The moment was unforgettable. Early this season, two of Long Island’s most talented players met for the first time. And it was a collision to remember.
Hills West junior halfback Justin Brown darted upfield, looking for the slightest crack in the Sayville defense. Senior linebacker Aidan Kaler stalked Brown, waiting to hit him at the line of scrimmage.
Brown saw daylight, but in an instant, there was darkness. The hole had closed and Kaler was in his grill.
“There’s fear when you’re caught in an iso situation with Aidan Kaler,” Sayville coach Reade Sands said. “He’s ferocious. He doesn’t miss tackles and he’s so explosive.”
Kaler’s ferocious hit dropped Brown immediately, and the jarring tackle left an impression on Hills West coach Kyle Madden.
“We had a few guys in this division that play a real physical game,” said Madden, who led Hills West to the Long Island Class III title. “We had to game-plan around Kaler. He went sideline to sideline to make plays as good as anyone.”
Kaler, a 6-2, 210-pounder, made his presence felt in every game this season, averaging 12 tackles as Sayville reached the semifinal round of the Suffolk III playoffs.
For his punishing style of play, Kaler was named the eighth recipient of the Rob Burnett Award, presented to the top defensive player by the Suffolk County High School Football Coaches Association on Monday night at the Hyatt Regency in Hauppauge.
The other finalists were senior linebacker Liam McIntyre of Westhampton Beach, senior linebacker Nick Silva of Floyd and senior defensive back JJ Laap of Ward Melville.
“He was unbelievable, a real explosive first step,” Sands said. “Opponents did not want to find themselves isolated with him. He never came off the field, with the exception of kick return. He had an incredible motor and played like he was angry all the time. He’s going to be a great weakside linebacker at the next level, a guy that can succeed in a 4-2-5 alignment in college.’’
Kaler, who is committed to Stony Brook University, made 120 tackles, including 54 solos, with a sack and 16 tackles for a loss.
Sands said Sayville’s defensive scheme couldn’t afford to blitz Kaler often because of his value in the open field.
“We wanted him to spy the quarterback because that was more in the coordination of the team defense,” Sands said. “If we blitzed him more, his sacks would have been much higher but his tackles lower.”
Most teams were forced to double-team Kaler.
“He saw double-teams all the time,” Sands said. “He was so powerful, he’d push offensive linemen into ballcarriers to stop the run. He simply wrecked offensive game plans.”