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Vic’s Subs Cover Story: Cedar Creek’s Louie Pitale doesn’t let anything stand in way of football success

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher Louie Pitale looked like any other high school football player might after being forced to the bench because of a shoulder injury in a playoff game. Trying to grit his teeth and bear the pain, equal parts frustrated and despondent that he was letting his teammates down. The thing is, this wasn’t a playoff game. It was a preseason scrimmage. In August. In 90 degree heat. When most of the players on the field would rather have been at the beach. That’s just Louie. Whether it is a preseason scrimmage or a state championship, when you strap on the shoulder pads, you come to play. Football is a big man’s game, some say. Linebackers in the NFL routinely go about 260 pounds of rock solid muscle. Heck, a lot of high school linebackers are 6-foot-2, 225 pounds. And here’s little Louie Pitale, all 5-foot-4, 135 pounds of him, coming at you like a mini Doberman Pinscher. The Cedar Creek football team is filled with big, athletic guys that make the Pirates’ offense one of the most dynamic in the Cape-Atlantic League. Ahmir Mitchell (6-3, 210) chose to commit to the University of Michigan in August after being courted by nearly every big-time Division I college program in the country for more than a year. Bo Melton (6-1, 190) has been a human highlight reel all season long, and has announced himself on the scene as perhaps the next highly coveted wide receiver recruit in South Jersey, already receiving a full scholarship offer from Rutgers before his junior season is done. Isaiah Watson (6-3, 215) has proved to be a bruising running back, and Khamir Harvey (5-10, 160) has blossomed as a playmaker at the third wide receiver position in Cedar Creek’s spread offense. But perhaps the glue that holds all these guys together is little Louie, the slot receiver and defensive back. He would be undersized as a high school wrestler or soccer player, much less a football player on one of the best teams in South Jersey. But, he’s always been small, and that’s never stopped him. He’s never used it as an excuse, either. He knows he has to work twice as hard as a bigger guy in order to make an impact on the football field. It’s no secret. He straps on his pads just like anybody else, and while he doesn’t have size, he has speed. So, like any runt of the litter, he’s had to use the skills he does possess and a little bit of cunning to be successful. “He’s a little sparkplug. He’s really quick on his feet and has these quick little moves, and he probably has the best hands on the team. He loves getting out in space on quick passes, anything to have him slip past a defender’s eyes,” said junior quarterback Jesse Milza. “He’s definitely a tough kid. At his size, you wouldn’t expect him to be diving in there. We had a big kid we were going against in the game against Collingswood and he took him on with that bad shoulder. He got a little banged up, but he’s not afraid to stick his shoulder in there and take a guy down. If a big play happens, he’ll be there to make the tackle no matter what it takes.” Cedar Creek senior Louie Pitale is just 5-foot-4 and 135 pounds, but he has worked hard throughout his career to become one of the better wide receivers in the Cape-Atlantic League. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Cedar Creek senior Louie Pitale is just 5-foot-4 and 135 pounds, but he has worked hard throughout his career to become one of the better wide receivers in the Cape-Atlantic League. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) Ask anybody to describe Louie Pitale in one quick sentence, and you’ll likely hear something like, “man, that is one tough little dude.” Late last year, he hurt his left shoulder. He played through the pain to finish out the football season, then did the same during basketball season. Doctors couldn’t get a consensus on exactly what the injury was, so he decided to hold off on having any type of surgery. “It was our consolation game against Sterling last year. I got a jet sweep to the corner and the defensive end came free, and his helmet went right into my shoulder as soon as I got the ball,” Pitale said. “I didn’t really feel it until after the game, when I couldn’t lift my arm above my head. I try to put it in the back of my mind that I’m hurt. I’m not a kid who enjoys sitting out, so I try my best to drown out the pain and do what I can do. The adrenaline takes over during the game, but it’s almost every day that I feel pain in my shoulder.” He knew there would be plenty of pain to deal with this fall, but there was no way he was going to miss his final season of high school football, standing on the sidelines with his arm in a sling. Especially considering he missed most of his sophomore year, having to sit out because he transferred from a private school, St. Joseph of