Jaden and Jesse AlfanoStJohn are said to have the Heart of a Giant.
The Westhampton Beach seniors were nominated for the USA Football award with that name for their teamwork, will, and dedication to their Hurricanes team following the loss of their mother, Rose, last month.
On January 30, Rose went in for a routine exam and the doctor perforated her esophagus. For the next eight months, the twin brothers would go to school, come home, and try to help their parents around the house, with their dogs, and other day-to-day activities, Jesse said.
“One of the things that helped us stay focused was lifting weights, running, training, and getting prepared for the upcoming football season,” Jaden said. “We would train early in the morning and then after school. We would lift almost every day with the goal of getting bigger in our minds, so when our mom finally came home from the hospital, both of our parents would be there cheering us on and seeing our improvements.”
But that didn’t happen. Rose died on September 6, and following the wake and funeral, the boys quickly returned to their team for the first game of the season, not only to be there for the Hurricanes like their teammates were there for them, but because football has always been “the sport” in the AlfanoStJohn family. Their parents never missed a game.
“The damage that was done to her was too significant, and eventually it got to the point where there was nothing that the doctors could do,” Jaden said. “Unfortunately, our mom couldn’t fight anymore, but we knew we couldn’t let her down, and we went to practice right after her funeral. The main thing is keeping focused, being with our teammates and our coaches, and looking forward to this senior season.”
“The twins returned to practice and school eager to play the game they love and the sport their mother Rose enjoyed watching them play,” said Westhampton head football coach Bryan Schaumloffel, who nominated them for the USA Football recognition in partnership with the New York Giants and Hospital for Special Surgery.
“I think they’re both working through the situation in their own particular way, trying to power through the tough moments, and I think this award would be great for them,” the coach added. “It’s pretty prestigious, about overcoming adversity. I’m sure it would mean a lot to their mother as well.”
The brothers said another reason they returned was knowing how much of an influence they have on incoming players.
“We try to help the younger kids on the team feel more connected and engaged. It is intimidating being the young ones, so we try to help the other guys feel comfortable,” the brothers said. “We look to our past mishaps and things we could’ve done better, and try to steer the younger guys in the right direction.”
In the first game of the season, a 55-0 shutout of Harborfields September 13, Jaden, a running back, moved the ball 212 yards on 14 carries and scored four touchdowns. Jesse, a linebacker and tight end who caught a 19-yard pass for a touchdown, made five tackles and recorded a sack.
“I knew she was watching,” Jesse said following the win.”It helped me relax.”
““It was tough, but I was motivated to play for her,” Jaden said. “My mom loved watching us play football. I knew she would want me to be out there doing what I love instead of locking myself away from everybody.”
Jesse said his football team is his second family, and thinks the award, which comes with a $1000 equipment grant for the six finalists’ high school football programs, and an additional $9000, trophy, and on-field award ceremony during a Giants home game in December for the grand prize winner, would mean a lot not just to him and his brother, but the entire community.
“It’s about doing better for the program,” he said. “Knowing the team has my back has been comforting, it has also helped in and outside the classroom. But the entire community has been so supportive, and this could help us give back.”
The AlfanoStJohn brothers, Giants fans from birth who had the opportunity to play with quarterback Eli Manning the past two summers, were named one of 60 top nominees from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut who demonstrated unparalleled work ethic and a passion for the game, entering them into an online voting competition. Athletes are announced 10 per week over a six-week span. Voting for the twins is now open as part of Week 3 — done at www.usafootball.com/hoagvote/ — and ends October 14.
“Every single accomplishment that we achieve this season is fully dedicated to our mother,” Jaden said, “and what she aspired for us to be.”