Huntington football’s biggest play of the season did not put points on the scoreboard or show up at all on the stat sheet.
But when Eli Mollineaux carried the ball into the end zone on Sept. 17, it brought a community together.
Mollineaux, a sophomore at Huntington with a terminal illness, was an honorary member of the Blue Devils football team, and got to go on the field that Saturday and score a touchdown during halftime of the game against Smithtown West.
He died on Oct. 31, but left a lasting impact on the community, and was honored Nov. 17 when Russell Athletic awarded Huntington the “Fight Like Dylan Award” and a $50,000 uniform grant.
“It was a great way to remember all the great times we had with Eli, and a reminder that his spirit is going to live on with all of us,” linebacker Nick Lanzisero said of the ceremony at Huntington High School, where the school was presented the award.
“He was one of us. He was another teammate and such a great all-around kid. We couldn’t have been happier to have him with us,” Lanzisero added of Mollineaux, who had Pearson syndrome, a rare mitochondrial disease.
“I remember the two teams going in at halftime and coming out with one goal in mind: to have Eli live his dream,” Blue Devils coach Steve Muller said of the day in September when Mollineaux carried the ball into the end zone in his wheelchair, flanked by his teammates. “I remember grown men crying all over the field. I remember a Smithtown West player turning to me and asking ‘how are we going to play after this?’ They got it, too. They understood this was bigger than that.”
While the moment was indeed bigger than football, it also ended up being a turning point in Huntington’s season. The Blue Devils went on to win that day, 42-20, to pick up their first victory of the season that began a four-game winning streak. They ended the regular season winning five of their last six games, before losing to Bellport in the first round of the playoffs.
Said Muller: “I think when a team realizes how hard he fought every single day, they realize ‘if he can fight like that, so can we.’ It bonded us and propelled us to the playoffs.”
“It’s one of the most heartwarming things I’ve seen in 22 years in education,” Huntington principal Brenden Cusack said. “They took in Eli, and they benefited from it as well . . . I’m so proud of our community.”
Russell Athletic has awarded the Fight Like Dylan Award for six years, in honor of Dylan Rebeor, a high school football player from Tennessee who died in 2010. Russell’s vice president of marketing Matt Murphy said they receive “several hundred” submissions from around the country, and a committee headed by former NFL coach Tony Dungy selects the winner. Shoreham-Wading River won the award in 2014.
“He’s one of us,” Muller said of Eli. “He’s blue and white forever and that’s special. I’ve never been prouder to be a Blue Devil.”