It’s a question all football players love being asked: which touchdown was your favorite?
Plainedge’s Luke Lombardi had an answer right away.
“The kick return coming out of [the locker room] in the second half,” he answered.
And Lombardi had a few to choose from. The senior scored four touchdowns in the Red Devils’ 35-6 Week 1 victory over Mineola in Nassau Conference III last weekend. Lombardi caught a 72-yard pass from quarterback Dan Villari, rushed for a 2-yard score, returned a kickoff 85 yards, and ran back a fumble 63 yards.
It was his best day on a football field, he said, and it earned him Newsday Athlete of the Week honors.
“It was really cool,” Lombardi said. “I didn’t really expect to score that much. To score in different ways like that was big for me. It was the first time it ever happened. I’ve never even thought of something like this being possible before.”
Lombardi was playing with a heavy heart. His grandfather, Robert Lombardi, passed away on Sept. 8, Luke said, less than a week before the four-touchdown feat.
“He was always at my games and, this season, I’m really trying to finish off for him and have a good season,” Lombardi said. “The game was for him…It put a sparkle on the game.”
Lombardi said special teams have always had a special place in his heart, making the kick return touchdown that much more, well, special.
“I love special teams,” he said. “That’s what I enjoy the most, especially kick return…to catch the ball and see all the people running down, and trying to navigate the path. It’s different every time.”
The kick return came on Lombardi’s second try. Mineola’s first kick was called back — something Lombardi said he was "very mad" about at first. But, it led to bigger things.
“Me and Dion [Kuinlan] switched [spots] actually and they kicked it to me again,” Lombardi said. “I just saw a big gap in the middle, Dion threw a block, and it was off to the races.”
On the fumble recovery in the third quarter, Lombardi didn’t see much of anything in front of him.
“The quarterback pulled the ball and [Donovan] Pepe, one of our big safeties, wrapped his arms around him and just stripped it out,” Lombardi said. “It fell right in front of me, I picked it up, and no one was in front. Just wide grass, all green. That was it.”
The presence of Lombardi, a player that can do almost anything, gives coach Rob Shaver tremendous flexibility when it comes to personnel groupings and offensive creativity.
“We’ve lucked out that we have two of those guys,” Shaver said. “He and Dion Kuinlan can do just about anything. They’re like a tag team. Luke has tremendous ball skills. He can catch, he can throw. Last year, when our kicker got hurt, he kicked five extra points for us, never practicing. We were just like ‘hey, can anyone kick?’ and he said ‘yeah, I think I can do it’ and he kicked five extra points.”
There were no extra points last week from Lombardi.
But, hey, it was only Week 1.