By Justin Rodriguez
Section 9 Football Insider
Slate Hill — A steady rain turned into a downpour as Minisink Valley players jogged onto the field for their first practice of preseason earlier this week.
The Warriors seemingly reveled in the elements, barking and chanting as they warmed up on the muddy, waterlogged grass. For the players, it was good to be back, and none of them were likely more grateful to experience football again than Minisink Valley running back Connor Michael.
Michael, a senior, suffered a serious knee injury during the second game of last season against Newburgh and missed the rest of the year.
“After the injury, I was really down,” said Michael, whose grandfather was baseball legend Gene Michael, the architect behind the New York Yankees’ dynasty that began in the mid-1990s. Gene Michael passed away last September at the age of 79.
“I was worrying if I would every get back to where I was,” Connor Michael added. “It was five months of physical therapy and five months in the gym after that. The hard work has paid off and I’m grateful to be back. It means everything to me.”
Every player has something to prove in camp, whether it’s the impact running back seeking to become a star, the much hyped up-and-comer looking to live up to expectations, or the jayvee call-up hoping to show that he can make plays on varsity. Then there are players such as Michael who are seeking redemption after a season lost to injury.
Minisink Valley coach Kevin Gallagher expects Michael to be in the Warriors’ running back rotation this season. Michael can run hard and is speedy. He’s also tough.
Michael remained in the Newburgh game last year after his knee injury, before finally having to exit.
“Connor is just a great kid,” Gallagher said. “He’s a quiet, humble kid, and he’s mentally tough. You wish you had 50 players like Connor on the team. He’s that type of person. Connor worked hard to come back this season and I hope he has a great year because he is the type of kid that deserves it.”
Michael’s mild-mannered demeanor is much like his grandfather’s. For all of Gene Michael’s success, his peers respected him for being a gentleman, a class act. Michael played shortstop for the Yankees from 1968-74 and served as the team’s manager in 1981-82. However, he made his most lasting impact on the famed organization as the general manager from 1991-95.
Michael’s vision, patience and ability to stand up to George Steinbrenner was the key to keeping the team’s young prospects who went on to lead the Yankees to four World Series titles in five years from 1996-2000. Michael was the general manager when the Yankees drafted Derek Jeter as the sixth overall in 1992. He signed or drafted the other members of the famed Core Four — Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. Michael also traded for David Cone, Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill.
He held the title of senior vice president and senior advisor at the time of his passing.
“My grandfather was always someone that I looked up to,” Connor Michael said. “Whether it was soccer, baseball or football, he always motivated me. He watched me from a young age and it was sad to see him go. It’s very rare in our world to see someone so humble. People like to bring attention to themselves, but he never did that. He was very humble about his accomplishments.”
Connor Michael’s father, Mark, grew up in Akron, Ohio, where Gene Michael was from. Connor Michael said his family moved from Bergenfield, N.J. to Orange County shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. His grandfather was a frequent visitor to the area.
Gene Michael passed away at his home in Oldsmar, Fla. on September 7th of last year. A day later, his grandson suited up against Newburgh, his last game of the season.
“I knew he would have wanted me to go out there and get after it, and I couldn’t let my team down,” Michael said.
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