Here’s today’s story on the smooth transition to quarterback for Tuckahoe senior Shyheim Nixon:
EASTCHESTER — Since the day he first slipped on shoulder pads through four regular seasons and three postseasons at Tuckahoe High School, Shyheim Nixon had never been a quarterback. The senior had served just about every other role on a football field though: running back, linebacker, safety, kick returner, punt returner. He did just about everything but drive the bus.
In the week prior to sectionals, Nixon finally met his positional destiny. Offensive coordinator Pat Gallo not only asked him to take over at quarterback, he changed the offensive formations and plays to suit him.
Heck, the Tigers even updated their wristbands.
“It was really different,” Nixon said. “I definitely needed to have a different mind-set. I had to know the plays and know what everybody was supposed to be doing. Quarterback is like the point guard. He controls the team.”
Tuckahoe would rather have no one else at the reins heading into Friday’s Class D state semifinal against Section 2 champ Rensselaer. The team leader, the player who helped the football team win a state title in 2010 and the basketball team win another last March, has stabilized the Tigers, whose move to quarterback helped answer a three-game winless streak with a three-game winning streak.
“The kids look to him. We go as Shyheim goes,” head coach John D’Arco said. “He’s not a vocal leader, but he leads by his play. And he’s getting more vocal. He’s getting more and more accustomed to playing quarterback. I know he’s enjoying it.”
Nixon began the season in similar roles to the ones he first filled as a freshman. He was a halfback, outside linebacker and kick returner, but Gallo’s offense also expanded to feature Nixon as a Wildcat quarterback.
Those Wildcat formations helped smooth Nixon’s recent transition, as did a handful of changes meant to suit his skill set. Tuckahoe altered its playbook and its play calls.
It added a tight end, installing junior Michael Castracucco, who had been the starting quarterback since the beginning of last season.
“I didn’t think we needed a change, but I just felt that people needed to change their attitudes — me included,” Nixon said. “We just had to realize that this comes once in a lifetime and we needed to go hard all the time.”
Castracucco has become a threat in the passing game and a reliable run blocker. The Tigers attempted just four passes in Saturday’s state quarterfinal win, but they rolled up 443 yards rushing.
“When I did make the move, the transition was pretty easy,” D’Arco said. “Michael has accepted it and has done a great job at tight end. It was a win-win situation for the whole team.”
Make that a win-win-win. The Nixon-led offense swept through the Section 1 playoffs and outmanned Chester to advance to the state semifinals. Seniors Nick Reisman and Kayvon Reid starred against Chester, but Nixon’s leadership at quarterback has steadied a team that finished the regular season in a tailspin.
After a 4-0 start, the Tigers tied Haldane and lost to Bronxville and Woodlands to limp into the playoffs.
“I feel like we’re definitely on track right now,” said senior Joey Bellantoni, a lineman who also started for the 2010 state championship team. “We played the best we could on Saturday and I think we’re at our full potential right now.
“Shyheim’s always been the leader. He’s been here the longest. He’s been a captain for two years. Now that he’s at quarterback, he’s really the leader. He’s stepped it up a lot, taking charge of our offense and defense.”