In the Friday night lights game against Farmingdale this season, East Meadow linebacker Billy Andrle powered through the offensive line and nearly sacked the quarterback -- forcing the option pitch before tumbling to the ground.
The Dalers ballcarrier made something of that play, cruising deep into Jets territory with nothing but end zone in front of him. The touchdown seemed imminent and the tackle came out of nowhere -- a shooting streak from about 30 yards out with a big blue "40" stretched over his wide shoulders.
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Never mind that Andrle had been rolling on the ground seconds before; the play hadn't ended yet and, for him, this meant his job was to get up, make up for lost ground, and keep Farmingdale off the board.
Andrle, a junior, was the recipient of Newsday's Tom Thorp Memorial Award for most outstanding player in Nassau Sunday afternoon at Crest Hollow County Club in Woodbury.
Andrle's list of accolades is so long that, despite performances such as the one against Farmingdale, it had little to do with his defense. It had everything to do with the bulldog mentality he showcased that night, the fact that the bruising fullback rarely took a break, and his overall contributions to a team coach Vinny Mascia said would not have been the same without him.
"He was the main guy for us," Mascia said. "When he was out, we were a different team. I think he responded tremendously to being a leader this year . . . He was outstanding."
Andrle, a two-year starter who cut his teeth with Rob Healy, last year's Thorp winner, rushed for 1,307 yards on 163 carries. He averaged 8 yards per carry, scored 23 touchdowns and added four two-point conversions. He is the fourth East Meadow player in nine years to win the hardware -- far outstripping any other team in that span. Andrle scored 146 of East Meadow's 277 points and amassed more than half of the Jets' offensive yards. He did this all in eight games, since East Meadow won one of its contests by forfeit.
Despite seeing more limited time on defense, he had 49 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks and nine tackles for a loss.
Runners-up for the award were MacArthur's Tom Kelleher and Lawrence's Eddie Robinson -- both seniors and both hugely accomplished in their own right, with Kelleher breaking school records in rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and points, and Robinson being integral in earning his school's Long Island championship title.
"I was actually really shocked," said Andrle, who let out a gasp when his name was called. "Oh my God, I was shaking. I really thought Eddie was going to win it."
Andrle this season was an absolute workhorse, Mascia said, occasionally carrying the ball 30 or more times per game. Though the Jets ran the triple-option, there was often little doubt as to who was getting the call. Even so, opposing defenses had great difficulty stopping Andrle, a stocky 5-10, 205-pound cannonball who has quickly become known for his ability to burst through the dense tangle of bodies before breaking free downfield.
"He's a big, strong kid with speed," Mascia said. "So he's into the line and he's out of there before you know it. He's hard to tackle. You're not really going to come out and get in front of him and try to reach your arms out to him because it doesn't work. He's too quick and he's too strong."
Above all, Mascia said, Andrle proved a stabilizing force for a team that had lost its Thorp winner and went through a series of ups and downs. Though East Meadow finished the regular season 6-2, it had an early exit from the playoffs, losing to Massapequa in the first round. The bitter ending almost makes Andrle's personal accomplishment a little sweeter, and a little more unexpected.
"It's phenomenal," Mascia said. "I was surprised. It's very hard for a junior to win. I knew his film was great, but unfortunately, we came up a little short at the end, and I thought our failure as a team would have hurt his chances. But his year was so outstanding that it overshadowed that."