That’s the best word to describe the decision-making process in naming the winner of the Hansen Award, given annually by Newsday to the top football player in Suffolk County.
There are two worthy candidates — Westhampton running back Dylan Laube and Lindenhurst tight end Jeremy Ruckert.
Laube carried Westhampton to a 12-0 season and the Long Island Class III championship, scoring six touchdowns and rushing for 227 yards in the title game. He scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns in the season opener to erase a 17-point deficit and beat Bellport. Oh, and he made the final tackle for a loss inside the Westhampton 10 when Bellport threatened to steal the win in the waning seconds.
Ruckert, who helped lead Lindenhurst to the Long Island Class I championship, is regarded as the top tight end recruit in the country. He is committed to Ohio State University.
Anyone who has watched both play understands the difficulty of choosing one over the other for the Hansen Award. It’s my toughest call in 33 years as a Newsday reporter.
“We have the perfect apple and the perfect orange,” said Sachem North football coach Dave Falco, a member of the 11-man panel charged with selecting the Hansen winner. “We have two guys with totally different skill sets that had phenomenal seasons. I don’t know how you can choose one over the other.”
Ruckert, who made 61 catches for 1,094 yards and 13 touchdowns, played for an undefeated team that competed in Suffolk I, the county’s big-school division.
Should the candidacy of the New Hampshire-bound Laube, who ran for 2,680 yards (on 249 carries) and a Long Island-record 47 touchdowns this season, be penalized because Westhampton competes in Suffolk III, a league two steps down in terms of school size?
West Babylon coach Ron Langella, whose team played Westhampton on Nov. 10 in a Suffolk III semifinal, said Laube would be great at any level. Laube ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns in that game.
“We tried everything to stop him and we found no solution,” Langella said. “The kid is unbelievable.”
The game comes to Laube — who broke Jason Gwaltney’s Long Island record of 45 touchdowns set in 2004 for North Babylon — in slow motion. He sees things that an average high school player doesn’t. As a play develops, he is one step ahead of the defense, looking for that critical cutback. On the other side of the ball, Laube had 71 tackles, with 11 for loss.
Have we seen a better athlete than Ruckert? Besides his offensive play, he’s a hybrid defensive player who can come off the edge (61 tackles, including 13 sacks) and single-handedly disrupt an offense with his power and speed. He’s also a special- teams weapon who nailed 48 of 50 extra-point kicks and six field goals. With that NFL leg, he also had 42 touchbacks on kickoffs.
Islip coach Jamie Lynch, a Hansen panelist who won the award in 1992, said Ruckert and Laube are more than deserving. “I don’t want to be the guy that makes this final decision,” he said.
Newsday’s name is on the award, which makes it our problem.
“The final decision rests with us, and it is not a responsibility that we take lightly,” Newsday sports editor Hank Winnicki said.
So who will be named winner of the 58th Carl A. Hansen Memorial Award?
That will be revealed on Monday at about 9:15 p.m.
A choice has been made.
It wasn’t easy.