Half Hollow Hills East linebacker Ernesto Mitchell’s final season as a Thunderbird could be characterized by one word: historic.
With an 18-tackle performance against Huntington in the Suffolk II quarterfinals on Nov. 4, Mitchell displayed sheer dominance in Hills East’s 14-10 victory, the first playoff win in the 61-year history of the program.
“It was an unbelievable thing,” Mitchell said. “Four years ago, we talked about turning this program around and we definitely saw the results this year.”
“That was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from a linebacker in the 16 years I’ve been coaching,” Hills East coach Mike Maratto said. “He was the heart and soul of our defense throughout the season and the motivational and physical leader. He raised the bar for everyone else.”
On Monday night, the senior was presented the Bob Collotta Award as the top linebacker in Suffolk County at the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association dinner in Hauppauge. Mitchell is the first Hills East linebacker to receive the honor.
Other finalists for the award were Floyd’s Nick Silva, Ward Melville’s Zach Hobbes and Sayville’s Max Kolar.
While opponents may have overlooked Mitchell’s 5-8, 175-pound frame, his intangibles enabled him to continuously impose his will. He had season totals of 83 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles and a blocked punt.
“He’s not necessarily the biggest linebacker you’ve seen,” Maratto said. “His ability to shed blocks and rip through and somehow find the ball is incredible.”
Mitchell credited much of his success to his teammates.
“It’s really just the stunts that we run with the defensive line,” he said. “They open everything up for me and I just run.”
Mitchell also rushed for 420 yards and six touchdowns on 49 carries this season.
Maratto understands that linebackers with the extraordinary talent and leadership qualities of Mitchell don’t come around too often.
“His leadership above all, his play speaks for itself,’’ he said, “but the behind-the-scenes leadership with the younger players really stands out. An athlete with Ernesto’s shoes are really hard to fill.”