This season: comrades and compliments. Next season: rivals and foes.
This is the destiny for Long Beach seniors Ryan Buonocore and Izzy Maldonado. Since they began suiting up together for the Long Beach Bulldogs youth football team as eight-year-olds, the duo have been working together to win games. Next season Buonocore will be a safety for Cortland State and Maldonado a slot receiver for Utica College, playing against one another in the Empire 8 conference on opposite sides of a line of scrimmage.
"We get one last ride together this season," Buonocore said. "He is my man. We are a couple of dogs out there for Long Beach. We have to enjoy this one. Next year we are opponents."
"I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s covering me next year, but I pity him," Maldonado said. "I win that battle 10 times out of 10."
Well, at least we know which of the two is the humble one.
Buonocore, at 5-11 and 175 pounds is the strong safety for Long Beach. Maldonado, at 5-9 and 165 pounds, is the free safety. Together they spearhead the Marines defense while playing running back and receiver on offense, respectively.
But while on the same defensive unit, their college careers will fork. Maldonado is going to play offense while Buonocore will play defense.
"They are the leaders," Long Beach coach Scott Martin said. "We go as they go. The way our defense works, they make so many of our tackles, against the run and the pass. We feel like we’re better than the No. 10 (seed out of 12 in Nassau II). We see an overachieving season and they are both a big part of it."
Maldonado is the guy with the quick first step, on offense and defense. Buonocore says "he has great instincts and gets to the place he needs to be before the ball."
Buonocore is the big hitter. "He hits people and they feel it," Maldonado said.
"My favorite play is getting past the blocker and making the big stop," Buonocore said. "Defending and passing and making an interception are great. But I like coming down hard to get a guy in the backfield."
Maldonado’s pass catching is key for the Marines. As Buonocore explained "he has this quick first step and a nose for the ball and he never drops a pass."
How does he plan to defend that this fall? "He’s so fast it’s hard to get physical. But if we match up, he’ll have his hands full."
They don’t only pair up in the defensive backfield for the Marines. The two are close friends dating back a ways. Buonocore remembers Maldonado breaking his wrist falling out of a bunk bed in third grade and calls it "the most gruesome injury I’ve seen." Maldonado points to the part-time job Buonocore works and says "that guy with that body doing construction? It’s perfect."
Each has a sense of humor that comes out on the field. But when the chips are down or adversity approaches, it is Maldonado who steps to the fore.
"When Izzy speaks, the other players listen," Martin said. "He became a captain last year because of his leadership skills. He picks the other players up. When things are going tough, he is a steadying force."
Things could have played out where the two of them remained teammates. Buonocore looked at Utica before choosing Cortlandt. "I just fell in love with the coaching staff at Cortlandt and the facilities and when I got on campus, I felt like I could really enjoy it there," he said.
Soon after Maldonado went to Utica and had a similar reaction. "They made the visit real personal and I really liked the coaches," he said. "Our team is going to be a young team next season, but it could really grow into something special."
Right now they are an effective combo in Long Beach’s defense. As Martin said "they are a very good combination."
Said Maldonado, "we’ve been playing together for so long that we understand where each other is going to trust each other to make the plays we can’t."
For the moment, Maldonado and Buonocore have one objective: to make the Marines as good as they can be. In the fall their objectives will be very different.
"That can wait," Maldonado said. "We have work to do right now."