The Colts practiced all week for their game against Newton, with new looks on offense and adjustments to defense. These were the kind of modifications we’ve come to expect from our best coaches—as though it’s easy to take a squad of fifty plus high school guys and change them in a week—but Coach White was doing this, and even adding an extra play, one he hadn’t used the whole season. He called it the “Rotolo Special,” and the boys drilled it, maybe with more enthusiasm than all the others they’d learned so far.
It was nearly the end of the season, and the Colts were a week away from learning whether or not they’d make it into playoffs. They had one regular season game to play against the Braves.
Fourth quarter, Colts are up, and Travis Rode, senior LB/RB, found himself with an open field, three guys in pursuit, when he executed that newly installed play—and he tripped on the one-yard line, downing the ball.
“My mom was so mad,” Rode laughs. “No one knew what we were doing. They thought I was just being clumsy.”
As things can go, an extra player on the field set the Colts back for a five-yard penalty. Next down, Liam Nelson, also a senior RB/LB, had his number called. A hand-off from superstar QB Kyle Presti, and Nelson bolted for the endzone and—again—tripped on the one-yard line, just shy of what would be the final TD scored in the regular season by a team that had mostly played together since third grade.
Parents were starting to suspect something was going on.
The “Rotolo Special” had been called. According to both Nelson and Rode, Kevin Rotolo was the most deserving player on the team to take the ball into the endzone, a feat he hadn’t pulled off all season despite giving “110 percent” at practices, despite being “the guy the team leaned on” during tough times, and despite being able to “boost the team’s moral” no matter the circumstance, according to Nelson and Rode.
Next down, the “Rotolo Special” played out. Kevin Rotolo carried the ball through the plane and the team had “the biggest celebration they’d had all year,” says Nelson. “We will do anything for each other. Stats don’t matter. There are no egos on this team.”
“The ultimate goal is to win a state championship,” Rode explains, “but the most important thing is the life lessons and friendships.” Rode hopes to attend Lycoming College next year, possibly to play lacrosse and study anatomy for an eventual career in chiropractics.
Nelson is looking to play football next year, and still considering his options. His hope is to pursue a career in sports management. His words for younger players? “Treat every moment like it’s your last. I’m at peace (with the team’s lack of post-season play) because I did this.”
Props to Coach White and the parents of the Kinnelon Colts for raising these young men, and, mostly, to the Colts for their brotherhood, and their willingness to share their story.