When Tom Joyce showed up for football practice at MacArthur in the summer before his sophomore year, there were six linebackers listed ahead of him on the depth chart. By opening day, he was the starter. That's the thing about Joyce. No matter the circumstances, he never believes he is outnumbered.
"He wants to make the play. When he gets to the ball, he's excitable," Generals coach Bob Fehrenbach said. "He gets up and he's 'Yeah, yeah, yeah!' The kids rally around him and feed off him. We've done pretty well with him in there the last three years."
For his stellar work as an inside linebacker and fullback, Joyce was awarded the 2010 Thorp Award last night at the Nassau County High School Football Coaches Association's 45th Gridiron Banquet at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury. The Thorp Award has been presented annually by Newsday since 1942 to the outstanding high school football player in Nassau.
"I never thought they'd be looking at me,'' said Joyce, who was genuinely surprised. "I couldn't have done it without my teammates."
Joyce is the second MacArthur player to win the Thorp, joining Gian Vilante, the 2002 recipient. The other finalists for this year's award were running back/defensive end Mike Kozlakowski of Lynbrook and quarterback Tyler Heuer of Oceanside.
For the second time in three seasons, the 5-11, 200-pound Joyce was MacArthur's leading tackler. His nine-game total of 104 tackles included four sacks. The next closest teammate had 48. "He's one of those kids that you're blessed to have in your coaching career," Fehrenbach said.
In addition to his hard-hitting presence on defense, Joyce took on the fullback role in the Generals' wishbone formation. He wasn't the featured back but was the most feared, carrying 54 times for 456 yards, an 8.4 average, with eight touchdowns. The Generals finished at 5-4, including a 24-22 loss to Farmingdale in the Conference I quarterfinals.
"He started out as one of three tailbacks," Fehrenbach said. "But running back was our deepest position, so in the third or fourth game, we went to a three-back set to get all three on the field at once. Someone had to be the fullback."
Guess who that was?
"Our fullback doesn't get a ton of carries,'' Fehrenbach said, "but he did the blocking unselfishly."
"If there's one thing I take pride in, it's that I give it 100 percent all the time," Joyce said. "I wanted to be the fullback to help our team win. I didn't care about the stats."
Joyce rushed for 91 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter against Farmingdale in the playoffs before the Dalers rallied for the victory. He also caught four passes for 97 yards that day, made numerous tackles and recorded a sack.
"He's a load, a tough kid to bring down," Fehrenbach said. "Once we made the change to three guys in the backfield, we started scoring some points. He embraced the role. Whatever would help the team."
What helped the Generals most was Joyce's dynamic play on defense.
"He made a bunch of tackles against Freeport, Farmingdale, East Meadow, Baldwin - the big games," Fehrenbach said. "That's when he really stepped up. When the chips are down, he's making the big plays."
Joyce made 11 tackles, including a sack, in a 20-13 win over Baldwin that really impressed Bruins coach Steve Carroll.
"The biggest thing for me is the kid doesn't take a play off. His engine never stopped," Carroll said. "I can't believe what he does on the field. He's a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who takes on the biggest guy and plays off the blockers."
That type of play earned Joyce the defensive MVP Award in the Nassau Senior Bowl, an all-star game played on Thanksgiving Eve. It has also attracted some scholarship interest from Syracuse, Stony Brook, Marist and C.W. Post.
Hempstead coach Antoine Moore saw plenty of Joyce, who ran for three touchdowns in the Generals' 41-14 victory over the Tigers.
"As a coach, he's the kind of guy you like to have because he sticks his nose in there. That stands out to me more than any statistic," Moore said. "He made plays every time he had the opportunity. It's tough to play every down in Conference I, but he did it. He goes 100 percent on every play. [As a runner] he makes you miss. He has speed and he has toughness.
"He's a football player," Moore added with emphasis.
And now Joyce is at the top of the depth chart in Nassau County.
Thorp Award winners
2010 - Tom Joyce, MacArthur, LB/FB
2009 - Anthony Brunetti, Holy Trinity, RB
2008 - Terrell Williams, Hempstead, RB/All-purpose
2007 - Alex Rivas, East Meadow, RB/LB
2006 - Chris Edmond, Freeport, LB/RB
2005 - Ricky Manigat, Baldwin, RB
2004 - Terence Hartigan, Garden City, LB/FB
2003 - Rich Ohrnberger, East Meadow, OL/DL
2002 - Gian Villante, MacArthur, MLB/RB
2001 - D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Freeport, OT/DE
2000 - Chris Richez, Freeport, QB/FS
1999 - Jason Ham, Port Washington, RB/LB
and Jerone Pettus, Roosevelt, RB/S
1998 - Clifton Smith, Freeport, LB/RB
1997 - Kevin Pierce, Clarke, QB
1996 - Eric Wedin, Division, RB
1995 - Vaughn Sanders, Lawrence, RB/LB
1994 - Amos Zereoue, Mepham, RB/DB
1993 - Amos Zereoue, Mepham, RB/DB
1992 - Dan Penengo, Syosset, RB/FS
1991 - Eugene Culbreath, Baldwin, RB/FS
1990 - Louis D'Agostino, Lawrence, RB/LB
1988 - Lamont Hough, Hempstead, QB
1987 - Elvin Brown, Sewanhaka, RB
1986 - Denis Goodwin, Lynbrook, LB
1985 - Robert Lee, Roosevelt, QB
1984 - Ken Randolph, Sewanhaka, B
1983 - Anthony Cappellino, New Hyde Park, B/LB
1981 - Larry Galizia, Lynbrook, B/LB
1980 - John Rodney, Hicksville, B
1979 - Ron Heller, Farmingdale, E
1978 - Herbert Butzke, New Hyde Park, T
1977 - John Rogan, Chaminade, QB
1976 - Henry Feil, Berner, L
1975 - Tony Capozzoli, St. Dominic, QB
1974 - Matt Kupec, Syosset, QB
1973 - Joe Diange, Farmingdale, QB
1972 - Larry Esposito, Clarke, LB
1970 - Mark Coady, Carle Place, B
1969 - Phil LaPorta, Valley Stream C., T
1968 - Dennis Macholz, Bethpage, B
1967 - Phil Barbaccia, East Meadow, G
1966 - Warren Koegel, Seaford, C
1965 - Charles Drimal, Valley Stream S., B
1964 - Ed Kane, Levittown, T
1963 - Guy Riccardi, Freeport, C
1962 - Jim Litterelle, Mineola, B
1961 - Sal Ciampi, Lawrence, G
1960 - Rollie Stichweh, Mineola, QB
1959 - Matt Snell, Carle Place, B
1958 - John Mackey, Hempstead, E
1957 - Dave Hayes, Mepham, B
1956 - Don Kornrumpf, Hempstead, B
1955 - Paul Rochester, Sewanhaka, T
1954 - Bob Reifsnyder, Baldwin, L/B
1953 - Bill Sandie, Mepham, B
1951 - Dick Martin, Hempstead, B
1950 - Ed Nickla, Mepham, E
1949 - Lou Britt, Glen Cove, B
1948 - Al Kohanowich, Hempstead, E
1947 - Mike Kinney, Valley Stream C., B
1946 - John Fasano, Port Washington, T
1945 - Ray Mrozack, Mineola, B
1944 - Bob Casey, Baldwin, B
1943 - Billy Wilson, Lawrence, B
1942 - Fred Miller, Chaminade, G