The large yellow letters, painted onto the brand new turf field at Shoreham-Wading River High School, filled the space between the 35-yard lines on both sides of the field. They read: THOMAS CUTINELLA MEMORIAL FIELD and Friday night, before a standing room only crowd, the field was dedicated and named in honor of the former Wildcat who died Oct. 2, 2014, from injuries suffered in a game at John Glenn High School the day before.
“I was standing at the top of the hill with four of my teammates, and we heard the dedication,” said Kevin Cutinella, Tom’s brother. “We were ready after that. I was a little nervous to be out there playing for myself and for Tom, but walking down the hill, carrying the flag (with Tom’s No. 54) and planting that flag near the bench was awesome. A lot was going on in my mind.”
Kevin, a senior captain, started at quarterback as Shoreham-Wading River scored three touchdowns in the first three minutes and rolled to a 56-0 victory over Center Moriches in a Suffolk IV opener. The victory was the 25th in a row for the two-time undefeated Long Island champions.
“I’m just glad we opened with a victory. Tom deserved a big win. He’d be proud of us,” Kevin Cutinella said.
His family was part of the huge crowd and they shared in the tumult of emotions.
“This is definitely a continuation of Thomas’ legacy. The fact that the community is here to honor him and to take pride in the field that a lot of people will be playing on in multiple sports is a humbling thing for our family,” Kelli Cutinella, Kevin’s mother, said before the game. “It’s an honor to see the community be a part of dedicating the field knowing that they are proud of what it stands for and proud of this football team.”
Of course, Kelli is extra proud of her son.
“I’m looking at this as the first of many good nights on this field for Kevin [also a top-notch lacrosse player who will play that sport at Massachusetts]. He enjoys playing football and he plays it with such heart. Nothing ruffles him,” Kelli Cutinella said. “He plays football for his team, he plays it for himself, he plays it for his brother and he plays it for his community.”
The community thrilled to the early exploits of the 2016 team. Jalen Wright blocked a punt and recovered it on the Center Moriches 5, from where Chris Gray ran it in on the next play.
Freshman Xavier Arline then contributed a pick-six, going 20 yards with an interception.
Then, following a punt, Chris Sheehan dashed 45 yards for another score and a 20-0 lead. Sheehan later added a 70-yard touchdown run and Gray scampered 23 yards for his second TD.
Kevin Cutinella joined the scoring parade. His only carry was — eerily — a 54-yard touchdown run. “No way! No way!” he said, incredulous that the yardage matched Tom’s number. “What a coincidence.”
Or maybe it was just meant to be.
Notes & quotes: Regarding the team’s motto, “Tommy Tough,” SWR coach Matt Millheiser said: “The senior captains came up with the idea to make a list of what it meant to be ‘Tommy Tough’ and they made the freshmen and sophomores who didn’t play with Tommy memorize the list. I went in the halls and I found the kids to make sure they had memorized the list.”