By Steev Riccardo
It’s pretty hard to find anything to dislike about Rocco DiStefano, unless of course you are a defender on an opposing high school football team.
The multi-dimensional Bartlett High School senior has done just about everything that you can do to make the most out of the high school experience.
His resume is nothing short of outstanding: Senior Class President, honor student with a 3.2 GPA, member of the DECA club, member of the Medical Careers Club, Vice President of the Student Council, dancer and singer on the show choir, Track and Field record holder, and co-captain and star player of the football team. He has also contributed more than 150 hours to community service.
On top of all these accomplishments, and most importantly, everyone you ask about him tells you that he is a good kid and they like him. It seems too good to be true that, but it’s not.
In August, when I moved back to Webster, I had no idea who Rocco DiStefano was. It wasn’t until I was asked to cover the Bartlett football team by The Patriot that I found out. The minute I said “football,” all I heard was Rocco this and Rocco that, and that included his coach Dane Laboissonniere, who praised his play and his courage.
Still, despite all this hype and build-up, I had to find out for myself, which I did, and pretty quickly. DiStefano was a big part of his team, putting it all out there on the football field week after week. Statistics are fantastic but it’s the heart and soul of his play that make him even more impressive as a player and a teammate.
His football career began as a freshman. He started in two games at cornerback before breaking his leg. His was so upset by the injury he said, “I didn’t think I would be the same person after that.” Rather, the injury made him stronger.
He was quick to point out that he always looked up to the upper classmen for support and guidance, even when he was still in junior high school. In fact, he chose his jersey number 23 in honor of one of those past players, former Bartlett star Nick Kiritsis, who was among several older kids who helped him along.
“I always looked up to the senior players and they helped me a lot. They gave me a sense of security that helped me learn from their mistakes and it helped me do better and become a better teammate,” he said.
Di Stefano played baseball in the eighth and ninth grade but switched to track, where he also eventually became a star and record-breaking runner, but it was football that moved him.
His sophomore year was an eye opener, not just for his coaches and teammates, but the entire community. He helped his team go 7-4 and as the starting running back amassed 1370 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns, despite playing through a groin injury early in the season. His remembers have a break-out 160 yard rushing game against Worcester South, which gained him press and attention.
He credits one of his sophomore year coaches, Michael Harpin, for guiding him and calls him “one of my idols and heroes and role models.”
“The one year that he was here I learned a lot. He really helped me out in breaking down the game. He gave me the drills that made me be a better player.” Harpin also introduced DiStefano to a training program called Cross Fit Training, which he still uses today. The two are still in touch and speak frequently. DiStefano is very grateful for his help and guidance.
DiStefano met another one of his role models while attending the Webster-Dudley Boys and Girls Club early in his football career, former Shepherd Hill football star David Bugan, who worked at the club as a counselor.
“David was another big influence on me and he inspired me and opened my doors to football because he saw the potential in me. He brought me to some Worcester State football practices when he played there when I was 15. I was able to train with him and he told me to set my goals high and never stray from my path. He is the big brother that I never had, he said.
Despite having a great sophomore year, things didn’t end well for the Indians that year as they dropped the Thanksgiving game to rival Southbridge, then met them a few days later and lost to them again in the playoffs. “Losing two games in a row to Southbridge really killed our team.”
The team also lost a lot of players to graduation and DiStefano knew his junior year was going to be a tough one and a rebuilding season.
The coaching staff also underwent a metamorphosis and Dane Laboissonniere, who DiStefano knew as a history teacher and a former David Prouty assistant coach, stepped in as the new head coach.
“I always loved Coach Laboissonniere, even when he was a teacher. Coach knew that his first season was going to be tough, he wanted to get us juniors as much experience as we could, to go on to the senior year that we ended up having.”
DiStefano suffered a pulled hamstring against Auburn, which hampered his performance for the rest of his junior season. “I was really beat up by the end of the year.” He still ran for over 1000 yards and was a Central Mass all-star despite the injury and another tough season, ending in defeat to Southbridge.
There was a lot of optimism in the Bartlett locker room before this past season, DiStefano’s last, would start, and the team didn’t disappoint.
“We knew that we had the potential to be good but hadn’t exploited it. We wanted to find an identity. We really pushed ourselves to our full potential. Once we found our identity, other guys on the team like DJ Kirby-Thomas, Connor McCarthy, Arthur Hackenson, and David Brooks, all started stepping it up. We had faith in our coaching staff; we had faith in our school. Our coaches reminded us that there were people laughing at us and we wanted to prove them wrong. We didn’t want to be a joke.”
This year’s team was certainly no joke. They played hard all year and despite losing in the playoffs to Leicester, they left it all on the field including DiStefano, who finished with 1214 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns.
DiStefano was also part of the play of the year against David Prouty, which he describes in detail. “We were driving for a score, Ricky (Spooner) threw an interception, when I saw it I knew I didn’t want the Prouty player to return in to the house. It would have killed us. Our coaches told us to never let yourself out of a play and I knew I was in a good position to make a play if the runner cut back, I saw him allude a couple tacklers and started coming my way. I was just trying to tackle him and the ball came loose. It was one of the hardest hits that I ever had. I peeked up and saw DJ (Kirby-Thomas) scoop it up and I knew it was going be a game. That play made our season.”
His high school career has ended, but his plans to play college ball are in full sight as DiStefano has been meeting with college coaches and is looking through a long list of possibilities and will be making a big decision in the months to come.
DiStefano is an enigma in many ways and it was pretty surprising and inspiring to hear that he does yoga as part of his daily regiment.
“Yoga and stretching has been keeping me healthy this year. I’m also paying attention to my diet and all-around fitness.” He regularly attends yoga classes at the Powerhouse Gym in Webster and even though some of his fellow students do “make fun of me and give me a hard time” he takes in all in stride and jokingly adds, “I have been able to perfect my hand stand because of yoga.”
If that is not enough, then there is Rocco the philosopher, “I look at the glass being half full. There is so little time in life I try to make as much happen in my life as possible. I wish the days were longer. Even as class president I try to do as much as I can to help. I like dressing nice and feeling good about myself and that makes a difference.
“My number one priority is keeping myself organized and staying close to my family and friends. I love being with my family. They are the most important things I have. Be close to your family, be close to your friends, and help out the community because this is where you live. You want be able to go into your backyard and look at your garden and all the seeds that you have planted and see the plants growing.”
Rocco DiStefano has planted some good seeds and this community certainly looks and is a lot better with him in it.
- Monday, 26 December 2011
- Posted in Categories: : Sports