Bond between linebackers has helped Cornwall’s dominant defense

By Justin Rodriguez
Section 9 Football Insider

Fraternal twins Ryan and Shane O’Dea began playing football with their close friend, Steve Gazzillo, a decade ago in the Cornwall Youth Football League.

Through the years, they have developed quite a bond, which has only been strengthened during their time on varsity. For the last three years, Gazzillo and the O’Dea brothers have played linebacker for Cornwall, leading a lights out defense.

The three seniors are seemingly saving their best for their final days in a Cornwall uniform. The Green Dragons’ defense, always flying to the ball, always relentless and tough, is breathing fire during the postseason. However, Cornwall (10-0) faces its most difficult challenge when it takes on Burnt Hills (9-1) in the semifinals of the Class A state playoffs at 8 p.m. on Friday at Faller Field in Middletown.

“We all take a lot of pride in our defense and always want to give our offense a good chance to score,” Gazzillo said. “We just have a connection out there and I love playing with Ryan and Shane. All of us are quiet, but when it gets out there, we are all pretty crazy. I’m going to miss playing with them.”

Gazzillo, who wrestled at 145 pounds last year and plays football at approximately 170, has 99 tackles and eight sacks this year. He has finished the season as Cornwall’s leading tackler the last two seasons. Shane O’Dea has 67 tackles and 3.5 sacks, and Ryan O’Dea has 61 tackles and two interceptions for the eight-time defending Section 9 Class A champions.

(Cornwall linebacker Steve Gazzillo)

“Those three kids line up every game and lead by example,” interim Cornwall coach Eric Holzapple said. “They aren’t the most vocal players, but they get the job done every week for us. We put a lot of faith in our defense. We love to kickoff and Ryan, Shane and Steve have done an incredible job with their responsibilities.”

Cornwall’s defense has allowed just 11.8 points per game this season and an average of seven over the past weeks. The Green Dragons have outscored opponents 99-14 in three postseason games with Gazzillo and the O’Dea twins leading the way. Cornwall shut out Minisink Valley in the Section 9 Class A semifinals, New Paltz in the Class A championship, before putting away John Jay-Cross River 35-14 in the Class A state quarterfinals last week.

The threesome began playing in the Cornwall youth system when they were seven years old. Gazzillo and Shane O’Dea always played linebacker and Ryan came up the ranks as a skill player. Ryan O’Dea began playing linebacker as a sophomore and immediate began making plays.

“We just all know each other strengths and weaknesses so well,” Ryan O’Dea said. “We complement each other well out there and it helps us out there. We are proud of we are playing and the rest of our defense as well. We all know that it’s win or go home now. This team has nine seniors on defense that don’t want to go home.”

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