% is accepted or tolerated.
MSF: What conditioning drill do you hate the most?
AD: Post-Practice 40 yard ladders. I despise them.
MSF: What will it mean to this Mendham team if you guys are playing at MetLife in four weeks?
AD: Everything. Everyone on the team wants nothing more than to play there and hopefully win there. It is without a doubt everyone’s number one priority.
Honestly, you haven’t subscribed to our free weekly Monday Morning Quarterback newsletter? No wonder you’re not sitting at the cool table at lunch time. Sign up below and be in the know of everything football in Morris Sussex.
[button link=”http://morrissussexsports.us5.list-manage1.com/subscribe?u=682752142eba1eee8d78a77da&id=0ebaf7f2fb target=””]Subscribe to the MSF Newsletter [/button]