There was something about Mike Pellegrino that screamed "superstar'' when he was 15 years old. Something special. Something different that Connetquot coach Mike Hansen couldn't quite put into words.
It could have been his field vision, breakaway speed or ability to score from anywhere. It could have been his leadership on defense, where he eventually became an undersized linebacker with an oversized heart.
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Or maybe it was the all- around game he brought to the varsity level as a sophomore. He had that game-changing "wow!'' effect that left T-Birds supporters in awe for three years.
They weren't the only ones who felt that way. Pellegrino won the 51st Carl B. Hansen Award given to Suffolk's most outstanding football player at the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association banquet last night at the Hyatt Hotel in Hauppauge. He is the first player in school history to receive the award.
"My parents gave me the opportunity and the support to play football and were always there for me, and without them this wouldn't have been possible,'' Pellegrino said. "And without a great coaching staff, my teammates, especially all those guys who played on the offensive line, I would not have won this award. I would like for all of them to share in this honor.''
The other finalists were Jesse Scanna of Sachem North and Ryan Rielly of Glenn.
"He is a great competitor because he has a relentless desire to win," Hansen said. "What makes him a great teammate is his unbelievable character as a leader. He is truly the complete package. And I would be lucky to coach another player like him again in my career."
Pellegrino, a two-time All-Long Island first-team selection, led Connetquot to the Division I playoffs for three straight years. This year, with all eyes on him and defensive coordinators developing ways to shut him down, Pellegrino rushed for 1,363 yards and 18 touchdowns in nine games. The 5-10, 180-pounder was moved from defensive back to linebacker and had 111 tackles, including 84 solos, 18 tackles for a loss, nine sacks and three forced fumbles.
"We absolutely had to shut him down to beat Connetquot," Floyd coach Paul Longo said. "When a coach develops a game plan centered around stopping one player, he's got to be pretty special.''
A quadriceps injury and a severe hip pointer forced Pellegrino - who is one of Long Island's premier lacrosse players and has accepted a scholarship to play at Johns Hopkins next year - to miss some time.
"He didn't have to risk injury and maybe lose his scholarship," Connetquot defensive coordinator Mike Konsevitch said. "He learned the linebacking position in the offseason and became the leader and heart and soul of our defense. He played through pain and was the ultimate warrior."
Konsevitch said Pellegrino's courage and commitment to the team was reflected in the respect of his teammates. "He tried to outwork everyone in practice, and that stimulated the team," Konsevitch said.
Pellegrino rushed for 1,122 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior. He also caught 16 passes for 202 yards.
In fact, from the moment Pellegrino returned his first kick, Hansen had something special. It was Sept. 19, 2008. Pellegrino settled underneath a Whitman punt and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown, the first of 41 in his high school career.
As a sophomore, Pellegrino served notice on Suffolk's Division I that he would have to be reckoned with for three years. He was a key component as a lockdown cornerback, halfback and special-teams player as Connetquot won the 2008 Long Island Class I title.
"You can point to so many things that he did that made us a better team,'' Hansen said. "And it wasn't just scoring touchdowns or making open- field tackles. He was doing the little things that make a difference. He had those rare qualities that come along only so often for a coach.''
Hansen said Pellegrino's pre-game speeches were inspirational. Pellegrino earned the Thunderbird Award given to the player who exhibits qualities such as leadership, hard work, dedication, courage and coachability.
Konsevitch said the plan is for Connetquot to put a sign in the locker-room doorway that reads "Play Like A Thunderbird!"
And a certain Hansen Award winner will be pictured on the sign.
2010 - Mike Pellegrino, Connetquot, RB
2009 - JeVahn Cruz, Half Hollow Hills West, QB; Malcolm Cater, Riverhead, LB
2008 - Miguel Maysonet, Riverhead, HB
2007 - Brock Jackolski, Floyd, HB
2006 - Ed Gowins, Bellport, HB
2005 - Chris Eanuzel, St. Anthony's, QB
2004 - Jason Gwaltney, North Babylon, HB
2003 - Jason Gwaltney, North Babylon, HB
2002 - Trevon Rodney, Babylon, HB
2001 - Josh Johnston, Harborfields, HB
2000 - Eugene Nottingham, Amityville, HB
1999 - Omar Palmer, North Babylon, RB/LB
1998 - Barry Baker, North Babylon, RB/S
1997 - Derrick Rossy, Patchogue-Medford, RB/LB
1996 - Marc Riley, Longwood, QB/DB
1995 - James O'Neal, Sachem, RB
1994 - Joe Parmentier, Lindenhurst, FB/LB
1993 - Jason Schuster, Longwood, QB
1992 - Jamie Lynch, Islip, QB
1991 - David Sumner, Northport, QB/FS
1990 - Antonio O'Ferral, Bellport, QB/DB
1989 - John Paci, Huntington, QB
1988 - Adam Mariano, Comsewogue, RB
1987 - Darren Ward, Huntington, RB
1986 - Tom Gilmartin, St. Anthony's, back/LB
1985 - Mark Wojciechowski, Sachem, line
1984 - Randy Beverly, C. Islip, quarterback
1983 - Craig Biggio, Kings Park, back
1982 - Tom Watson, Bellport, tackle/DE
1981 - Joe Gagliardi, St. John Baptist, QB
1980 - Rodney Cooke, Bellport, back
1979 - Kevin Baugh, Deer Park, back
1978 - Kevin Riccio, West Islip, guard/LB
1977 - Brian Dehler, Sachem, quarterback
1976 - Mike Tice, Central Islip, quarterback
1975 - Chris Dieterich, W. Melville, tackle
1974 - Tom Donovan, Holy Family, back
1973 - Rich Scudellari, Holy Family, back
1972 - Chad Smith, Sayville, quarterback
1971 - Curtis Smith, Brentwood, back
1970 - Jamie Franklin, Brentwood, back
1969 - Dan Scott, Amityville, tackle
1968 - Tom Tarazevits, Southampton, tackle
1967 - Frank Ahrenhold, Northport, tackle
1966 - Kevin O'Connor, Commack, back
1965 - Gary Steele, Commack, back
1964 - Bob Lavinia, Smithtown, back
1963 - Hal Becker, Port Jefferson, back
1962 - Bob Schroeder, Lindenhurst, center
1961 - Jim Smith, Harborfields, back
1960 - Len Sears, West Babylon, tackle