Gorman: Senior captain honors slain ex-Seton-La Salle star
When former Seton-La Salle football star Zachary Sheridan was fatally shot last month, the Rebels wanted to honor his memory by wearing their hearts on their sleeves and his initials on their helmets.
Seton-La Salle coach Greg Perry had no intention of giving out Sheridan's No. 3 jersey to anyone this season.
Not until senior captain Tommy Rizza approached Perry with a request.
“It was a tragedy that he passed away,” Rizza said. “He was such a good kid and a good football player. As a captain, I thought I should do something for him and his family — and that was wear his number.”
Rizza says this with a shrug, as if it was just the natural thing to do. Perry sees it in a greater scope, as if it were the sign of a player who gets what high school football is all about.
“I wanted the team to realize that once you play here at Seton-La Salle, you're a member of this fraternity forever,” Perry said. “I was happy that our captain stepped up. Numbers mean a lot to kids these days, so when he decided to give his No. 2 up that he'd worn for two years and said, ‘Coach, I'd really like to do this to honor Zach,' it meant a lot to me, knowing that Zach's spirit would still be with us that way.”
Sheridan's death on Aug. 3 was devastating not only to Perry but also the Seton-La Salle and Brookline communities. His friends describe Sheridan, 24, as a “fun-loving guy,” so they were shocked to learn he was killed after an altercation outside the Original Hot Dog Shop in Oakland but not that he was defending a friend.
The Allegheny County district attorney's office is seeking a first-degree murder conviction against Isiah Smith, 22, of Lincoln-Lemington, who is charged with shooting Sheridan in the back as he ran away.
Perry remembers Sheridan as a self-made star, transforming himself from a “short, stubby” kid to an all-conference linebacker who earned a scholarship to Slippery Rock.
Rizza remembers Sheridan as someone he admired as a young boy, a hard-nosed player who once hurdled a defender on his way to a touchdown.
For Rizza, Seton-La Salle isn't just a fraternity but a family. His big brother, Anthony, was a Rebels quarterback.
One uncle, Gary Rodgers, is the school's president. Two others, Ed and Jim Feeney, are longtime Rebels assistants.
Rizza watched a cousin, quarterback Matt Rodgers, throw passes to Sheridan. Rizza saw the framed photograph that Rodgers has of himself, Sheridan, Bo Hodgkiss and Gino Gradkowski (now of the Baltimore Ravens) holding hands as Rebels captains.
“He'd always be looking at that,” Rodgers said while watching Seton-La Salle beat McGuffey, 41-16, Friday night at Chartiers Valley. “That picture is seared into your mind. To look out there and see No. 3, that image comes to mind.”
Wearing Sheridan's number has inspired Rizza. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound multipurpose back rushed for 63 yards and three touchdowns and caught five passes for 59 yards and another score in the season-opening victory over South Allegheny last Saturday.
“I had to represent his number, come out strong and do it for him,” Rizza said. “It felt good to get some touchdowns and yards. I definitely showed out for him and put up numbers like him.”
Said Denise Sheridan, still struggling to cope with her son's sudden death: “I know Zach would have loved it.”
Not only is Seton-La Salle honoring Sheridan's memory, but so are Perry Traditional Academy — coach Bill Gallagher is a Brookline lifer and Seton alum — and Slippery Rock with helmet stickers.
Perry, the Seton coach, is impressed that Rizza, on his own, made the grand gesture. This way, even though Zach Sheridan is gone, his memory will live on with the Rebels.
“It helps ease it, but it doesn't take that soreness away, when you find out something tragic like that has happened,” Perry said. “It's one of those stories that makes you feel good. It's not a happy ending to a tragic (incident), but we can at least get some happiness out of it to see No. 3 running around — and we know why it's running around.”
And who it represents.