Frank Cutinella said his son Tom's wish was to play someday for either West Point or the Naval Academy. And he said his son would jokingly say that if he couldn't make it as a lacrosse or football player he could make it on character.
Well, he made it.
There have been many noble gestures in memory of Tom Cutinella, the Shoreham-Wading River football player who died after a head injury suffered last Wednesday after an on-field collision in a game against Elwood's John Glenn High School.
But perhaps the most symbolic was the full athletic scholarship offered by West Point that accompanied a jersey with his number 54.
The family was presented with the Army jersey and the scholarship documents by U.S. Military Academy graduate Buddy Gengler during the evening wake on Monday night at St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Wading River.
"It was incredibly moving," said Gengler, who graduated from Shoreham-Wading River in 1997. "I know he planned to attend a military academy. It was very emotional for the family."
The jersey was draped over the end of the coffin.
"It was special in every way," Shoreham-Wading River football coach Matt Millheiser said Wednesday night after his team's first practice since the tragedy. "It was like fulfilling his dream in a way. I know it meant a lot to the family."
Shoreham-Wading River assistant football coach Hans Wiederkehr, who coached Cutinella since he was 6 years old, said the loss of Cutinella will stay with him forever.
"He was exactly what West Point looks for in a student-athlete," Wiederkehr said. "He was military material."
Gengler, who drove to West Point with his wife Monday morning, said he'd only requested a jersey with Cutinella's number 54 from Bob Beretta, the executive athletic director at West Point, and what he received he'll never forget.
"Bob was so touched by the story and he said, 'I'm on it,' " Gengler said.
Army football coach Jeff Monken, who set up the honorary scholarship to the U.S. Military Academy, addressed the letter to Tom, and wrote, "I seek quality young men who uphold the values of Duty, Honor, and Country to lead West Point to the pinnacle of collegiate football. I believe you are a difference maker!"