North Babylon's football season was built around the
clock. Coach Terry Manning knew before the season he did not have a diversified
offense. But he knew he had one essential element that if used in conjunction
with the clock could help the Bulldogs go a long way.
That element was 6-2, 230-pound halfback Jason Gwaltney.
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Manning and his coaching staff built a championship season around that
philosophy - get the ball to Gwaltney and control the clock. Everything North
Babylon did was designed to manage time and dictate tempo. And things worked
Gwaltney, Long Island's all-time rushing and scoring leader, had a monster
senior season with 2,880 rushing yards, 45 touchdowns and 282 points in 11
games as North Babylon rolled to the Class II Long Island title and the top of
Newsday's Large Schools poll.
For his efforts, Gwaltney became the first player in history to become a
two-time winner of the coveted Hansen Award, given to Suffolk's most
outstanding player. He was honored with the 45th Hansen Award over finalists
Darrel Young of Amityville and Andrew Miller of Floyd at the Suffolk County
Football Coaches Association dinner last night before a packed house at the
Wyndham Windwatch in Hauppauge.
During Gwaltney's acceptance speech, he hinted that his heart is in West
Virginia and that he's likely to go there. But afterward Gwaltney said he still
will take his final recruiting visits, including a trip to Southern California
scheduled for this weekend.
"We saw every defense imaginable. And they still couldn't stop da Gauts,"
Manning said of Gwaltney. "When he's on his game, J. Gauts is going to get his.
The confidence of the line grew all season ... We saw all the stunts, the
blitz packages, 10 or 11 men in the box - and still no one could stop us."
In an era of measuring every statistic, Gwaltney's numbers are off the
charts. Here's a smattering: 7,800 career rushing yards on 948 carries, 135
touchdowns, 828 points in 39 games.
Want a few more? Try 33 touchdowns of at least 40 yards, including 27 of at
least 50 yards.
"Everything that could be done to stop him had been done," said Garden City
coach Tom Flatley, who likened Gwaltney to NFL great Jim Brown, who played at
Manhasset. "He's strong and gets a low body lean to run people over. He also
has a unique side step and shakes off tacklers. His greatest asset could be his
Flatley got an up-close view when Gwaltney took apart Garden City on Nov.
27 in a 43-14 victory in the Class II final at Stony Brook University's LaValle
Stadium. In Gwaltney's only title game appearance, he raised the bar with a
But as Flatley and others in the capacity crowd of 8,500 found out that
day, the real measure of Gwaltney was the great intangible: what he does for
his team. And no statistic can truly measure that.
How do you measure the impact of a player who makes a mediocre offensive
line become dominant? How do you put a number on a player who takes the heart
out of the opposition midway through the first quarter? How do you measure the
impact of a player who against a tough opponent in the biggest game of his life
rushed for 237 yards and scored five touchdowns, including a leaping reception
in the end zone?
On defense in the same game, he intercepted the first pass attempt of the
game and caused a fumble on a sack that was returned for a touchdown.
As phenomenal as the statistics tell you Gwaltney is, they still don't do
him justice. This is a once-in-a-generation player who took a football team on
his shoulder pads and carried it to a title.
"He's the horse we rode to the championship," said Manning, who also saw
former North Babylon halfback Ian Smart make his professional debut for the
Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week. "We'd put the opposing offense to sleep, take
them out of their rhythm and beat the crap out of the defense. He's the best
we've ever seen."
Gwaltney will play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio on
Jan. 15. He is only the second player from Long Island to receive an invitation
in the five-year history of the game.
"He's one of the best big backs in the country," said Tom Lemming, a
renowned evaluator of prep football talent and contributor to ESPN Sports and
USA Today. "Jason picks up an awful lot of yards after initial contact. He's a
power back who also has been blessed with excellent vision and big-time moves."
Now they're lining up 11 recruiters in the box, and Gwaltney faces the
decision of a lifetime. West Virginia hopes he doesn't change direction and
accelerate away from Morgantown toward USC.