SUNY Cortland running back Jaden AlfanoStJohn rushes against Alma College on...

SUNY Cortland running back Jaden AlfanoStJohn rushes against Alma College on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023 Credit: d3photography.com/Larry Radloff

The SUNY Cortland football team is playing for a national championship and Long Island will be well represented.

When the Red Dragons (13-1) face defending champion North Central College in the Stagg Bowl, the NCAA Division III national football championship, 39 Long Islanders will have the red “C” on their helmets. The title game will take place on Friday at 7 p.m. at Salem Stadium in Salem, Virginia and will be broadcasted on ESPNU.

SUNY Cortland is making its first Stagg Bowl appearance, while North Central, located in Naperville, Illinois, is playing in its fourth straight championship game.

“We have nothing to lose but everything to gain,” former Westhampton running back Jaden AlfanoStJohn said. “I think with a level head, we have the studs and the talent that we can get it done at an elite level. I think that’ll be key to win it tomorrow.”

AlfanoStJohn, who won the Hansen Award as Suffolk’s most outstanding player with Westhampton in 2019, leads the Red Dragons in rushing. His 1,378 yards are tied for third-most in a season in program history and his 17 touchdowns match the career-high he posted last year as a sophomore. AlfanoStJohn’s 3,159 career rushing yards rank second all-time at Cortland.

JJ Laap, who won the Cassese Award as Suffolk’s top defensive back with Ward Melville in 2018, is one of the Red Dragons’ leading receivers. Laap ranks second in receiving yards (1,216) and second in receiving touchdowns (13).

“We’re a very close-knit squad,” Laap said. “I think that’s what makes us really great. We’ve got guys across the board.”

Max Llewellyn, who won the Burnett Award (Suffolk’s top defensive player) and the Zellner Award (Suffolk’s top lineman) at Sayville, is the team’s defensive captain. His 4.5 sacks are the second most on the team and his 21 quarterback hurries rank first.

Jack Winey, who also was a Burnett Award winner and earned the Collotta Award (Suffolk’s top linebacker) at Lindenhurst, leads SUNY Cortland in total tackles (134) and fumble recoveries (2).

“It’s really special having a lot of the guys from the Island around,” Winey said. “Being able to represent and show out for the guys back home and for the kids who think they may have a future in football, means a lot.”

SUNY Cortland beat Endicott, Grove City, Alma and Randolph-Macon in the NCAA D-III playoffs to reach the Stagg Bowl. The Red Dragons averaged 38 points in their four playoff matchups.

AlfanoStJohn totaled 493 rushing yards and six touchdowns and Laap amassed 320 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the Red Dragons’ playoff victories.

“If there’s one area in New York that’s the pipeline or the heartbeat of our program, it’s Long Island,” coach Curt Fitzpatrick said. “We have a lot of players from Long Island who are outstanding athletes, great students and tremendous players. We wouldn’t be here without being able to recruit the Island as well as we do.”

Local heroes

Jaden AlfanoStJohn (Westhampton Beach) is Cortland's leading rusher (1,408 yards, 17 TDs)

JJ Laap (Stony Brook) is the second-leading receiver (68 catches, 1,216 yards, 13 TDs)

Jack Winey (Lindenhurst) is the leading tackler (134 tackles)

Nick Lardaro (Smithtown) leads the team in sacks (7.5) and Max Llewellyn (Sayville) is second (4.5)

Long Islanders on the roster:

Player/Jersey Number/Position/Hometown/School

Eli Alvarez (No. 1/DB) (Patchogue/St. John the Baptist)

Jaden AlfanoStJohn (No. 2/RB) (Westhampton/Westhampton Beach)

JJ Laap (No. 4/WR) (Stony Brook/Ward Melville)

Rashad Tucker (No. 5/WR) (Freeport/Freeport)

Joe Iadevaio (No. 6/WR) (Massapequa/Plainedge)

Jaden Martinez (No. 21/LB) (Comsewogue/Comsewogue)

Shane Patterson (No. 22/DB) (Wheatley Heights/Half Hollow Hills East)

Allen Flore (No. 24/DB) (Eastport/Eastport-South Manor)

Ryan Isom (No. 26/DB) (Levittown/MacArthur)

Tyson Taylor (No. 28/RB) (Middle Island/Longwood)

Naz Jean-Lubin (No. 30/DB) (Brooklyn/Freeport)

Jack Winey (No. 33/LB) (Lindenhurst/Lindenhurst)

Matt Fuggini (No. 34/DB) (East Northport/Northport)

Brett Harvey (No. 36/LB) (Oakdale/Connetquot)

Max Barone (No. 37/RB) (Wading River/Shoreham-Wading River)

Craig Ackerman (No. 45/LB) (Seaford/Seaford)

Brandon Beh (No. 47/LS) (Garden City/Chaminade)

Joe Ruggieri (No. 50/LB) (Oceanside/Oceanside)

Max Llewellyn (No. 51/DL) (Sayville/Sayville)

Nicholas El Chami (No. 60/OL) (Bethpage/Bethpage)

Sahej Walia (No. 62/OL) (Port Washington/Paul D. Shreiber)

Wallace Wilson (No. 64/OL) (Middle Island/Longwood)

Jack Bonawandt (No. 68/OL) (Manorville/Eastport-South Manor)

Johnnie Booker III (No. 70/OL) (Bellport/Bellport)

Aidan Glynn (No. 74/OL) (Miller Place/Miller Place)

Will McCarthy (No. 79/DL) (Farmingdale/Farmingdale)

Connor Mooney (No. 80/WR) (Brentwood/Brentwood)

Jayson Zeva (No. 81/WR) (East Northport/St. John the Baptist)

Joey Muscarella (No. 86/WR) (Smithtown/Smithtown East)

Will Ligarzewski (No. 91/DL) (Oceanside/Kellenberg)

Nick Lardaro (No. 95/DL) (Smithtown/Smithtown East)

Will Ruckert (No. 97/DL) (Lindenhurst/Lindenhurst)

Nick Aldino (OL) (Wantagh/Wantagh)

Dylan Kiely (TE) (Wading River/Shoreham-Wading River)

Ty Kolar (DB) (Sayville/Sayville)

CJ Messina (WR) (Sayville/Sayville)

Patrick Moloney (LB) (Brentwood/Brentwood)

Aaron Nieves (DL) (Port Jefferson Station/Consewogue)

Tomaso Ramos (RB) (Farmingdale/Farmingdale)

Joe Young (QB) (Babylon/Babylon)

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