As Mat Bruno will tell it, Rye coach Dino Garr sends a consistent message to his players about what he expects: They all need to play like seniors. Bruno hasn’t just listened, he’s lived it.
A year after starting at linebacker as a sophomore, Bruno has been a force on offense, defense and special teams for the unbeaten Garnets, who entered Friday night’s Class A semifinal against Yorktown at 8-0.
Bruno has been his best on defense, recording a team-high 11 sacks to go with 31 tackles. He’s also blocked three punts and played anything from quarterback to running back and receiver in a part-time role on offense.
“We have a big motto, that being selfish is not acceptable,” said Bruno, a two-year starter at outside linebacker. “Everyone has to be selfless and do their part.”
“That’s the word: Selfless,” Garr said. “It’s not only with Mat. We don’t have any outstanding people who carry the ball, who have 1,000 yards or whatever. Mat fits that mold. All the players have touched on the same thing for us, and he’s doing whatever he can do to be successful.”
Bruno actually had his best performance this season against Yorktown. Rye beat the Huskers 31-20 on Sept. 18 and Bruno had three-and-a-half sacks, blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown and threw a touchdown.
“Coach (Simon) Berk just sent me off the edge and once I came off the edge I was able to put pressure on (Yorktown quarterback Jose) Boyer all night long,” Bruno said. “And that’s what we needed because he’s a great quarterback.”
Bruno’s speed and athleticism was also integral in stopping Yorktown’s Nick Santavicca, who is the area’s leading rusher since the beginning of the 2014 season. The Rye defense held Santavicca, Yorktown’s all-time leading rusher, to just 44 yards.
“He’s very quick. He has good speed,” Garr said. “Mat uses his quickness and his ability and agility. He has the athletic ability to get to places to make a play. Even when he’s a step behind, he can make up for it. And he’s very competitive.”
Bruno may’ve had those attributes as a sophomore, but, looking back now, he wasn’t always meeting Garr’s demand to play like an upperclassmen. However, he said whatever growing pains he experienced last year helped prepare him to play as well as he has.
“It was a great learning experience for me and the other sophomores to get to see what it’s like,” Bruno said. “This year, we were expected to be leaders. We have to teach all the people coming up what to do.”
And play like seniors — even if they’re not.