William Pickett had already carried the ball six yards when the first big hit from a defender landed. A second one slowed the South Side junior quartback’s progress at eight yards from scrimmage and also pushed him toward the sideline. Plenty of players would have stepped out of bounds to halt the hits and take the eight-yard gain.
He turned upfield and carried four Valley Stream North tacklers for another eight yards to complete a 16-yard run. It was typical of his play on Saturday as he was the Cyclones' unstoppable force in a 35-13 Nassau III victory at the Spartan’s Miele Field.
“I just love the contact, delivering a big hit to a defender who thinks he’s going to stop you,” said Pickett, who rushed for 218 yards and touchdowns of 11, 14 and 11 yards. “I like to think that when there’s contact, they’ll feel it more than I will.”
Pickett also was 4-for-5 passsing for 101 yards and junior running back Nick LiCalzi rushed for 57 yards and touchdowns of two and 23 yards for South Side (4-1). Both also had a fumble recovery.
“He’s a big kid, but he also has great balance, great vision and a passion in the way he plays,” Cyclones coach Phil Onesto said of Pickett. “Those are the things that make for a very special player.”
Valley Stream North is much tougher than its 1-4 record. The Spartans hurt themselves with two fumbles that South Side converted to touchdowns in opening a 28-3 halftime lead. However, they have impressive players in running back Timothy Hutchinson, who ran for 155 yards and a 32-yard touchdown, and quarterback/kicker Joe Gisonda, who had field goals of 44 and 32 yards.
South Side thus far is writing one of Long Island’s better football stories. The Cyclones shrugged off getting the conference’s No. 11 seeding in the preseason and now may be picking up momentum for a final stretch that includes contests against Valley Stream South and at Wantagh.
And really this is all happening ahead of schedule for a long-middling program. The three most-dynamic Cyclones – Pickett LiCalzi and Kevin Bonilla – are all juniors. “To be where we are right now feels good,” Onesto said. “We haven’t been in a situation like this before.”
Pickett is the third of four brothers and possibly the best yet, though he said, “there’s a ways to go and we’ll have to see about that.” Alex was first and was a top player before an injury cut into his senior season. Then it was Johnny, who became the school’s second 1,000-yard rusher and now plays for Catholic University.
“I love the way he plays football because he does it with intensity and power,” LiCalzi said. “He can run inside or out. He can throw. He hits on defense [as a linebacker]. He can do everything.”
It remains to be seen how much South Side can do. Whether they can elevate to the level of Nassau III front-runners Lawrence and Plainedge (which owns a 27-7 win against them) remains to be seen. But this start is nothing to sneeze at.
“We thought we could play with anybody from the start,” LiCalzi said of the Cyclones’ arrival being perhaps a season early. “You never know though. We started clicking and playing really good football.”