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Westhampton's Chris Daleo, Mepham's Matt Hegi recognized as national scholar athletes

Matt Hegi #11 of Mepham takes a direct

Matt Hegi #11 of Mepham takes a direct snap during the third quarter of a Nassau County Conference II football game against Sewanhaka at Mepham High School in Bellmore on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. He carried eight times for 61 yards and a tie-breaking touchdown in Mepham's 14-7 win. Credit: James Escher

Westhampton two-way lineman Chris Daleo came into the 2019 football season a virtual unknown after playing a small role for the Hurricanes as a junior. Mepham’s Matt Hegi entered his senior season as an established defensive force and a starter at linebacker. In the end, it didn’t matter they came to it from different directions because they ended up in the same place.

Daleo and Hegi both had outstanding seasons and capped their final year in high school as nationally recognized scholar athletes.

The National Football Foundation culled through some 3,500 candidates across the country and Daleo and Hegi were among the 82 selected to its 2020 Team of Distinction as what it termed “the best and the brightest” seniors. The team was selected based on a number of criteria including academic achievement, athletic accolades and community involvement.

“I never expected this, but I am personally grateful,” said Daleo, who played center and defensive end as Westhampton (8-2) reached the Suffolk Division III semifinals. “I had a lot to prove in football this year and I take it as a sort of confirmation that I did that.”

“Getting picked was very cool,” said Hegi, who also played in the backfield as Mepham (7-3) made the Nassau Conference II semifinals. “I was a little stunned when I heard because I didn’t even realize I was being considered.”

Daleo and Hegi will be part of a permanent exhibit at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. National Football Foundation chairman Archie Manning called selection to the Team of Distinction “one of the most prestigious national awards that a high school player can receive” in the news release announcing the selections.

Daleo figured this would be his last chance to play football and wanted to make an impression. Between the end of his junior season and the 2019 kickoff, he put on almost 35 pounds in the weight room. His work ethic and leadership during the offseason earned him a starting spot and captaincy on the Hurricanes.

“This was going to be it for me playing football and I had only played (late) in games the season before,” he said. “I wanted to get my shot and so I knew I had to be driven to make myself as good as I could be.”

“During the offseason into his senior year he worked tremendously hard on his speed and his conditioning,” Westhampton coach Bryan Schaumloffel said. “Having to play against players that were often 50 pounds heavier than him he was a great tactician with fundamentals, using his speed quickness and knowledge of the game.”

Daleo had a 96 weighted average in the classroom, scored a 34 on the ACT and was his class president. He also helped start a youth leadership program at his church. He will attend the University of Virginia this fall.

Hegi finished the season with 91 tackles including 11 for a loss, scored six touchdowns and was selected to Newsday’s All-Long Island second team. He had a 98 weighted average and scored a 1480 on the SAT. He was the Jay Fiedler Award winner as Nassau County’s top football scholar-athlete and will attend Carnegie Mellon to study engineering and play football for the Division III Tartans.

“I knew that I wanted to play a sport in college,” said Hegi, who also plays baseball. “I always believed it would work out and I am glad that I am going somewhere I can keep playing.”

Another thing that Daleo and Hegi now both have in common is planning a trip one day to see the College Football Hall of Fame exhibit they are now a part of.

“That,” Hegi said, “is something I’ve got to see.”

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