Michael Melkonian of South Side, left, and teammate Jack Lozito...

Michael Melkonian of South Side, left, and teammate Jack Lozito celebrate as the Cyclones close in on a 17-14 win over Floral Park in the Nassau Conference III football final at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium on Friday. Credit: James Escher

The joy was right there on the faces of Michael Melkonian and Jack Lozito under the lights last Friday night inside Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium. It was right there in their voices, too, after South Side 17, Floral Park 14, the win that gave the Cyclones the Nassau Conference III crown.

“This is the greatest day of my life,” said Melkonian, the senior receiver/safety/kick returner. “We’ve been wishing for this since third grade, since the first time we put our helmets on.”

“I’ve never felt so happy in my life,” said Lozito, the senior running back/safety.

Now let’s flash back to last November when they felt so unhappy. They were both injured and stuck being sideline spectators for South Side’s two postseason games.

“That had to be one of the worst feelings ever,” Lozito said. “I knew I couldn’t help any of my friends, couldn’t help my guys at all.”

“It was a helpless feeling,” Melkonian said. “I was really upset that I couldn’t go out there and help my team. I could only use my words.”

Melkonian and Lozito recovered and became major players in a 10-1 run to this football program’s first county championship since 2001. So these team captains will next try to help South Side win its first Long Island championship come 4:30 p.m. Friday when it faces East Islip for the Class III title at Shuart.

“They’re two of the best players at their position on Long Island,” senior quarterback Owen West said. “It’s (meant) everything and more. They make plays.”

The 5-7, 165-pound Lozito has run 184 times for 1,116 yards — 6.1 per carry — and 11 TDs. The 5-11, 170-pound Melkonian has made 35 receptions for 498 yards — 14.2 per catch — and nine touchdowns.

“Jack Lozito might be the smallest guy on the field every single time he steps on it, but he’s definitely the toughest,” Cyclones coach Phil Onesto said. “We know no matter what the distance is, if it’s short yardage, long yardage, if we put the ball in his hands, he’s going to make a play.

“And Michael Melkonian (is) one of the best receivers on Long Island as far as I’m concerned. Same thing. When we need a big play, we know who to go to.”

They couldn’t go to them in last year’s playoffs.

Lozito had run up 855 yards when he got hurt in Week 5.

“I broke my ankle, had a high ankle sprain and I tore all the ligaments in my ankle,” Lozito said.

He didn’t end up having surgery. The recovery took about five to six months. Lozito said physical therapist Mike Cormican worked with him and “got me right.”

“It was a killer injury,” Lozito said. “It was a rough recovery. But coming back and being able to (win a county championship) is one of the best feelings I ever had.”

Melkonian suffered a torn quad in the 2022 regular-season finale. He had made 30 catches, nine for touchdowns, and scored three TDs on defense.

Then he watched the quarterfinal win at Elmont and the semifinal loss to Garden City at Hofstra along with Lozito via the side view.

“We were going to physical therapy together,” Lozito said. “We were doing everything together. Best friend. I love that kid to death.

“It was just great having him with me so I knew I wasn’t alone and he knew he wasn’t alone. We just built off each and got better and got stronger.”

And hungrier.

“It was just added hunger,” Melkonian said of only being able to look on. “And finally I brought it into the next season and it translated well. And of course, it worked because we’re champions.”

Both Melkonian and Lozito also play for the lacrosse team. That will be Melkonian’s sport at Cornell. He’s a faceoff specialist. College sports isn’t in the game plan for Lozito right now.

They will surely remember their last football season.

“I love lacrosse,” Melkonian said. “It’s my favorite sport. But there’s nothing like high school football.”

Lozito’s dad, Bill, made a large impact on his son, Melkonian and other members of this team as their youth football coach. He addressed them the night before the Floral Park game.

“He just made us all cry with his speech,” West said, “telling us that we’re just playing for one more week with our boys and football is the best thing ever and we don’t want to lose it (Friday night).”

And the Cyclones didn’t. Lozito rushed for 114 yards, including the deciding 4-yard TD, on 22 carries. Melkonian caught five passes and totaled 99 all-purpose yards.

Now they want to go out as Long Island champions.

“If we play the way we play and the way we’re capable of,” Melkonian said, “I don’t think anyone can stop us.”

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