PLEASANTVILLE – At first, Tony Becerra wasn’t sure what to expect from Declan McDermott. Here’s what he knew: The lacrosse star was easily one of Pleasantville’s best athletes. What he couldn’t foresee was how that would translate to the football field.
McDermott, a junior, had last played football at the modified level. But, during summer workouts and 7-on-7 tournaments, his play turned Becerra’s vision from cloudy to clear.
“He was just a natural. He was so coachable. He got it,” the Pleasantville coach said. “What surprised me more than anything was how tough he was. He was tough and nothing fazed him. He had that mental makeup of a football player.”
Despite his lack of experience, McDermott has proven to be a quick study. He spent the last two years running cross-country with older brother Aidan, but he has quickly become an integral player on Pleasantville’s Section 1 championship football team.
McDermott scored twice in last week’s 28-21 win over Westlake in the Class B final, including what proved to be the winning touchdown.
“The gravity of the situation won’t faze him,” Becerra said. “I give him something or tell him to do this and he’s just like, ‘I got you.’ “
That was essentially the answer McDermott gave to older brother Aidan when Aidan asked him to join the cross-country team two years ago. The elder McDermott said the team needed an influx of runners if it hoped to repeat as sectional champion. Declan, who played football throughout elementary and middle school, agreed to run, knowing it would be the only chance he and Aidan, a golfer, had to be members of the same roster.
They helped the Panthers win a pair of Class C championships and qualified for the state meet both years.
“I don’t regret one day of it,” Declan said. “It was an awesome experience.”
Although Aidan was already one of the team’s top runners, Declan also became a varsity starter, running in Pleasantville’s top five both years. They even won the county title when he was a freshman, running past much larger schools in the process.
“He was definitely a huge contributor,” Aidan said by phone from Lafayette, where he is a freshman on the golf team. “Without him, it would’ve been tough for both teams to win section titles.”
With his brother’s impending graduation and at the urging of friends who are football players, Declan rejoined the football program last winter. He attended offseason workouts and dedicated himself to help the Panthers chase their first Section 1 title in three years.
This summer, McDermott participated in camps and other workouts and trained with quarterback Jack Howe when he didn’t. Now, with McDermott starting at wide receiver, blasting kickoffs and returning kicks, Pleasantville sits at 10-0.
“The first couple games it was hard to get used to the speed of the game,” said McDermott, whose team plays New Paltz at 7 p.m. Friday at Dietz Stadium in the state quarterfinals. “The coaches and players helped me hop in and fit right in.”
McDermott’s athleticism certainly hasn’t hurt. Before playing a down of football, he had already been a key force behind Pleasantville’s back-to-back Class C lacrosse champions and has committed to play at Georgetown. But McDermott also ran for the school’s sectional-winning winter track team as an eighth-grader, meaning he already has six Section 1 titles just one season into his junior year.
His brother watched Declan fuel last week’s win over Westlake and felt more confirmation than satisfaction.
“I had a feeling he would win,” Aidan said. “He always does.”
Declan McDermott seems to make sure of it. He may not always know what sport he will play next, but that’s not the point.
“It’s been a spontaneous high school experience for me,” he said. “I’m kind of just going with the flow. I don’t think about it. I just want to have fun in high school. That’s what I’m going for.”