Mike LaDonna has always had confidence in his arm.
The West Islip quarterback made a name for himself with his quick feet, but LaDonna knew that to take the Lions to the next level, he needed to add another dimension to his game. So this season, he started passing more, reading defenses and watching video.
It was that determination to get better that helped LaDonna lead West Islip to the Suffolk II championship game. It also earned him the Esiason Award as the county’s top quarterback at the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association awards dinner Monday night.
“My confidence grew and the defenses were surprised because they didn’t know what we were going to do,” said LaDonna, who passed for 741 yards and 19 touchdowns. “Everyone thought we were a running offense, but we weren’t.”
LaDonna’s focus on passing wasn’t uncharted territory. He’s spent years throwing a baseball, and his mindset on the gridiron wasn’t any different from the mound.
“Throwing and following through, it’s the same thing,” LaDonna said. “It’s about getting my hips around so I can get that spiral.”
LaDonna thrived on pressure, particularly during the postseason. He wanted the ball in his hands, and West Islip coach Steve Mileti said he was more than happy to give it to him.
In 11 games, LaDonna completed 63 percent of his passes (41-for-65) and rushed for 1,236 yards and 21 touchdowns on 171 carries.
“He did everything we asked,” Mileti said. “When Mike was good, the team was great. When Mike was great, we were unstoppable.”
LaDonna’s football career may be over after West Islip’s 21-17 loss to Lindenhurst in the county final, but he said he won’t ever forget what he and the team accomplished this season.
“It was a lot of fun,” said LaDonna, who will head to NYIT to play baseball next year. “We didn’t finish the way we wanted, but we had a great year and I’m proud of our team.”