As head football coach at Stony Brook, Chuck Priore is responsible for every aspect of the program, but his special province is the offensive line. No one appreciates that unit more than a former running back like Priore, which explains the importance to him of four-year starting center Mike Lisi, who will play his final home game against Rhode Island Saturday afternoon at LaValle Stadium.
"He's my second four-year starter at center,'' said Priore, who is in his ninth season at SBU. "Over the past eight years, I've had two starters, Paul Fenaroli and Mike. That's given us great stability as an offense. I didn't think we could replace Paul, but we did.''
The Seawolves (4-6, 3-3 Colonial Athletic Association) will have to replace the whole right side of the offensive line next season. Right tackle Cody Precht, another four-year starter, and right guard Shane Johnson, who transferred before this season, also will make their final home appearances against the Rams (0-10, 0-6) before closing out the season a week later at Albany.
But it's Lisi who has been the anchor in the middle, leading with head and heart. "He's a quality person who has fought through injuries and adversity,'' Priore said. "On Saturdays, you could always count on him to be the toughest kid on the field. He's talented and has always stood tall.''
Lisi, who attended Carey High and whose family lives in Franklin Square, said he's tried not to think of his Stony Brook career drawing to a close. "It's crazy that it's finally here,'' he said. "I never thought it would come. It's going to be real emotional. All my family will be here like they are for every game. It's going to be bittersweet.''
The offense endured some growing pains this season as Priore juggled quarterbacks and broke in two freshman linemen, left tackle Timon Parris and left guard Armani Garrick. They had more than their share of penalties early, but the entire unit has shown steady improvement all season.
Lisi mentored Parris and Garrick the way former lineman Joe Faiella once did for him. With a smile, Lisi explained that the freshmen reduced their penalties because they paid "penalties in the locker room'' for their infractions.
"They came a long way this year,'' Lisi said. "They've got a bright future, the most potential I've seen in the linemen here. They have the size, the athleticism and the strength. They've just got to keep on growing mentally. They'll be pretty good.''
Stony Brook will be in good shape if those freshmen follow Lisi's example and sustain the resilient attitude the Seawolves displayed after some tough losses this season. "Last year, we might have fallen apart a little bit at times,'' Lisi said. "But this team has been together since Day One. That's important.''