Rotsko leaves lasting impression on MIAA football

LONGMEADOW, Mass. -- When people look back on Alex Rotsko’s tenure as head football coach at Longmeadow, it won’t necessarily be the eye-popping records set and accolades acquired that are remembered first.

It won’t be the career 184-39 record or the 15 straight Super Bowl appearances. It won’t be the 11 Super Bowl victories, 10 straight league titles or that 47-game winning streak that captured national recognition.

It will be the gigantic footprint Rotsko left on high school football in Massachusetts that first comes to mind.

Rotsko, who will become the head football coach at Marshwood High School in South Berwick, Maine this fall, obviously left quite the impression on the town of Longmeadow. But Rotsko’s influence didn’t stop at city limits. No, Rotsko’s impact was felt at all levels of high school football in Western Massachusetts and throughout the MIAA.

And, now, Rotsko’s most proud of how his involvement in such organizations has led to other area coaches becoming engaged.

“I’d like to think it’s improved over the years,” he said. “I see a lot more coaches involved. I know that when I was coaching at AIC and was involved in the National Football Foundation, the first year I came to Longmeadow, I was the only high school coach involved.

“Here’s an organization that does most of their work involving high schools and I’m the only high school coach. It was embarrassing. Now, you have a lot more coaches involved. (East Longmeadow’s) Scott Raymond, (Westfield’s) Bill Moore, (West Springfield’s) Chad Labonte; those guys have done a wonderful job getting involved.”

Rotsko has been instrumental in the growth of various local organizations devised to improve high school football and served as Western Massachusetts’ unofficial ambassador to the state’s football coaches association as well as the MIAA.

He became the president of the Western Mass. chapter of the National Football Foundation, helping the group grow to new lengths and serving as founder of the annual Shriners Chowder Bowl, which pits the top seniors from Western Mass. against those from Central Massachusetts. In 2009, he was honored by the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame for his leadership.

“He has the highest integrity,” said Nick St. George, who’ll take over the Lancers after being Rotsko’s right-hand man for the past 19 years. “He has work ethic you try to teach people about. I’ve heard many players refer to his work ethic. They see how hard he works and don’t want to let him down. He always does the right thing. He talks about playing football the right way and living the right way.”

Of course, when it comes to Rotsko, it will be hard not to speak of the impressive winning resume. Longmeadow, under his reign, won its 11th Super Bowl championship this past December at Gillette Stadium. With a team putting its third-string quarterback under center because of a rash of injuries, the Lancers didn’t skip a beat, ultimately dismantling upstart Springfield Central for yet another title.

It was among the best coaching jobs on a long list of them for Rotsko, who will remember the dirt-dog teams even more than some of his most talented.

“Some of the years we were 8-3 and had to work a little harder were among my favorite,” Rotsko said. “Those teams and the ones like we had year, those are the most fun for coaches. We may not have had the most talent but we got the most out of the kids.”

Rotsko was celebrated Wednesday at Longmeadow High School. Or at least he was supposed to be. In true Rotsko fashion, the coach spent time remembering the people and stories that will stick with him forever, regardless of his location.

He remembered Spencer Kimball, the player who practiced all season to play only on Thanksgiving Day because religious beliefs prevented him from playing on Fridays and Saturdays.

Or the one about Niko Sierra, who played the majority of the Lancers’ 21-0 Super Bowl victory over Leominster in 2007 with a broken foot. Sierra, a running back and linebacker, didn’t have the heart to tell Rotsko, who was fired up about proving wrong a report in the Worcester Telegram that questioned the toughness of kids from Longmeadow.

He remembered the 80-55 win over Minnechaug in 2008, which, as Rotkso puts it, was simply, “unforgettable.”

Or the time his team was receiving their Super Bowl rings at a ceremony in school and a student asked one of the players the cost of the rings. The player’s reply: “About nine months of hard work.”

Even this year’s win at Gillette Stadium: “I won’t remember the game,” he said. “But the whole scene going to the stadium, walking past the Patriots, the sights and sounds and seeing the Patriots watch us play.”

Rotsko leaves Longmeadow football in terrific shape. The system has worked for years and St. George returns with 25 years of experience and a complete coaching staff.

“I think with Nick stepping in, it’ll be a natural transition,” he said. “He’s been around here longer than I have and knows the town, the people and the system. I don’t imagine he’s going to change a lot of things.”

The Lancers also return a large chunk of their 11-2 Western Mass. Division I Super Bowl championship team. Frankie Elder, who powered Longmeadow in the Super Bowl victory as quarterback, will return to his normal position and be the featured back in the team’s Wing-T offense. John Falcone, the incoming junior quarterback who missed nearly the entire 2011 season because of an injury, will enter camp as one of the top passing threats in Western Mass.

The only thing that will change, it seems, is the man roaming the sidelines.

“Right now, it’s about keeping the kids hungry and keeping the desire to excel and keep doing what we’re doing,” St. George said. “You can’t replace Alex Rotsko but we’re going to do the best job we can.”

Rotsko leaves Longmeadow with a lot of wins and only one regret. He wishes he would have enjoyed the run more.

“My biggest regret is not slowing down, relaxing and enjoying it,” he said. “It’s game after game, practice after practice, year after year. And, all of a sudden, it’s 19 years later and it’s done. You look back and say, ‘why didn’t you enjoy it more’ but you get focused on what you’re doing and that’s how it is.

“But, on a night like this, you get to look back and remember everything.”