For Alex Rawa, the decision to play just one more football game was a slam dunk.
The 6-4 wide receiver from Locust Valley will play college basketball at Oswego, but when Rawa was invited to play for the Long Island team in Tuesday's Empire Challenge at Hofstra, he couldn't resist.
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"I definitely love football. I've been playing it with all my friends since I was a kid. It always came natural to me," said Rawa, a Newsday second-team All-Long Island football player last fall. "But my passion is basketball. The Oswego coach thought it was great that I would get to play one more football game and said to have fun with it. My friends at Locust Valley were a little jealous."
Rawa, a Newsday first-team All-Long Island basketball choice last winter after averaging 18.8 points and 12.5 rebounds, made an immediate impression on his Empire Challenge coaches.
"He goes up and gets the ball," said wide receivers coach Rich Reichert of St. Anthony's. "You can't teach 6-4. You can tell he plays basketball by the way he uses his body. He's got very good hands and runs very good routes."
Rawa will provide a big target for the three Long Island quarterbacks who will operate out of the spread formation under head coach Rob Hoss of Sayville. He had to get used to the different passing styles of Steven Ferreira (Sayville), Rich Czeczotka (Glenn) and Isaiah Barnes (Freeport). "The first day of practice, it took a little getting used to," Rawa said. "But these are three good quarterbacks who won championships and they had no trouble adjusting to me. It was nothing major for me, either. Just had to learn how hard they throw."
It won't be velocity but location that could be the key in Tuesday's game, where Long Island will see a couple of Division I defensive backs on the New York City squad. "One thing we did at Locust Valley was to call a lot of jump balls," Rawa said, of passing plays where the ball was thrown in his direction regardless of coverage, to take advantage of his height. "I would box out my man and go up and get it. That's an advantage for me. They say we'll do it here, too."
Reichert acknowledged that will be the case, especially in red-zone scenarios. "We'll try to throw him some fade routes and get him one-on-one against a smaller guy," the St. Anthony's head coach said. For Rawa, that will be like having a shorter man try to guard him on the low blocks on the basketball court. The ball is a different shape but the goal is the same -- score points.
Rawa said another reason he will enjoy his farewell-to-football game is that he will extend a school tradition. Locust Valley football coach Matt McFarland played linebacker in the 1998 Empire Challenge, representing Garden City. "He was excited for me," Rawa said. "This may be my last game, but it won't be sad. I'm playing for a good cause and I'm playing to have fun."