When Joe Vito was just beginning his tenure as Roosevelt's football coach in 1992, one of his players was a running back named Jude Innocent. Twenty-three years later, Innocent's son, also named Jude, will start at tailback for Roosevelt, hoping to help Vito win a conference title as the Rough Riders shift from Nassau IV to Nassau III.
"It's really exciting to have one of my former player's sons, and I've actually watched him grow up," Vito said. "I've seen him play as a little kid all the way up."
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Vito is Innocent's godfather, his father said. The elder Innocent moved back to Roosevelt about a year ago and said he thought Roosevelt would be a better fit for his son's senior season.
"It was time for him to just get into a program where he could get an opportunity to shine," Innocent Sr. said. "We didn't plan this, it just happened."
Once it did, Jude Jr. said he looked into Roosevelt's program, wanting "to see what I was actually getting into" and liked what he saw. "They had a pretty good team," he said.
Jude's teammates have taken notice of his work ethic during their summer practices.
" or nothing from the day he got here," fifth-year lineman Chukwuma Ukwu said. "So he definitely has added to the motivation of winning."
The Rough Riders, who are coming off four Long Island championship appearances in a row, will face tougher competition this year, starting with Lawrence, winner of its last 20 games.
Innocent hasn't had any trouble adapting to his new team, Ukwu said, and a family history won't hurt.
"He hasn't missed a step," Ukwu said. "It's like the guy has played in this offense his entire life. He has it in his blood."
There hasn't been much time for evaluation during the summer, but Vito has seen that Innocent is fitting into a successful program. Roosevelt is coming off back-to-back years with 2,000-yard rushers.
"He has speed, vision and a little bit of strength," Vito said. "We pride ourselves on our tailbacks, so he definitely fits into the mold of our past guys."
But for Innocent Sr., the move is more than just football for his son.
"He was always there for me and I know what kind of guy he is," Innocent Sr. said of Vito. "He changed so many young black lives in the community."
Now it's Innocent Jr.'s turn to become a name at Roosevelt.
"He was raised in Brentwood," Innocent Sr. said, "but he has Roosevelt in his heart."