In this age of spread formations and no-huddle passing offenses, Seaford’s Danny Roell and Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray are throwbacks.
Actually, they are runbacks. The Long Island Class IV championship game — which will be played at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium at 4:30 p.m. Sunday — is a showcase for two of the best and most prolific runners on Long Island.
Roell has gained 2,167 yards and scored 22 touchdowns. “He’s a pit bull,” Seaford coach Rob Perpall said of the player who led his team to an 11-0 record.
Gray has rushed for 1,967 yards and 34 touchdowns. “He’s got the heart of a lion,” Wildcats coach Matt Millheiser said of the star of his 9-2 team, which is seeking a third consecutive Long Island championship.
Beyond the numbers, the two are remarkable for something else. Both are average-sized players with above-average ability and giant-sized will.
“He’s the best we’ve ever had at Seaford,” Perpall, in his 20th season at the school, said of his 5-9, 175-pound senior.
According to Newsday records, Roell has the sixth-best single-season total in Nassau public school history and, with a typical game against SWR, could move up to No. 3.
Of Gray, a 5-7, 170-pound senior, Millheiser said, “He has tremendous ability to hit the hole, stop, and then take a step and be back at full speed going in the other direction. He doesn’t quit.”
Both players seem to thrive on a heavy workload. Roell had 40 carries for 190 yards last weekend in a 20-0 victory over Carle Place/Wheatley. Gray was even busier with 44 carries for 341 yards in a win over previously unbeaten Babylon.
“His athleticism really was on display last week,” Millheiser said. “To carry it 44 times the way he did, and yet he looked just as fresh at the end as he did in the first quarter.”
Roell, like Gray, is the kind of runner who extends the play. Many times he has appeared to be tackled, only to keep his feet moving and somehow escape from the pile for a long gain. “He’s got a lot of skill. He doesn’t need a lot of room to make his cuts,” Perpall said. “He has tremendous second effort. He’s always making positives out of negatives.”
Both players also are starting defensive backs and kick returners who hate to come off the field — another throwback trait. Because both teams favor the running game (though Seaford’s A.J. Cain is an effective passer), there’s little secret who is getting the ball most times. Which makes their achievements even more impressive.
Perpall acknowledged their similarities. “The biggest difference is that they have a seasoned, veteran offensive line and we have kids who played on the JV last year,” Perpall said. “We’ve had excellent blocking from our fullback [Nick Calandra], but Danny really has had to step it up himself.”
Millheiser said Gray has evolved into a more complete runner this season, mostly after the wipeout blocks of tight end Ethan Wiederkehr and tackle Dean Stalzer. “He’s found a balance between when to use his speed to get outside and when to be patient and use his blockers,” Millheiser said. “And for a small back, he takes a pounding.”
Ditto for Roell. To which both say, “Bring it on.’’
Coach Rob Perpall
SHOREHAM-WADING RIVER roster
Coach Matt Millheiser