Michael Katz is 5-foot-5 and about 170 pounds — without his shoulder pads and helmet on.
He doesn’t quite have the physical stature of a college prospect, but the Lenape Valley senior’s size isn’t what matters. It’s his heart that’s immeasurable.
Patriots head coach Don Smolyn nominated Katz for the USA Football Heart of a Giant program back in August. The award recognizes high school football players from New Jersey, New York and Connecticut who demonstrate work ethic, character and passion for the game of football.
Katz, an inside linebacker and captain, is one of six finalists for the award. The winner will be announced on Nov. 30.
Lenape Valley already received a $1,500 equipment grant from the Hospital for Special Surgery and the New York Giants. If Katz ends up winning the Heart of a Giant award, the school will get an additional $3,500 equipment grant, and he will receive a trophy and get on-field recognition at the Giants-Panthers game on Dec. 20 at MetLife Stadium.
“He just has that personality that reaches every kid,” Smolyn said. “He was the heartbeat of our team. He has a way with his teammates and coaches, and it starts with his work ethic, his personality and his drive. He has that ‘it’ factor. He does everything perfectly, whether it’s in the weight room or on the practice field, and all of the kids gravitate to him.”
Katz dealt with his parents’ divorce at a young age, and he was forced to move to several school districts. Academically, Katz had to overcome a reading disability. He didn’t participate in organized sports until the seventh grade, when he started boxing and wrestling, which eventually led to football.
“In high school, I really started to love the game,” Katz said. “Not just watching and being a fan of it, but I really started to love to play it. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to play because I was only 125 pounds, but when I got to high school, no matter how big I was, I knew hard work would let me do whatever I want. I began lifting and tried to put on as much muscle as I could. I did speed training as well, and I really think it paid off.”
Katz led the Patriots to a 9-2 overall record this season and a NJSIAA North 2 Group II semifinal appearance before falling to Madison, 14-7. He started every game for the Patriots on the defensive side of the ball, piling up 66 tackles and two sacks. As a fullback, he carried the ball 51 times for 189 yards in just three games.
“I wouldn’t want to play for any other team,” Katz said. “We didn’t complete our goal, which was to ultimately win a championship, but we took it one week at a time. Our goal every week was to go 1-0, and for the most part I think we did that. We just wanted to build on what we did last year, and I think we did that this year. We had great team chemistry, and I’m never going to forget the memories I made here.”
Staff Writer Dan Canova: (862) 240-2878;firstname.lastname@example.org