'Best athlete in the state' -- injured Joey Alfieri -- can only watch as Crusaders come up short

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Chase Morrison, Jesuit running back, slices through the Central Catholic defense in Saturday's state championship game.In the moments after Central Catholic had put the finishing touches on a 38-28 victory over Jesuit for the Class 6A championship Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field, a young man on crutches was working the circle of crestfallen Crusaders in the end zone.

Joey Alfieri hugged one teammate, then another, offering encouragement and condolences to several more before striding into the locker room alongside them.

Perhaps those teammates should have been the ones comforting Alfieri. The state's top-ranked player has been out of action since suffering an injury in an Oct. 18 victory over Aloha and undergoing surgery.

"I have three screws to reattach the (left) femur," said the 6-3, 230-pound senior running back/linebacker who has committed to Stanford.

Alfieri had little doubt his prep career was over when he went down against the Warriors.

"I knew it right away," he said. "It was the most painful experience of my life. I knew I was out for the season."

It had to be painful, too, for Alfieri -- who rushed for 1,772 yards (9.7 average) and 22 touchdowns in 7 1/2 games -- to watch from the sidelines as his team couldn't quite get it done, knowing he might have been able to make a difference.

"There's no point in going over the 'what ifs?' " Alfieri said. "What happened happened, and my team did a great job.

"It's disappointing not to get to play, for sure, but there's nothing I can do about it. The guys played their hearts out. They played a great game."

Alfieri's replacement, Chase Morrison did. Working behind a massive line -- going 260, 245, 250, 265 and 285 from tackle to tackle, not to mention 6-5, 245-pound tight end Henry Mondeaux -- in Jesuit's power-I attack, Morrison carried 43 times for 217 yards and three touchdowns.

The 5-10, 175-pound junior rushed 30 times for 159 yards and three TDs as Jesuit took a 21-20 lead into halftime. Thirty carries in a half! Was Morrison on his way to 60?

No. The Crusaders fell behind and went more to the air in the second half. Even so, it was a Rembrandt of a performance for a kid thrust into a lead role after being a supporting act through most of the regular season.

"Chase did a phenomenal job," Alfieri said. "I wouldn't be surprised if after this game, he gets multiple Division-I offers. He's a great running back and a great person."

Those in the Jesuit program feel the same way about Alfieri, whom coach Ken Potter ranks with former Stanford fullback Owen Marecic and Oregon receiver Keanon Lowe as the top three players he has coached during his long tenure.

"Joey is just a great kid," Potter said in the early twilight at Jeld-Wen. "At every practice, he's there, doing everything he can. People wouldn't believe a kid could be that caring about other people."

Morrison said Alfieri took him under his wing during the weeks after his injury.

"He told me little tips on what to look out for on the field," Morrison said. "I've been playing with him for three years now. He's a good teammate, a good leader, a good mentor for me."

Morrison spoke in hushed tones in a disconsolate Jesuit locker room afterward. He nodded when appraised of his remarkable rushing numbers.

"I was feeling good out there," he said. "My line was opening up huge holes. I knew I had to step up. The guys needed me.

"But stats don't really matter to me. I just wanted to win the game."

The Crusaders, of course, would have had a better chance to do that with Alfieri in the lineup.

"He could have really helped the team a lot," Morrison said.

"It would have been nice if Joey had been on the field," Potter said. "We'd have had two running backs carrying the ball -- not just one -- that many times."

Could Alfieri have tipped the balance in the Crusaders' favor?

"If ifs and butts were candy and nuts, we'd have a party," Potter said. "Joey is the best athlete in the state. If the best athlete in the state isn't playing for you, it's going to maybe make a little difference.

"But you go with what you got, and the guys who played together played their hearts out."

That included, of course, Morrison, who made a touchdown-saving tackle after an interception by Central's Aaron Washington near game's end.

"Anybody who carries the ball 50 times -- or whatever he did today -- and keeps playing to the end … you can't say enough about a guy who has that kind of heart and desire," Potter said.

I've never seen him play, but they tell me Joey Alfieri has a surplus of those assets as well. It's a shame he couldn't show them Saturday afternoon at Jeld-Wen.

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