Hammonton. And Pitale’s never-quit attitude has rubbed off on his teammates. The Pirates have won nine of 11 games this season, including a dramatic come-from-behind, 21-20 win over Collingswood in the first round of the playoffs. They also beat Haddonfield 14-9 in the South Jersey Group 2 semifinals to punch their ticket to the state championship game, Sunday, Dec. 6 at 11 a.m. at Rowan University against top-seeded West Deptford. Last year, Cedar Creek went 6-2 through its first eight games but still found itself on the outside looking in, missing the playoffs in a loaded South Jersey Group 2 bracket. The Pirates entered this year intent on proving they could be a team that contended for a sectional championship. “Last year was disappointing, not only for me, but for all those seniors as well. We really thought we were going to be a championship contender and we wound up not even making the playoffs. In my opinion, we were arguably the best team in South Jersey Group 2, we just didn’t show it all the time. I think we were just a little too complacent,” Pitale said. “This has been a great year. I think coming into this year we were all a little bit nervous because we had lost so many seniors (from the 2014 team), but once practice started we all started clicking. One of our main things is we don’t take plays off. We go 100 percent every play. It’s serious around Cedar Creek. We work hard.” Hard work is in the genes Pitale’s dad, also named Louie, and his mom, Phyllis, both have worked hard for a long time to become successful at their respective businesses. The elder Pitale spent 19 years as a salesman and manager in the flooring business before finally being able to start his own business, The Flooring Gallery, in Northfield in 2009. Phyllis is the principal at Highland Academy in Galloway, where Louie spent his formative years. Louie credits his parents for instilling in him a work ethic that doesn’t include many days off. “My dad is my biggest role model. He means the world to me and he’s taught me everything I know about football, and about life. He’s helped me a lot with everything. He is the hardest worker I’ve ever seen. He’s brought his company to a million-dollar company, he really does work hard, and that’s what I’ve learned from him,” Pitale said. “My mom is a very strong woman. She runs her own school called Highland Academy. That’s where I went to school from preschool all the way to eighth grade. She taught me to be a well-rounded student. Not enough credit goes to that woman. She’s a great lady.” “When it comes to work ethic, you can usually point to the parents and see they have instilled some good values (in an athlete), and that’s definitely the case with Louie’s parents,” Pirates coach Tim Watson said. “They are both highly engaged and from a young age they have been invested in what he does as an athlete. They are both successful in their fields and that’s something that rubs off on Louie. A lot of times, and in Louie’s case I think it’s true, you can look at your parents and there are so many lessons you can take in seeing your parents and the honor that they have in taking care of their family and doing what it takes to be successful, whether it is at a business or at a school.” Relentless Pitale is like a gnat always buzzing around your head that you can never seem to swat away. That’s what makes him such a valuable football player. He may only get one or two catches in a game, but the rest of the time he’s flying around, trying to make that key block, or running a deep route to drag defender away from an underneath route to other playmakers such as Mitchell or Melton. He relishes the role of being the guy who is underestimated, coach Watson said. Pitale averages more than 16 yards per reception, and also pulls double duty, serving as the Pirates' long snapper despite a nagging shoulder injury. Pitale averages more than 16 yards per reception, and also pulls double duty, serving as the Pirates’ long snapper despite a nagging shoulder injury. Oakcrest made the mistake of losing track of Pitale in a game earlier this year. Milza was under heavy pressure and it looked as though the play would break down, but at the last second Pitale decided to sprint toward the end zone. Milza saw him make his break and delivered a strike for a long touchdown pass that put the Pirates in front. “He came in as a sophomore and I think it was a good fit for him, knowing what we like to do on offense. We saw this year coming for him. He made some plays for us last year, but it’s nice to see the things we discussed when he was a sophomore coming to fruition as far as getting him the ball in space. He’s definitely become a weapon for us, especially with all the attention some of the other guys get (from opposing defenses). It’s been nice to see him mature and develop as a leader as well. He’s come a long way, and he stepped up a lot more this year in a leadership role. I think he feels a lot more comfortable in his role in