For Plainedge High School junior Sal Cirisano, being the only high school player in New York State to win a nationwide NFL award recognizing players who demonstrate exceptional in-game playing technique is something he says still amazes him.
"I thought it was so shocking. I showed my mom and dad, I was like ‘Mom, Dad, look!’ and my dad was like ‘Holy cow!’ Because we didn’t even know it was even a thing, I never even knew that award existed, so it was pretty surprising and amazing," said Cirisano, 17, of Plainedge, about his initial reaction to finding out the NFL recently selected him as one of only 22 high school players nationwide this year to win the league’s "Way to Play" award.
Cirisano, a tight end for the Red Devils, said someone from his school nominated him for the award, which he found out he’d won while watching TV at home with his family after his friends began sending him clips from "Good Morning Football" — on the NFL Network — of him making a block in late March during a game against Valley Stream North.
In partnership with Hudl, the NFL created the award in 2019 to help educate youth football players at the grassroots level on how to play the game "the correct way," said Roman Oben, the NFL’s vice president of football development.
"The Way to Play High School Award panel looked at Sal’s footwork, pad level and block sustainability. They also liked the way he kept his shoulder in and head out while blocking the defender," said Oben, a former player with the New York Giants and the 2002 Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Cirisano said 2020 was tough for him because of the uncertainty the pandemic created regarding sports. While most high schools had to cancel team sports seasons, Cirisano said he kept working out and training every day just in case.
"Once the word came out that we were going to have a season, I was so excited because I knew that all the work I did would pay off eventually," Cirisano said, crediting his coaches and teammates for their support. "It was satisfying to know that at the end of the day that even though I had to work in the shadows, it paid off."
Plainedge football coach Rob Shaver said his son, Travis, 17, and Cirisano have been good friends for years, describing Cirisano as "a super bright kid. He’s a hard-working kid, loves the weight room, and very respectful."
Cirisano’s recognition means the school will also receive a $1,500 equipment grant through USA Football, which will be used to buy new helmets and shoulder pads for the players, Shaver said.
"For a brief moment in time, you kind of forget COVID is there," Shaver said. "Sports is a way out of things, it’s a way to escape the trials and tribulations of the times, so for Sal to get that award, it’s a nice little distraction for everyone."
- Recipients are chosen after demonstrating proper form and technique that reduces unnecessary risk and improves the athlete’s quality of play, according to Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations.
- While the award is typically given weekly throughout the duration of the fall high school season, it was extended 17 weeks in the spring to allow schools in states that postponed their season due to COVID-19 to participate and submit nominations.