By VINCE PELUSO — firstname.lastname@example.org
You never want to be the quarterback who followed THE quarterback.
Ask the myriad of quarterbacks who have migrated to Miami to try and replace Dan Marino since he retired in 1999. They’ll have plenty of time to talk about the experience because they’re unemployed.
Such was the case for Jefferson quarterback Tony Chiacchiero, as he looked to replace 2011 Ashtabula Star Beacon Player of the Year, Falcons quarterback Connor Cleveland.
That isn’t to compare Cleveland to Marino, but he did lead to Jefferson to a 7-3 record, its best record since 2003.
A significant role to fill for a senior who had taken limited snaps, not unlike Cleveland, in the three years leading up to this season.
Yet, Chiacchiero was able to lead the Falcons to an 8-2 record, falling just short of a playoff bid, while putting up impressive numbers through the air.
“It felt really great,” Chiacchiero said of hearing he had been named player of the year. “I obviously had some really big shoes to fill after Connor and I just knew I had to do to well.
“I helps having great receivers and a line that gave me time to throw.”
So as, just as the 2011 season ended, 2012 concluded with a Jefferson quarterback, Tony Chiacchiero, being named the Star Beacon’s Ashtabula County Player of the Year.
Whether Chiacchiero had great receivers or his receivers were great because they had him is much like the great chicken or egg debate. There really is no answer.
What’s not debatable is Chiacchiero fired 22 touchdown passes this season, 14 more the second place quarterback in Ashtabula County — and tied for the second-highest total in recorded Ashtabula County history.
The son of Joe and Kathy Chiacchiero saw little time under center as a junior, but it didn’t show in his play.
“I just had to play confident this season,” he said. “I tried not to worry about anything that happened earlier in my career and just moving forward.”
In addition to 22 touchdown passes, Chiacchiero led the county in completion percentage, connecting on 61.3 of his pass attempts as well as leading Ashtabula in yardage, chucking the ball for 1,764 yards — the fifth-highest recorded total in county history.
The humble Chiacchiero said it was nice having a full complement of receivers to throw to.
“It was just great because I didn’t have to look for just one receiver,” he said. “Whoever was open I threw to and they were able to gain extra yards and make big plays. They never complained about who I threw to.
“They were just happy being able to win games. They wanted me to throw it to whoever is open and they did great.”
Chiacchiero’s class of 2013 is part of the growing movement at Jefferson that has slowly turned the program into one of the strongest in the area.
He said he and his classmates, many of whom have played together since seventh grade, took pride in carrying on the progress made by the past few senior classes.
“I thought going into the season, we could do really well,” he said. “We had guys who could start on both sides of the ball and we just all had such a great relationship with each other because we had played with each other since we were in seventh grade together.
“It would’ve been nice to go to the playoffs or win the conference, but we were able to win so many games I thought that was good for us. It keeps it going for next year’s team.”
In the mind of some, perhaps the most impressive thing the class accomplished was turning the run-first mindset of coach Jimmy Henson into a team willing to throw on any down and dominate teams through the air rather than on the ground, as Henson has done in the past.
“I think we just knew that we could throw the ball with me and the receivers and run the ball with (1,200-yard rusher) Scotty (Davidson),” he said. “We knew that we could be balanced and the defense had to pick to either stop our run or pass. Obviously Coach Henson wanted to run the ball a lot,” he said. “But we knew if we couldn’t run, we could pass so it was nice.
“After a while I just started to think we’d be able to throw a lot and run well with Scotty. It just kind of made our offense really balanced.”
Chiacchiero had plenty memorable games this season, of the top 10 passing yardage performances in the county this season, Chiacchiero owned five of them.
But, the two games that stick out for the senior was his near-flawless performance at Edgewood and Jefferson’s come-from-behind victory against All-American Conference rival Lakeview.
“Against Edgewood, the receivers were running really good routes and just finding holes,” he said. “Our only missed pass that day was a bad route where the receiver ran the wrong route.
“But probably my favorite moment of the season was defeating Lakeview in the final couple minutes. It was such a great game and we just played really well toward the end and got the job done.”
Chiacchiero said he isn’t sure where he’ll be heading to college next season and whether or not he’ll be playing football, but he believes that he and his classmates have left a good base for the future of the Jefferson program.
“I thought we could help keep things going and teach the younger kids how to run the offense and be great,” he said. “Our JV team went undefeated this season so I’m hoping they’ll be just as good as next year.
“This whole season just went by so fast. I was talking to my friends a couple weeks ago and it felt like we didn’t even play this year. It just seemed so fast and we had so much fun.
“Playing at Jefferson has just been a great experience. Being able to play with all my friends and getting so much chemistry together, it showed during our senior year.”
Peluso is a sports writer for the Star Beacon. Reach him at email@example.com.