There was something about Mike Pellegrino that screamed superstar when he was 15 years old. There was something special. It was something different that Connetquot coach Mike Hansen just couldn’t get his hands around.
It could have been his field vision, breakaway speed or ability to score from anywhere on the field. It could have been his leadership on defense where he became an undersized linebacker with an over sized heart as a senior to lead the T-Birds in tackles.
Or maybe it was the all around game that he brought to the varsity level as a sophomore. He had that game-changing, wow-affect, that left T-Birds supporters in awe for the past three years.
From the moment Pellegrino returned his first kick, Hansen had something special. It was Sept. 19, 2008, Pellegrino settled underneath a Whitman punt and returned the kick 45 yards for a touchdown. He dipped in and out of the Whitman coverage team and raced to the end zone for the first of 41 high school touchdowns.
It would be the first of many highlights in a spectacular career. Pellegrino served notice on Suffolk’s Division I that he would be reckoned with for three years. Pellegrino would be a key component as a lockdown cornerback, halfback and special teams player as Connetquot went on to win the Long Island Class I title.
“He is a great competitor because he has a relentless desire to win,” Hansen said. “What makes him a great teammate is his unbelievable character as a leader. He is truly the complete package. And I would be lucky to coach another player like him again in my career.”
Pellegrino, a two-time All-Long Island first team selection, led Connetquot to the Division I playoffs for three straight years. This year, with all eyes on him and defensive coordinators developing ways to shut him down, Pellegrino rushed for 1,363 yards and 18 touchdowns in nine games. The 5-10, 180-pounder, also moved from defensive back to linebacker and had 111 tackles, including 84 solos, 18 tackles for a loss, nine sacks and three forced fumbles.
For his accomplishments, Pellegrino earned the 51st Carl B. Hansen Award give to Suffolk’s most outstanding football player at the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association banquet at the Hyatt Hotel in Hauppauge. His is the first Connetquot player in school history to be honored with Suffolk’s most prestigious award.
“We absolutely had to shut him down to beat Connetquot,” said Floyd coach Paul Longo. “When a coach develops a game plan centered around stopping one player – he’s got to be pretty special. We ran our offense away from his side of the field. He’s an instinctive player, a great athlete.”
Pellegrino, who is also one of Long Island’s premier lacrosse players, accepted a scholarship to play at Johns Hopkins next year. And early season quadriceps injury and a severe hip pointer caused him to miss some time.
“He didn’t have to risk injury and maybe lose his scholarship,” said Connetquot defensive coordinator Mike Konsevitch. “He learned the linebacking position in the off-season and became the leader and heart and soul of our defense. He played through pain and was the ultimate warrior.”
Konsevitch said Pellegrino’s courage and commitment to the team was reflected in the respect of his teammates.
“He tried to outwork everyone in practice and that stimulated the team,” Konsevitch said. “He took us to another level. He made guys believe we would win every game.”
Pellegrino rushed for 1,122 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior. He also caught 16 passes for 202 yards.
“He’s always been a playmaker,” said Hansen. “We got a glimpse of that when he was a sophomore on the Class I championship team. You can point to so many things that he did that made us a better team. And it wasn’t just scoring touchdowns or making open field tackles. He was doing the little things that make a difference. He had those rare qualities that come along only so often for a coach. He was pushing guys during conditioning drills and lifting teammates up and giving them confidence in tough situations. He was a “we” guy.”
Hansen said Pellegrino’s pre-game speeches were inspirational. Pellegrino earned the Thunderbird Award given to the player that symbolizes, not necessarily the best player, but the best person on the team, a player that exhibits qualities like leadership, hard work, dedication, courage and is coachable.
The New York Jets have a saying, "Play Like A Jet!" Konsevitch said Connetquot will erect a sign to the locker room doorway that reads, “Play Like A Thunderbird” and a picture of Mike Pellegrino will be on that sign.