Miguel Maysonet is the embodiment of the American Dream. He had no advantages, was given nothing, had to earn everything, and look where he is now.
How Maysonet got where he is today is inspirational. It speaks of courage. It speaks of focus. And it speaks of parental guidance.
"I come from nothing," said Maysonet, Riverhead's outstanding high school football star. "But my mother's love and the right teachers in school make a world of difference. I never thought I'd have this much success. It's just incredible."
Last night, he became the envy of every football player in Suffolk County when he was named the 47th recipient of the Carl Hansen Award, presented to Suffolk's top player at the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association dinner at the Hyatt Wind Watch in Hauppauge.
Maysonet, the leader of the only undefeated football team on Long Island, rushed for 2,328 yards and scored 33 touchdowns as the Blue Waves finished with a 12-0 record and rolled to the school's first Long Island Class II championship.
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The three-year starting halfback rushed for 251 yards and scored four touchdowns in Riverhead's 42-6 win over Elmont in the Class II title game.
"You don't find many kids as happy and humble as Miguel," Riverhead coach Leif Shay said. "He's a rare talent and a student-athlete that will go places in life. He's a role model to every kid in this town. He's a true leader, an absolute pleasure to coach."
"I'm going to miss Riverhead football and all the guys," Maysonet said. "I'll never forget our last bus ride home from the championship and heading into Main Street in Riverhead with the police and fire department escort. It was so exciting. But all I kept thinking was there better not be an emergency anywhere in Riverhead, because it seemed like the whole town was celebrating."
It might have been. The buses pulled up to the town's victory bell, and as thousands cheered, Maysonet and his teammates rang the bell 42 times for each point scored in the title win.
"Little kids were asking for autographs and the people were so happy," Maysonet said. "We were like celebrities. I threw my gloves into the crowd and an older man asked me to sign one of them. I couldn't believe it."
You look at Maysonet and you see a bright, well-spoken athlete with a great sense of humor. He scored 1,810 out of 2,400 on his SAT and wants to be a teacher.
You might think he's had every advantage in life when, in fact, he's had almost none.
Maysonet lives in the heart of Riverhead in a small apartment above an auto repair shop. If you want to see how Maysonet handles adversity, all you need to do is see what he calls home. He has no shower, no bathtub, no air conditioning and certainly no computer.
"Hey, home is home," he said with a laugh. "I don't even have a shower. So I get a big bucket and I fill it with water. And I make sure it's not burning hot so I don't get burned. I do what I have to do to make it work."
The front yard is strewn with abandoned cars and garbage. A large pit bull patrols the yard and protects the families that live there. His name is Blackie and he is very intimidating. Up the long flight of stairs is Tyson, a big black pit bull.
"When I was little, I used to jump from car to car, roof to roof, and hood to hood," Maysonet said. "And when I wasn't jumping on cars, I was playing football in the street. And the dogs are fine - if they know you."
So that's where he developed the lightning-quick reflexes and unbelievable balance that enabled him to rush for more than 4,000 career yards and attract interest from schools such as Connecticut, Syracuse and Hofstra.
Living just above the buzz of the shop along with his mother, Yolanda Santana, is no problem for Maysonet. His mom works full-time at a local hotel to make ends meet.
"I love my mother because she made this possible for me and takes care of me," he said. "I'm going to be the first one in my family that goes to college and gets a degree. And then I'm going to buy her a house and get her out of there."
Maysonet said his father, Jose, who's been divorced from Yolanda since Miguel was 3, is not a part of his life. "Miguel and I have a great relationship," Yolanda said. "I am so proud of him. He is a real good boy, very giving."
He's a real good football player, too -- and indeed someone who's very giving, having made plenty in Riverhead very happy with that first Class II title.