Woodland senior captain Coby Vaccarelli, a vital offensive cog and defensive pillar for the Hawks, has physically overcome more than most twice or three times his age during his four-year high school career.
As a freshman, Vaccarelli was sprinting down the field as a gunner on special teams on one of the last plays of the game against rival Naugatuck. He was blindsided by a Greyhound with a block that made his right knee buckle in excruciating pain.
“My foot got stuck in the ground and I just felt a pop in my leg. I knew it was bad,” Vaccarelli says.
It was very bad indeed.
Vaccarelli had torn his anterior cruciate ligament or ACL. He had surgery, extensive physical therapy, and after several months Vaccarelli was able to get back to moving normally.
After his freshman season was cut short, Vaccarelli looked forward to getting back on track in his sophomore campaign. He was cleared just before the season and eager to make his mark.
The season went well and the Hawks earned a spot in the Class S state playoffs. In the semifinal game against Bloomfield, the unthinkable happened again.
“I caught a screen pass from Tanner Kingsley and as I ran up field one of their defensive players swung me and my leg twisted awkwardly,” Vaccarelli says.
Suddenly he felt a hauntingly familiar feeling.
“I knew right away,” Vaccarelli says.
This time Vaccarelli tore the ACL in his left knee, ending an otherwise great sophomore campaign.
Back to the start. He had to have surgery, physical therapy, and the mental fortitude to deal with all of this for the second year in a row.
Since his second surgery all Vaccarelli has done is become one of the strongest pound-for-pound players on the team and their leader on defense.
“He always works hard. He came back through all of his injuries and has become better and better every year and I’m proud to watch him,” senior wide receiver Jon Scirpo says.
Heading into this season Vaccarelli told the Waterbury Republican-American that he didn’t feel like a senior.
“I feel like I’m a freshman,” he said. “That’s how fast your high school career goes by. I really appreciate it now. When I was a 14-year-old freshman, the seniors told all of the underclassmen how quickly it would go and I didn’t listen. I said, ‘No way does it go by so fast.’”
Vaccarelli, a fiery leader that shows his passion on the field, has made the most of his senior season and high school career.
This season alone he has 70 total tackles and 11 of those have come behind the line of scrimmage. He also has two interceptions, one forced fumble that just so happened to be returned for a touchdown, and one pass defensed.
Despite having to overcome two major surgeries in his high school career, Vaccarelli has left his mark on the program. He enters the Thanksgiving eve game versus Seymour just nine solo tackles away from the all-time lead. He is also in the top ten in Woodland history in several categories: interceptions, passes defensed, tackles, tackle assists and two-point conversions.
“He’s been great,” says head coach Chris Anderson, who praises Vaccarelli for his mental and physical toughness as well as his leadership. “His leadership is in action, he prepares hard and doesn’t take plays off. He is an impressive kid.”
Editor’s note: This article appears in the Citizen’s News’ special Thanksgiving football section published the week of Nov. 27, 2015.