For Shoreham-Wading River coach Matt Millheiser, accepting the 2014 Rutgers Trophy on behalf of Suffolk County's most outstanding football team at Monday night's All-County Gridiron dinner in Hauppauge held a couple of special meanings.
For one, Millheiser played on the Wildcats' first varsity football team in 2000. "I was part of that first group and I remember we had to do fundraising just to get the program started," he said. "We took a lot of lumps in the beginning."
This year, the Wildcats dished out the lumps, rolling to a 12-0 record capped by a 47-13 victory over Roosevelt in Sunday's Long Island Class IV championship game.
In earning the school's first county and Long Island titles in football, SWR averaged 38.3 points a game and surrendered a Long Island-low 4.9.
Shoreham-Wading River led the voting with 126. Sayville of Division III was second with 72 votes; Lindenhurst of Division I was third with 25 votes.
Millheiser knows what it took for the Wildcats to regroup and move forward after popular two-way starter Tom Cutinella died following a collision during a game on Oct. 1.
"It was a community-wide effort. It wasn't one coach, it wasn't one player," he said after Sunday's game.
"From the strength the Cutinella family has shown throughout this whole thing, to the players, to the parents, to the school, everyone has pitched in. I couldn't be happier for the boys."
Isreal Squires, the senior wide receiver/free safety who excelled with two touchdowns and an interception against Roosevelt, said Sunday, "We did it all for Tommy. We know he's still with us. He's watching over us right now.
"We just played for him. It made us play even harder because this is exactly what he wanted."
Danny Hughes, the senior quarterback/strong safety who rushed for 301 yards and six touchdowns in a 47-10 victory over Glenn in the county championship game on Nov. 22, said of the difficult journey, "We got through it together. We're a family."
A family that lost one of its own but still was able to deliver the first Rutgers Trophy in school history.