Seton-La Salle captain to honor former Rebel standout killed in Oakland

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The reason a player chooses a particular jersey number often is superstition. Other times, the reason is tradition. And sometimes it's just the luck of the draw.

On occasion, though, there's a deeper reason a particular number is chosen.

Much deeper.

When the Seton-La Salle football team kicks off the 2013 season Saturday afternoon against South Allegheny, Tom Rizza — a senior defensive back and team captain — will be wearing jersey No. 3.

That's the number worn by former Seton-La Salle star player Zach Sheridan, who was shot and killed in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh earlier this summer.

“He was a big part of our program, and I'm a team captain, so I was thinking of how I could honor him for the entire team,” said Rizza, a three-year starter at defensive back.

Sheridan was a standout tight end and linebacker for the Rebels from 2004-06. Rizza's cousin, Matt Rodgers, was the starting quarterback and team captain on those squads.

Rizza attended those games to see his cousin play, and became quite familiar with Sheridan.

“I watched him play a lot of games,” he said. “He was a very good player.”

Seton-La Salle head coach Greg Perry already had planned to have his players wear Sheridan's initials on their helmets this season as a way to pay tribute. He was planning to have no one wear Sheridan's No. 3, until Rizza approached him.

“Tommy was really familiar with Zach and what Zach did for us and meant to us,” Perry said. “Tommy approached me and said, ‘Coach, I'd like to wear that No. 3. I want to represent that No. 3 and try to live up to it.'”

Perry agreed to the request. As he explained, it was more than a token gesture by Rizza, who previously wore No. 2.

“That's a very honorable thing,” said the coach. “Numbers mean a lot to kids in high school. They want their number. For him to give up his number, and he's been successful in it, to take Zach's number shows the type of kid Tom is.

“It's an unselfish move for somebody to step up and do something like that.”

It also shows the type of football program that exists at Seton-La Salle.

“This is a close-knit group of kids, just like the teams Zach was on,” Perry said. “Everyone sees (the team) as a big family.”

Perry said the tragedy reminded him just how strong the bond is among teammates. It reminded him that the games are insignificant while also significant.

“When you're a football coach, these kinds of tragedies strike you hard,” he said. “You lose more than a player. Those kids are part of our lives. To see that someone else, another kid, understands how important he was ... that's a big thing for Tom to do.

“Football is football, but things happen along the way that make it more than a game. Everyone likes to win championships, but a bond grows between teams and coaches and players, and that bond goes a long way.

“Tom's ready to go. Hopefully, he can be the type of player Zach was for us.”

Rizza said that's exactly what he hopes to do.

“I'm going to try the best I can, to be the kind of player he was,” Rizza said, “to live up to player he was.”

Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.

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