Whether playing football or basketball, Tappan Zee’s Joe Letizia relishes attacking larger players.
The 5-foot-8 senior doesn’t attack lightly either. Instead, he plows straight ahead as Tappan Zee’s running back and point guard, taking on larger defenders en route to the end zone or into the paint.
“It’s the same thing,” Letizia said. “Just banging with the big boys.”
Last week was a good one for Letizia. Earlier in the week, a panel of local experts named Letizia male Rockland County senior athlete of the fall season and the New York State Sportswriter's Association named him first-team all-state in Class A at running back.
On Friday, in front of a rowdy packed Tappan Zee gym, Letizia scored nine of his 12 points in the fourth quarter to help the Flying Dutchmen pull away from Pearl River, one of their biggest rivals.
“He makes big plays,” said Pearl River Head Coach Jerry Houston after Friday’s game. “When they needs something, he delivers. It’s pretty much that simple. He’s a very good player, he’s a terrific leader and more times than not he finds a way to get it done.”
At Friday’s game, Letizia hit a three-pointer in the first quarter and then got into foul trouble, committing his third foul early in the second quarter. He then sat most of the second quarter and all of the third.
“He sat for almost two quarters,” said Tappan Zee Head Coach George Gaine. “It’s painful because he looked really good before the game. We felt he was going to have a big game today.”
Letizia returned at the start of the fourth, making an immediate impact as he hit a three to regain the lead for Tappan Zee. After sinking the shot, as he backtracked to get on defense, Letizia smiled, pounded his chest and crouched down to slap the floor a few times.
“It’s just energy, man. I’m doing it for my family,” he said. “It just feels so good to pick my guys up right back when I get into it.”
Perhaps making the bucket a big sweeter for Letizia, he drained the three on the hoop positioned near the raucous Pearl River student section, which was drowned in screaming students all wearing blue shirts.
“They were getting my hype,” Letizia said.
But it wasn’t just Letizia who was getting into it after he returned. The entire Tappan Zee team played with a noticeably more energized style after their senior point guard stepped onto the floor in the fourth.
“There’s no kid I’ve ever coached that brings an energy level like that,” Gaine said. “It makes me, the players, it makes everybody play that much harder. We struggled the beginning of the year because Joe wasn’t his best and we’re playing better now because Joe’s starting to get his best.”
It’s that same energy that allowed Letizia to excel at two sports at Tappan Zee. Letizia rushed 194 times for 1,249 yards and 13 touchdowns his senior year, earning him all-state honors in Class A. He finished his career holding the Rockland County records for rushing yards (4,234), total touchdowns (56) and total points (367).
“It was a great accomplishment,” Letizia said of winning the player of the fall honors. “That, along with all other accomplishments I got this year, it’s been a good year so far. Hopefully we an finish it off with the basketball season.”