For Plainedge sports, it was all football this year.
The Red Devils went 12-0 this year to win the Long Island Class III title. It topped off the season by winning the vaunted 83rd Rutgers Cup as the top team on the island. Voting was done by high school coaches with Plainedge receiving 26 first place votes, finishing with 122 points overall, edging out Class I champion Freeport by just one vote. Freeport received 23 first place votes, while Garden City finished with 43 points.
The honors were a culmination of a year when Plainedge finally avenged previous years of frustration. The Red Devils had been to the county title game three times before without winning the title. The championship game win over Sayville was typical for the Indians. They defeated the Golden Flashes, 56-20 in a season where the mighty Plainedge offense averaged nearly 50 points a game, running up a 35-point victory average. In other words, Plainedge didn’t play many cliffhangers.
In football, pro or college, the quarterback in recent years has emerged as the most important player on the field. Plainedge’s pro-style offense had such a field general. Villari led Plainedge to a winning season.
In between his junior and senior years, Villari bulked up, gaining 25 pounds, while honing his game in the summer sun. Teammates predicted great things for the rising senior and Villari delivered, not just winning titles, but being named the 78th recipient of the Thorp Award as Nassau County’s most outstanding player. Villari’s in good company. Previous recipients include such future Hall of Famers as Jim Brown and John Mackey, plus New York Jets stars Matt Snell and D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Snell went on to play college ball at Ohio State before starring for the Jets’ 1960 Super Bowl championship squad. Another recipient, Matt Kupec played college ball at the University of North Carolina.
The award itself is named for Tom Thorp, who played football at Columbia University and Manhattan College and later coached at Stevens Tech, Manhattan, Fordham, Virginia and New York University. During his long career, Thorp was the first president of the Nassau County Football League. He was also considered one of the country’s leading football officials.
Villari beat out such worthy competition as Freeport senior running back/linebacker Makhai Jinks, MacArthur senior running back/linebacker Hugh Kelleher and Farmingdale senior linebacker/halfback Kevin Wilson. Villari is the second Plainedge player to win the Thorp. Davien Kuinlan was the first in 2015.
On top of that, Villari won the Don Snyder Award as the county’s top quarterback. The last Plainedge quarterback to win the award was John Schaeffer in 2005. In all, Villari ran for 1,495 yards and 25 touchdowns and threw for 1,315 yards and 13 touchdowns during his senior year.
It wasn’t just offense where Villari excelled. A punishing tackler, Villari, in the LIC title game, put the glove on Brock Murtha, Sayville’s star wide receiver. Sayville put points on the board, but Villari held Murtha in check, holding him to just one catch, while destroying the Golden Flashes on the offensive side of the ball.
Football fans, needless to say, won’t be seeing the last of Villari anytime soon. Even before his award-winning season, Villari was being courted by Fordham University. At 6’4” and weighing in at 225 pounds, Villari is poised for a college career at a Division I university.
While Wisconsin, Rutgers, Kent State and the University of Massachusetts expressed interest in Villari, he ultimately went with Michigan.
“It’s been a pretty exciting time with winning the LIC and all this happening with colleges,” Villari said in an interview. Of this list, Michigan is the most imposing challenge. The Wolverines are perennial contenders for the Big 10 crown and they play their games in the “Big House” on the university campus, filling it to capacity with 100,000 fans, a number higher than most of the towns on the South Shore combined.
“Coach Jim Harbaugh is a pretty inspiring figure. When he first walked in I was a little ‘Oh my God.’ But getting to talk to him was great,” the Plainedge star admitted in an interview.
Long Island is quarterback country: Boomer Esiason, Vinny Testeverde and Jay Fielder, to name just three NFL stars. Villari is looking to join that august company.