|St. John Fisher athletics photo|
No man is an island, especially in an intricate team sport like football.
But if you play cornerback, like Alec Mortillaro, you have to relish being on your own island. The St. John Fisher senior wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I kind of like it. I embrace the pressure. I like feeling that my teammates can depend on me. I know I can make the play for them. I think the pressure of me being out there alone makes me play better, it’s elevated my play.”
Mortillaro, a D3football.com Preseason All-American, currently leads the Empire 8 in passes defended (12 breakups, three interceptions), and ranks fourth at Fisher in career interceptions with 10. All that, while he maintains a 3.42 GPA in physics and earning Academic All-District honors.
“People don’t throw at him a lot,” said coach Paul Vosburgh. “They’ll challenge him once in a while because he’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he plays smart and makes plays. He doing well this year again. He plays bigger than he is.”
And even at 5-9, 175, Mortillaro isn’t backing down from anyone.
“They always look past you. ‘They’re thinking we have a 6-2 or 6-3 receiver on a 5-foot-9 corner. Let’s just throw the ball up to him.’ I’ve had to prove myself as a corner and show I can play regardless of size.”
How he plays this Saturday may play a huge roll in whether the Cardinals (8-1, 6-1 E8) return to the NCAA playoffs for the first time since 2013. St. John Fischer has appeared in the post season every season since 2003 including ECAC bowl games. When the 18th-ranked Cardinals will travel to No.14 Alfred (9-0, 7-0 E8) this weekend, they being playing for an automatic bid and a share of the Empire Eight title.
Mortillaro will draw the especially tough, but not unfamiliar, assignment of covering the Saxons 6-4, 210-pound receiver Brendan Buisch. The Alfred senior currently has 43 catches for 735 yards with 11 touchdowns.
“I’m the boundary corner, he lines up there a lot. If it’s in the middle of the field, I’m going to his side so I expect to be match up with him a lot this week.”
“He’s a really good receiver. I knew him in high school, trained with him and played some 7-on-7 with him in the summer. He’s got really good hand, good size and big frame. He’s going to be a tough match up, but we’ll see what happens.”
The Cardinals have weathered a midseason flurry of injuries, including major components on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Matt Naton went down for a couple of games. Running back Tony Fusco recently returned. Running back James Chambers is down for the season along the starting tight end and defensive end.
“We’ve had a couple injuries but that’s part of the game,” said Vosburgh. “A couple of our kids couldn’t get back, so somebody else has got to step and play.
“It’s a credit to the kids that they’re ready to go when it’s their turn and credit to the coaches adjusting the different kids that have been put in there.”
A strong core of 33 seniors has helped put them in position to reach the postseason once again.
“You do lose some guys but the main guys, the main core stuck around,” said Mortillaro. “They stuck around and made this team what it is today.
“They’re leaders. People know how to keep the mood light when it’s tense. We know how to have fun and when to get serious and play football. It’s a special class that we have here for sure.
A loss on Saturday would most certainly put the Cardinals on the bubble for the NCAA tournament. There are only six at-large teams selected after the automatics are clinched.
It’s a huge game,” Vosburgh said. “We are looking forward to it. At the start of the year we said we wanted an opportunity to play for the championship in the Empire Eight and postseason bid.
“It’s right there, to be playing the tenth game of the season with all that right there on the table for you that’s big for our guys. They know they’re going against an excellent, excellent team in Alfred University. I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
You don’t want to leave it up to the committee so we’ve got to win this game,” added Mortillaro. “If we win we are in. It’s that simple.”
Games to Watch
No. 18 St. John Fisher (8-1, 6-1 E8) at No.14 Alfred (9-0, 7-0 E8) For all the marbles in the Empire Eight. A trip to the playoff bubble awaits the loser.
William Paterson (2-7, 2-6 NJAC) at No. 20 Wesley (7-2, 7-1 NJAC) The Wolverines can clinch the automatic bid from the NJAC with a win and a 12th consecutive trip to the tournament.
Salisbury (7-2, 6-2 NJAC) at Frostburg St. (8-1, 7-1 NJAC) The Bobcats can clinch a share of the NJAC title with victory but need a Wesley loss to clinch a bid. The Gulls need a win and a William Paterson upset of the Wolverines to force a three-way tie. Frostburg nearly upset Salisbury last season, when they led 20-0 at the half and 17-7 entering the fourth quarter.
Stevenson (8-1, 7-1 MAC) at Lycoming (3-6, 2-6 MAC) The Mustangs failed clinch last week in a frustrating collapse to Wilkes (3-6). The Warriors have suffered several close losses this season including last week’s 28-20 verdict on the road at Delaware Valley. This isn’t going to be easy.
Albright (7-2, 7-1 MAC) at Lebanon Valley (3-6, 3-5 MAC) The Lions, who got help from Lycoming last season to get them in the playoffs, still a win over the Dutch to have any chance of sneaking in.
Delaware Valley (7-2, 6-2 MAC) at Widener (6-3, 6-2 MAC) The runners-up spot in the conference and Centennial-MAC Bowl Challenge bid is on the line in this season ending rivalry.
King’s (4-5, 4-4 MAC) at Wilkes (3-6, 3-5 MAC) Rivalry time. Wilkes-Barre style. The Monarchs are gunning for a .500 season and the Colonels will be looking for their third straight victory.
Ithaca (5-4, 4-3 E8) at Cortland (4-5, 2-5) The Cortaca Jug game. Ithaca’s last game in the E8. Coach Mike Welch’s last game of stellar career. Enough said.
Rochester (1-7, 0-6 LL) at Hobart (8-1, 6-1 LL) The Statesmen can clinch the Liberty League’s automatic bid with a win after topping fellow league leader St. Lawrence of the road last week. The Yellow Jackets don’t have appeared to pack it after a last-minute loss to WPI last week.
St. Lawrence (8-1, 6-1 LL) at WPI (6-3, 3-3 LL) The Saints should only worry about the team ahead them in the tough Engineers. An at large bid (Pool C) appears out of reach at the moment due to their spot toward the bottom of the regional rankings. Stranger things have happened.