SYRACUSE - These players were in middle school when it all started at Rye High. Donald Keough remembers going to the 2003 state football championship game at the Carrier Dome and daydreaming about going back as a player some day. Cole McCormack remembers being on a family vacation in Florida at the time, and mad he couldn't be in Syracuse.
They were young kids. Heck, Kyle Ramalho probably wasn't even shaving yet.
"No, I was," Ramalho said yesterday.
Now it's five years later, and the run has become six incredible ones. Rye has turned over its entire roster at least twice. It has had five starting quarterbacks. And the success just keeps going on and on and on.
The Garnets are state champions again, for the second year in a row, the third time in four years. They were the only defending champ in five classes to even make it back to Syracuse. They hold the longest active winning streak in the state at 25 games. They played in the championship game for the fifth time in six years. They have won 71 of 74 games in that span, including 47-1 since they lost a second consecutive state championship game back in 2004.
They have matched Dobbs Ferry and Edgemont as the only Section 1 teams to win three state football championships. All this in six years. Six years that could not have been imagined back when this run started.
"It's beyond words," Rye coach Dino Garr said. "It's magical. It's a dream. We knew that we would work hard and that our players believed in us, and our staff does such a great job - I can't begin to tell you.
"Our coaching staff comes up with plans, and our players follow it 99 percent of the time. And when they break down, they know it. Preparation and dedication and, of course, aggressiveness is what we do."
There came a point in the third quarter of what would be a 16-12 win over a very good Oneida team when the Indians went into an oddball offensive alignment - the quarterback in a shotgun formation with his center, the rest of the offensive line and his running backs way off to the left, his receivers way off to the right. And, as confusing as it looked, Garr and assistants Tommy Maloney and Mike Bruno had the Garnets prepared for that, too. They had seen it on some 2-point conversion attempts, on film.
So, yeah, this isn't just about talent and will, but also about leaving no stone unturned.
It's about dedication, too, such as Ramalho staying inbounds to run out the clock at the end, even if it meant landing on a shoulder that was popping out, and landing on the football despite a rib-cage injury. Like Matt Foristel, who suffered a knee injury, insisting paramedics not take him for tests until after the celebration. They wheeled him into the team photo, and then to a hospital.
It's about brothers of brothers - and there won't be an attempt to name them all, but for starters the tough Ramseys, and the Ecks, who quarterbacked consecutive state championship teams, and before them the Urso brothers, the Niehaus brothers, and so many others.
"The first team to make it here, they really did set the standard," Ramalho said. Then he showed the goosebumps that had just risen on his arm when he thought about that '03 team, and how painful it must have been to lose here.
Garr said he knows that some day this will have to end. Next year Rye probably is going up to Class A, where the Garnets will do just fine, but where the playoffs will be even more grueling, for sure.
This is about a group that before the 2003 season, Mapquested Rye-to-Syracuse directions and slapped them on the wall in their school field house. The '03 Garnets got there, and the seniors hung out on the field after the loss, soaking in the experience together. Then the '04 team got back to the Dome and got pummeled by dynastic Chenango Forks, but understood that its underclassmen would be back and better. In '05, they snapped Forks' 38-game winning streak, and the opposing players praised Rye, saying the Garnets were like the Forks teams, just starting out as a force.
The '06 team lost in a state semifinal to Albany Academy, in a game of trick plays by the opponent and mistakes by the Garnets - their only loss not to Forks in the last six years. And the '07 team used that as motivation to come back and win a second championship, over Forks again.
Now we have this remarkable '08 championship team.
"It starts with the coaches," McCormack said. "They stress Garnet pride and Garnet family. Small steps to get to the big thing."
"Great tradition," said Connor Eck, the sophomore quarterback who played on a bum ankle. "The names may change, as coach says, but all the tradition stays the same, the same mentality, confidence, and we just like to have fun and we play hard. That's Rye football. Garnet pride.
"They started it (in '03). It's the coaching that keeps this alive."
Garr said he'll be very emotional when he says goodbye to his seniors at the team dinner on Thursday. Ramalho cried several times after the game, coming to grips with the idea his three-championship career was over, his voice cracking and tears running through his eye black and his dark beard the way he ran through Oneida.
To be able to reach a bar set so high, year after year, is quite an accomplishment.
"We talk about it all the time," Garr said. "Our family grows every year. As long as I'm there and even after I'm gone, there are going to be Garnets that come in and be part of our legacy. That's what we speak about, that we pass it on. We have 25 seniors this year, and it was passed on to them last year, and they're going to have to pass it on. It's going to be tough. We know it's tough.
"Obviously it's not something you can say, 'It's going to happen' although everyone else thinks it's that easy and the expectations are that way, but it's not. But what I tell you is this: The kids come to play, they're studious, they love what they do, they love what we are as coaches and we love them back."
And it shows