It happened on an August afternoon, on a seemingly routine play. Under a summer sky, Carey quarterback Ray Catapano provided a harbinger of autumn.
"It's kind of goofy because it was in a game scrimmage against Floral Park,'' Carey coach Mike Stanley said, "but he had a play in which he was flushed out of the pocket and scrambled to the left and made a throw to Andrew Ris for a touchdown."
Latest HS sports stories
It was an "Aha!'' moment that turned out to be a pretty good barometer for the season ahead.
Catapano frequently made something out of nothing and helped make the Seahawks something very special as they soared to a historic season for the player, the school and the community of Franklin Square.
"When that happened, I said, 'Man, we're going to be pretty tough to defend, not just with his arm, but with his athleticism,' " Stanley said. "We knew what he could do in the pocket; we knew what he could do in the read-run offense. But when we saw what he could do when it kind of breaks down and it might be a play for a loss . . . He's not only making it a positive play but he's making a big play out of it."
Catapano, a 6-2, 175-pound senior, made many big plays from first game to last. For his efforts in guiding Carey to a 12-0 record and its first Long Island championship, he was named the 72nd recipient of the Newsday Tom Thorp Memorial Award Wednesday night at the Nassau County Football Coaches Association banquet in Woodbury. Catapano also shared the Don Snyder Award with Lawrence quarterback Joe Capobianco.
The other Thorp finalists were Farmingdale running back-defensive back Curtis Jenkins and Roosevelt running back-defensive back Johnnie Akins.
"It was an evolution. He got better each week," Stanley said of Catapano, Carey's first Thorp winner, who threw for 2,141 yards and was amazingly efficient, with a Long Island-best 36 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. "He did a great job all year of keeping things alive in our passing game if we had pressure. We got a lot of big plays that way."
None was bigger than Catapano's scramble in the fourth quarter against longtime nemesis Garden City in the Conference II title game. Catapano escaped the rush to find Dylan DeMeo for a 36-yard touchdown pass with 5:16 left that provided the winning points in a 20-16 victory.
A week later, in the Long Island Class II championship against Riverhead, Catapano's legs and arms were again the difference in a 20-6 victory, as he threw for one touchdown and ran for another by making a spectacular cutback move to avoid a sack.
Like many of his improvised plays, Catapano took a meandering path to stardom as a quarterback. At the start of the 2012 season, he was a starting wide receiver and cornerback, with his good friend Ris at quarterback. But Ris tore his labrum in Week 2 and switched to wide receiver in Week 3, eventually seeing his season end because of a broken collarbone. Catapano answered the call in relief, played well down the stretch and won a spirited duel for the starting quarterback position last summer.
Ris, though admittedly disappointed he didn't win back his quarterback job, willingly completed the role reversal with his friend by becoming one of the team's best receivers and defensive backs. Ris threw a touchdown pass on an option play and caught a TD pass in the LIC.
"It's a great story," Stanley said. "It speaks to both of them on how well they handled the situation of being very good friends who wanted the same job and literally, within two years, switched roles. I can't imagine it being handled any better than they did."
The last part of Catapano's total evolution from receiver-defensive back to quarterback was assuming more of a leadership role. At the start of preseason, he was not one of Carey's three captains.
"But after our preseason, heading into Week 1, we named Ray as the fourth captain," Stanley said. "As well as he had played in 2012, we wanted to see him be a vocal leader that players could get behind; be that commander of the offense. He showed us he could do those things."
Catapano gave a command performance in 2013.