the school and with the team,” Watson said. “Some of the best guys I have been around, especially on the high school level, have been guys who are undersized. Once you start seeing Louie work, forget about making plays and scooting around the field like a little water bug, the way that he works in practice, his attention to detail with his route running, and just the hunger that he has to be the best he can be, that’s what’s special to me. He really maximizes everything he can get out of his body. And he has to, being an undersized guy, but it’s also something he takes pride in. He impressed right away with his work ethic.” Milza knows all about Pitale’s competitive spirit. Don’t challenge Pitale to a game of pick-up basketball, he said, unless you are willing to invest a couple of hours and basically every ounce of energy you have in your body. “Nothing is going to hold Louie back, he’s been like that forever. I’ve grown up with him, we went to the same school, and no matter what he is always very competitive at whatever he does. If we play a pick-up basketball game he’s not going to let it go. He brings that competitive edge and attitude that he wants to win every time,” Milza said. “He’s an inspiration to a lot of these younger kids. Some of these freshmen might be the same size as Louie — and who knows if they will grow or not — but they feel like if Louie can be successful, that gives them the confidence that they can be successful, too.” Pitale is the same way on the football field, even in practice. “I keep up with Bo and Ahmir pretty well, I think. We go at it every day, me, Ahmir, Bo, Malachi Timberlake, Khamir Harvey, we go at it every day in practice and we compete every day. I think that’s what makes us one of the best wide receiver corps in South Jersey,” Pitale said. “It’s a great feeling knowing that I’m 5-foot-4 and 135 pounds and can play at this level of football and succeed. Knowing all the work I have put in, all the time I have spent with the trainers, and all the time I have spent working on my craft, it’s a good feeling knowing I can do what I do.” Coach Watson says Pitale does play with some of that little guy attitude. He’s got some of that ‘me against the world’ thing going on. But he has had to have that kind of attitude, always being the smallest guy on the field. “I think there is something where he plays with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, and Louie will never doubt himself. You never get the sense that he ever believes that he’s not in the fight. And that’s the beautiful thing about his character — he’s going to fight until the end and he’s going to believe he can figure out a way to pull it out, whether it’s one-on-one basketball or on the football field. He’ll do his best to win the battle,” Watson said. “He’s a tough dude. You can’t survive (on the football field) as long as he has, at his stature, without being tough. That forces guys to step their game up. When you have a guy who is half your size and he’s out there outworking you, you’re going to try to step up your game to make sure you can keep up with that guy.” Cedar Creek embraces the underdog role, Watson said, considering the school is relatively new and the football program doesn’t have a bunch of championship banners hanging in the gymnasium. He said Pitale certainly embodies the kind of attitude the Pirates bring to the field every day. “Anytime you can have the underdog guy who is a player as well, it’s a great thing. And that’s what it is with Louie. It’s not like he is the undersized guy, the guy who everybody doubts who isn’t any good. He’s the underdog guy who can make plays, so it adds to the character. When you have a team of 70 kids, there are going to be personalities that you want to rub off on everybody, and that’s certainly the case with Louie. We relish the underdog role, and Louie fits right in with that,” Watson said. “No matter what field Louie goes into, I know that he is going to be a fierce competitor and he’s going to try to prove to people that he can be the best at whatever he does. That’s just the way Louie is.” “He’s a great leader. He might be undersized, but he’s a senior now and he speaks out,” Milza added. “He shows that he’s going to give it everything he has, making the blocks he has to make, whatever it takes to help our team come together.” Pitale said his attitude toward everything in life is pretty simple: If you don’t work hard for what you want, somebody else is going to grab the opportunities you don’t fight for. “Life is life, you are what you are. You do what you have to do to make it,” Pitale said. “With me weighing 135 pounds and being 5-foot-4, I know I have to work so much harder than a guy who is 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. I work hard every day, knowing that if I don’t work hard I could lose my job. That’s my mentality.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]

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