At 5-11, 215 pounds, Anthony Brunetti has the stocky build of a power back who relishes head-on collisions. What separated the Holy Trinity star from the pack, however, was that Brunetti not only could run you over, he could avoid contact and run around you, too. He was more SUV than sports car, but he did have an extra gear.
"He's deceiving because of his body and build. He's got those big legs but he can turn it on," Titans coach Tony Mascia said. "He was continually running away from people."
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Brunetti ran off with the 2009 Thorp Award as Nassau County's most outstanding football player, receiving his trophy Sunday at the annual CHSFL breakfast at Kellenberg High School. Kevin Allen of Freeport and John Kinder of Lawrence were the other finalists for the award, presented by Newsday since 1942.
Brunetti rushed for 2,451 yards, the most for a single season in Nassau history, and 28 touchdowns in leading the Titans to 10 straight victories before their season-ending loss to St. Anthony's in the CHSFL championship game. He is just the fourth player from a private school to win the award. Fred Miller of Chaminade won the first Thorp Award in 1942, and other Catholic school winners were Tony Capozzoli of St. Dominic in 1975 and John Rogan of Chaminade in 1977.
"His numbers speak for themselves," Mascia said. Those numbers include 5,418 yards and 60 touchdowns for his career, both school records for the four-year starter who also excelled at middle linebacker.
"He was everything everyone said about him and a little bit more. He was great against us," said St. Anthony's coach Rich Reichert, who watched Brunetti run for 248 yards in the Friars' 28-21 victory Nov. 21. "He had a tremendous career and this year capped it off."
It's a year that began with Holy Trinity moving up to the CHSFL's AAA division and eventually earning a shot at St. Anthony's, which has won eight of the last nine titles.
"It showed us we can go head-to-head with St. Anthony's," said Brunetti, whose best sport might be baseball, which is why he hasn't made a college choice yet. "It put our school on the map."
Brunetti is Holy Trinity's first Thorp winner. He showed trucklike durability with 330 carries, yet he flashed high-performance agility by averaging 7.5 yards per run. Much of his yardage came in the second half because Brunetti never ran out of gas.
"I definitely think I wear down the other team," Brunetti said. "I have a lot left in the fourth quarter. I usually try to end every game going as hard as I can. I've always been like that. My Dad taught me to go hard on every play."
His relentless nature was especially evident when he faced the CHSFL's top teams in the playoffs. Against Chaminade, Brunetti ran for 181 yards and a touchdown. Against 2008 champion Iona Prep, he had a career-high 44 carries for 232 yards and three TDs. In the title game against St. Anthony's, he rushed for 248 yards on 30 carries, including a 78-yard touchdown run that tied the game late in the third quarter. Every team knew he was coming. Not one of them could stop him from in front or catch him from behind. "We had our hands full with him," St. Anthony's quarterback Tom Schreiber said.
So did every opponent Holy Trinity played.
"We gave him the ball and he responded all the way up to and including the last game," Mascia said. "We've had a lot of great players on our field in the past 40 years. He'll leave as one of the best ever."