Rob Healy last season: good kid, very quiet, excellent free safety, solid All-County wide receiver.
Rob Healy now: good kid, very quiet, excellent free safety, maybe the best running back in Nassau County.
So what was the reason the East Meadow coaching staff decided to move Healy from wide receiver to tailback, a position change that would spark a record-breaking season, a run to the Long Island Championships and mounting conversation about his candidacy for the Thorp Award as the top player in Nassau?
The answer will be on display Sunday in the Long Island Class I championship game against Floyd at Stony Brook.
It's simple, really: "When this kid has the ball, good things happen," coach Vinny Mascia said during a rainy Wednesday afternoon practice, just days before what might be the biggest game in program history. "We've had great football players, hard-nosed football players that if a play was designed to get 10 yards, they'd get 10 or 12 yards. This kid, if the blocking is for 10 yards, he gets 60."
"He was always good with the ball in his hands and we had to get the ball in his hands. That was the key."
OK, but did anyone have any idea it would turn out this well? He scored a county-record 36 touchdowns and led the team in rushing, not to mention being the team's third-leading tackler and its leader in interceptions and passes defended.
"No, no idea," Mascia said. "We knew he was a real good athlete, but he wasn't an especially big kid. We knew he had speed and we knew he was athletic. We never could have imagined this. No way."
Added Healy: "I thought I'd have a good season, but I had no idea it would be this good."
Healy joined the varsity in his junior year after two solid JV seasons as a receiver-running back. Placed on special teams, he showed an aptitude for returning kickoffs and punts for touchdowns. He wasn't blazing, but at times he was unstoppable. The same thing would happen when he'd get the ball in his hands on defense.
Mascia calls it "tremendous instincts that you can't coach. An absolute gift." It comes, he said, from his lower-body strength and pilot-like peripheral vision. "He sees things coming from the sides," he said. "Laterally, he's as good as any back I've ever seen. He slides right and left and makes people miss constantly and then accelerates immediately and gets upfield."
Not that anyone can get Healy to talk about it much.
Ask about his season and he'll praise his offensive line. Mention his leadership and he demurs. "At the end of the games, I'll usually talk it up more than I usually do," he said. "I'll try to lead people."
Said Mascia, "If you put all our conversations down on paper, you might not have one page in four seasons" -- two football and two baseball, which Mascia also coaches. "We have a great relationship. I ask him a question, he answers me like a gentleman, but he's not going to offer you much."
Healy does perk up when talking about Sunday's game. East Meadow will face Floyd and Stacey Bedell, a candidate for the Hansen Award, given to the top player in Suffolk.
"We have to stop him," Healy said. "As long as we stop him, it'll be good . . . [and] I'm nominated for the Thorp, he's nominated for the Hansen. It's a good rivalry."
It'll certainly be a strenuous battle. Few have been able to contain Bedell, who scored three TDs against Sachem North in the county final, and if East Meadow is going to take control, there's only one place that ball has to be.
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