By Justin Rodriguez
Section 9 Football Insider
John Catano is an old school, battle-tested coach who made a name for himself with an impressive 18-year run at Section 1’s Croton-Harmon.
Section 1 has quite a reputation and over the years Catano saw a lot of great players across the river. However, Catano will tell you that the most impressive player that he’s ever coached is not from Westchester County.
That distinction belongs to James I. O’Neill senior running back James Tehui-Matautia.
“James is the most phenomenal players that I’ve coached,” said Catano, entering his second year at O’Neill. He stepped down at Croton in 2016 after leading the Tigers to two state championship games (Class C in 2008 and Class B in 2011). “The stuff that he can do with his body is just amazing. I have had all-state players who can’t do what James does. When he gets away from defenders, he just glides, he doesn’t even run.”
Tehui-Matautia made a name for himself last year by rushing for 1,542 yards and 15 touchdowns. He averaged 9.7 yards per carry and split time between linebacker and defensive back. Tehui-Matautia had 61 tackles with three sacks, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.
He’s expected to have an even bigger year for O’Neill, which should be a player in Class B this year. Everyone in Section 9 might be dreaming of a Marlboro-Burke Catholic Class B championship game, but O’Neill graduated just three seniors from last year’s team and is a legit player. Leading the way for the Raiders will Tehui-Matautia, who is 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, and is a devastating combination of power and speed.
“People loaded up on James last year, but he’s tough, he just doesn’t go down,” Catano said. “It’s almost scary how fast he is and can adjust to anything. I know I sound like a broken record, but I have never coached a player like that.”
For all of his success and Catano’s praise Tehui-Matautia remains humble.
“To hear that from Coach Catano, that is huge, especially where he comes from,” Tehui-Matautia said. “That’s an honor, but I don’t let things like that go to my head. My parents taught me to be a good kid. I don’t talk trash and all that kind of other stuff. I just play.”
Tehui-Matautia lives at West Point. His father is retired from the U.S. Army and is native of American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the U.S. located in the South Pacific Ocean. James Tehui-Matautia was born at Fort Irwin in California and he and his family moved to West Point eight years ago. He made his debut for O’Neill as a sophomore rushing for 503 yards and five scores.
Tehui-Matautia is bigger and stronger this year, and O’Neill’s entire offensive line returns in front of him. If Catano is impressed with him now, who knows what he will be saying after Tehui-Matautia’s senior year.