39-8-1. That was the combined record of the entire Malverne Wildcats youth football program for the 2012 season.
The youngest of the Wildcats five teams, the Peanuts, lost their first four games but persevered, winning their last six. The Pee Wees and Seniors finished 8-1 and 6-1-1, respectively, the Ponies went undefeated and the Midgets became Super Bowl Champions.
The players, coaches, cheerleaders and their families celebrated the stellar season of the program, now in its third year, Sunday with an awards dinner at the Best Western Mill River Manor in Rockville Centre. But in addition to accepting their trophies and reflecting on their accomplishments, the kids and teens also received some words of wisdom from a former NFL and Penn State football player.
Gerald Filardi, a Huntington native who played three years in the NFL as a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens, shared his story with the young athletes. He explained how he was not highly recruited by colleges, but was able to make an impression on scouts when he attended football camps at Penn State University. He walked on the team his freshman year, earned an athletic scholarship and went on to become All-America and All-Big Ten at Penn State, and a Rose Bowl, Citrus Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Outback Bowl Champion.
"I love the game of football," Filardi said. "If I could have played it longer I would have ... but I was fortunate to go as far as I did. I got a taste of it, met some great people along the way and got a great education. That's all I can ask for."
Filardi is now retired from the NFL, but the father of three boys is passionate about creating more opportunities on Long Island for young men who share his love of the game.
"There's a lot of talent on Long Island and I think we're being overlooked," Filardi said.
In the summer of 2012 he launched a youth travel football team called the Long Island Spartans in Suffolk County. In its debut season, the team competed against others from around the Tri-State area and hope to eventually branch out and compete against programs from the south.
Filardi also coaches one of his son's teams in Dix Hills, which scrimmaged against the Wildcats this season. Additionally, he spent time working with some of Malverne's older players.
"Work hard and create your opportunities," Filardi told the boys. "Listen to your parents, listen to your coaches, get a good education and make sure you're doing everything you're supposed to be doing ... Do the right thing and the right is going to happen to you."
Malverne Wildcats President and Ponies' Coach Michael Taylor told his players that Filardi succeeded because of determination and hard work.
“He had that internal drive to push himself,” Taylor said. "If you don’t have that drive internally, you're not going to be able to make it. You have to find it within yourself."
He added, "You’re going to get opportunities, but it’s going to be what you do with your opportunities that will dictate how many opportunities you get.”
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