SARANAC LAKE - Saranac Lake's Matt Phelan was greeted with some news Wednesday afternoon that eased some of the pain he's dealt with while rehabbing from shoulder surgery. At about the same time, Kevin Morgan was relieved to find out that his father Sean and Red Storm head football coach Eric Bennett weren't really upset with him.
On Wednesday, the two seniors who helped lead Saranac Lake to a 10-1 record this past fall found out they were named New York State Class C first-team selections. Also representing Saranac Lake with all-state honors was senior Michael Burpoe, who was a second-team pick at linebacker.
It was the first time that Morgan and Burpoe were named to state teams, and the second for Phelan, who was a third-team quarterback as a junior in 2011.
Matt Phelan, left, and Kevin Morgan lead Saranac Lake onto the AuSable Valley High School football field for the opening half of the Red Storm’s state Class C playoff game against Hoosick Falls.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
"I was on my way home from physical therapy when coach Bennett called and told me the news," said Phelan, who also received third team honors at quarterback during his junior year. "I was just really excited. I didn't really expect to make the first team."
While Phelan learned he was named a first-team player over the phone, Morgan got the word in person after his dad and Bennett approached him as school was letting out for the day.
"Mr. Bennett and my dad walked up to me in the hall after school and they looked angry. They were setting me up," Morgan said. "I really thought I was in trouble. When they told me, I was just floating on cloud nine. I had a good season, so I was expecting something, but first team never entered my mind. I love it."
Phelan and Morgan piled up some mind-boggling numbers for Saranac Lake as one of the most dynamic quarterback-receiver combinations to ever play in the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference.
Normally a three-sport athlete, Phelan is sitting out the hockey season after he had a shoulder tear repaired, and said he will probably miss the baseball season as well. That injury actually occurred while he was playing hockey a year ago, which makes his football performance even more remarkable.
In 11 games, including Saranac Lake's 20-12 loss to eventual Class C state champion Hoosick Falls, Phelan had a hand in 41 Red Storm touchdowns. He completed 117-of-161 passing attempts for 1,854 yards and 25 touchdowns. He also led the Red Storm on the ground with 640 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, including the only two Saranac Lake scores in the state quarterfinal matchup against the Panthers.
Morgan made massive progress between his junior and senior seasons on the football field. He didn't cross the goal line once during 2011, but a year later, the acrobatic receiver scored 16 touchdowns while hauling in 42 catches, good for 901 yards receiving.
As an outside linebacker Burpoe was the leader of a starting Saranac Lake defense that didn't give up any points until the eighth game of the season.
"Michael Burpoe was the heart and soul of our defense," Bennett said. "Everything we did was schemed around our outside linebacker play, and that was Burpoe. He wasn't always making the tackle because he was doing all the work that enabled other guys to make plays. When there was a pulling guard, Michael was there to take him on."
Phelan, Morgan and Burpoe were quick to give much of the credit for their all-state honors to their teammates and Saranac Lake's coaching staff. They also said that even today, not going all the way to the Carrier Dome is a bitter pill to swallow, but they still like to reminisce with their former teammates about a spectacular season.
"As clear as day, these three kids, just like others on our team, were the hardest working, most dedicated players I have ever had the honor to coach," Bennett said. "They were 100 percent in it to win it, and that showed in their play.
"Matty Phelan, he's as humble as they get and he's a gritty, gritty competitor," Bennett continued. "Kevin Morgan, I literally saw him drop two balls during the season, and one of those was in practice. Michael Burpoe, he was clearly our defensive leader."
Phelan definitely plans to continue his football career next year at St. Lawrence University, where he will play under head coach Mark Raymond, who is his uncle.
"All season long, Kevin made me look good, as did the other guys," Phelan said. "Just about every catch he made was good for a first down or a touchdown. I had a lot of people to throw to. It was nice."
"My success started with Matt," Morgan said. "Without a first-team all-state quarterback leading the way, I wouldn't have had the success I did. He's the big reason our team was so successful."
Morgan said he might also be interested in playing football in college, especially after his standout season.
Burpoe said he plans to compete in college lacrosse. This spring, he will be starting for the fourth straight year in lacrosse for the Red Storm.
"It's a real testament to our team and our coaching staff that Saranac Lake had all-state players on both sides of the ball," Burpoe said. "It was a great season, I still wish it could have gone a little longer. We went undefeated, we broke all kinds of records, there were great memories, we had great coaches and we had some great wins. I guarantee you that every player on our team had at least one play that defined their season."
While all three will no doubt enjoy reliving specific moments on the field every now and then, they will also relish the time they spent with their teammates and coaches, all who they described as lifelong friends.
"The best part was, I think, that throughout the season, everyone came together," Phelan said. "We became good friends, we are still good friends and we still talk about the season. It was a good one."
Burpoe added that some his fondest memories of football won't stem from plays made on the field. He said there were also good times at practice as well as occasions when the team got together outside of football.
"I've played a wide selection of sports at our school, and no team comes together like it does in football," Burpoe said. "I'd have to say the best part of the season was just how much fun we really had. We had a lot of really good times meshing into one. We went bowling as a team for practice once, and we ate a lot of spaghetti dinners together."