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1979 Football Team 1979 Football Team
Inducted: 2009 - Graduated: 1979



Head Coach:  Rich Conklin

Assistant Coaches:

Roster: (Seniors 10), (Juniors 27), (Sophomores 1)

The 1979 football team knew it had the potential for something special, but potential doesn’t always translate to results. In the previous 18 seasons, Nanuet had achieved only one winning campaign – a 6-2 mark in ’77. The Knights had left the Rockland PSAL and played an independent schedule in 1976 and ’77 before joining a tough Westchester-based league in 1978. They took their lumps that fall, playing sub-.500 ball at 4-5, but Coach Rich Conklin saw the makings of a banner year in ’79 with a leadership-laden senior class and a large and gifted junior class.


“The talent of the junior class combined with the leadership of the senior class made for a phenomenal mixture,” Conklin says. “Nobody on that team looked to be the glory hound. They all just worried about winning.”


And win they did, nine times without a loss, the first undefeated football team in Nanuet annals. State playoffs didn’t come along until 1993, so the Knights advanced as far as the existing rules allowed. They defeated Hendrick Hudson, 15-8, in the Conference B-II Bowl championship to climax the epochal campaign. They corralled the program’s first league and bowl titles and wound up ranked No. 5 in the New York State poll, the team’s first top-10 state ranking.


It didn’t take Conklin long to realize his ’79 club could put points on the board in a hurry. Walter Kroan, the rifle-armed junior quarterback, wore out opposing defenses firing bullets and bombs to his favorite receiver, senior Steve Schucker. Twice that season the dynamic duo hooked up for three touchdowns in a game, versus Brewster and Ardsley. Of Kroan’s 21 TD passes that year, 15 of them were hauled in by Schucker, who was adept at tacking on yards after the catch.


Unquestionably the game that established Nanuet as a bona fide title contender came in the second week of the season. The Knights traveled over the TZ Bridge to take on Harrison, one of Westchester’s most tradition-rich and successful programs. The Huskies’ reputation and sheer size unnerved some of the Knights during pre-game warm-ups.


“When I was standing on the sideline watching them, all their players seemed 6-foot-4, with long Italian names,” says Mike Patsis, Nanuet’s co-captain with Lou Petriella. “[Compared to them] I felt like a little boy on the sidelines selling candy. I wanted to run back to the bus and hide.”


Those thoughts were fleeting, though. Once the game began, the Black & Gold sent a message of their own. “Harrison expected a complete blowout but found themselves in a dogfight,” Conklin recalls. A Kroan-to-Schucker TD bomb “set their heads spinning,” and the game ended with Harrison’s 45-yard field goal attempt falling short. Final score: Nanuet 21, Harrison 20. Message delivered. “That victory, on the road against a team with a tradition like Harrison’s, gave us confidence,” Patsis says. “After that, we became a dangerous football team.”


The Knights throttled some of Westchester’s top small-school programs en route to the unblemished season, taking down Brewster, Harrison, Somers, Westlake, Rye, Woodlands and others before conquering Hen Hud in the season-ending bowl matchup, sparked by an electrifying Kroan-to-Schucker pass-run play that gave Nanuet a two-TD advantage.


“We knew that week in and week out, we had the two best players on the field in Walter Kroan and Steve Schucker,” says Patsis, an inside linebacker and wingback who later became an Academic All-America at Dartmouth. “And we were very well-coached. Coach Conklin was extremely organized, efficient and innovative. We knew that was a huge advantage for us.” Patsis also cited assistant coach Mike Achille’s ability to motivate players and to serve as a mentor and role model.


The ’79 team had 10 seniors, 27 junior and one sophomore – wingback Kurt Sahlstrom. Seniors Patsis and Petriella, an inside linebacker and offensive guard, set the tone of leadership while other seniors, including two-way starter John Villafranco (tight end/defensive end), tailback Steve Pizzuti and defensive back/punter Mark Moshier, helped set the team’s direction as well. There were many other key contributors, players like diminutive wingback Albert Ricci, fullback Anthony Palma, Bob Porco, Scott Sahlstrom and Al Sedlacek.


Virtually every team record was broken by the ’79 squad, including most points in a season, 256, and highest scoring average per game, 28.4 points. Schucker averaged an incredible 30.8 yards per catch and Kroan averaged an equally impressive 23.3 yards per completion.


The years ending in “9” have been very fruitful for Conklin and the Knights. The ’79 team went undefeated, the ’89 club went undefeated and allowed zero points – the only such team in the country that year – the ’99 squad advanced to the Sectional playoffs, and the 2009 team was undefeated through seven games and still alive for a perfect season heading into the Sectional championship game. 


“The 1979 team really launched the winning tradition in the history of Nanuet football,” says Conklin. “They set the standard to be emulated for the future.”