Jaden and Jesse AlfanoStJohn’s mother, Rose, had never missed a chance to watch her sons play.
That made Friday’s home opener against Harborfields that much harder for the twins, who lost their mom to complications from surgery a week before the big game.
But looking up into the stands, they saw an even bigger support system than the immediate one they have at home, and all eyes were on the seniors as they dazzled during a 55-0 shutout of Harborfields September 13.
“It was tough, but I was motivated to play for her,” said Jaden, a running back who moved the ball 212 yards on 14 carries and scored four touchdowns. “My mom loved watching me and Jesse play football — since we were young — and I knew she would want me to be out there doing what I love instead of sitting at home locking myself away from everybody.”
He said the goal has always been to make her and her partner, his birth mother Suzanne, proud, and the AlfanoStJohn brothers had no problem with that across the victory.
“I knew she was watching,” said Jesse, a tight end and linebacker who caught a 19-yard pass for a touchdown, and had five tackles and a sack. “So I felt relaxed. She’d been sick since February, and everyone has been so supportive. It was easier having Jaden by my side, but obviously I would’ve rather not have to be in this position at all.”
Head coach Bryan Schaumloffel said with the passing of Rose on Saturday, the wake on Monday, and burial Tuesday, the pair were emotionally drained, adding the entire coaching staff and district personnel told the brothers to take as much time as they need, but said it became clear quickly the twins weren’t going to stop playing football.
“Even though it was tough and it was overwhelming for them, they felt it was best to be back with the team and get back to a normal routine as soon as possible,” he said. “There’s no playbook for how to handle this type of situation. They’re 17-year-old boys and they showed a lot of maturity. It was heartwarming. I think they put up a great face and really battled through it.”
Senior quarterback Jeff McBurnie completed eight of 15 passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns, with junior running back Aidan Cassara catching one of them. Cassara also opened the second half with an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Senior linebacker Shavar Coffey had 10 tackles and a sack, senior linebacker and offensive guard Devin Koonmen made an interception, and junior offensive guard and nose tackle Dom Sarno added six tackles and sack in the win.
“It’s always a good feeling winning the game with the team, but especially shutting an opponent out in the opening game,” Jesse said. “It’s been great to have so many people behind me and here for me, and I feel like I made my mom proud. I feel like she would’ve loved the way me and my brother played tonight.”
The twins said they don’t think there’s anything their mother would have wanted more than to see them playing under the Friday night lights. The sport has played a big part in the lives of each of their family members, but now, their mother will be the focus of each of their football games.
“All season I’m going to play with a chip on my shoulder,” Jaden said. “We’re going to play for our mom.”