ABOVE: John MacAulay, left, lines up with his Rye teammates. BELOW: MacAulay with teammate Scott Hanley. / Photos by Joe Larese/The Journal News
RYE — Just like everyone else, John MacAulay trudged off the field and onto the Rye sideline, his chest heaving.
It was the waning moments of the Garnets' Week 5 game against Roosevelt and the senior was winded after a few plays at split end. He pulled back his helmet and called for a sip of water he longed to taste.
"He said he was pretty tired," senior captain Dylan Lynch said, "and he felt like he could've done a little better with the blocking."
With a couple series three weeks ago, MacAulay saw his only game action in two seasons on varsity, but his teammates found that moment and many more with "Big John" just as rewarding as he did. The 18-year old is limited by mild autism, but for six years he has been a constant in the program, since joining the modified team as a seventh-grader.
Players and coaches spoke glowingly about how they have benefitted from MacAulay's presence. They are not alone.
"This is probably the best thing that has ever happened to him," his mother, Mary Beth, said. "I would say that football has done more for him than any special education class, support or therapy. This has done so much more. Everything is always changing and you just have to learn to adapt."
During the game against Roosevelt, longtime Rye coach Dino Garr adapted quickly himself. Without any advanced planning, Garr inserted the 6-foot-1, 220-pound MacAulay at split end at the urging of players who wanted their teammate rewarded for his dedication.
MacAulay lined up in his best stance, fired off the ball as best he could and blocked the Roosevelt defender in front of him.
"I just watched the ball and ran after it," MacAulay said during Monday's practice. "It was fun to play in the game. We had scored a lot. I blocked a guy and I did a good job."
"It was almost like 'Rudy' where everybody went to the coach and said, 'Get him in,' " senior Jeff Dempsey said. "I wanted him to play for me and he ended up going in for me at wide receiver. It was great to see him in there. No matter what he was doing, as long as he was on that field enjoying himself, it was a sight to see. Everybody here grew up with him. We've played baseball and football with him. Just to see him get in there and have the time of his life was great."