Dionisio’s foot helps Raiders put scare into Wood

Archbishop Ryan senior Gavin Dionisio had to give up soccer for football, but got a record-setting season out of the deal.

Gavin Dionisio hits a field goal on the hold of Justin Collier. Dionisio set a school record for points by a kicker this year. [PHOTO: JENNIFER COLLIER]

It was a difficult decision, but one Gavin Dionisio is glad he made.

Dionisio, a senior at Archbishop Ryan High School, played soccer his entire life. He played growing up and was a starter last year for the Raiders. But when he first arrived at Ryan, he was talked into trying another sport.

“I had a lot of friends on the football team, and they told me I should come out and be a kicker,” said Dionisio, who lives a few blocks away from the school. “I liked it right away. It was a lot different than soccer, but I loved it just as much.

“Last summer, I was at a kicking camp (at Cardinal O’Hara) and at the end we had a kicking competition. I hit a 45-yarder, then he hit a 45-yarder. I hit one from 50 and so did he. Then I missed one from 53 and he hit it, so I lost. But it showed me I could kick.”

That marked the end of his soccer career.

Dionisio said the hardest thing he ever did was tell his soccer teammates that they would need a new midfielder because he was going to focus on football.

He was going to focus on one sport, and the decision paid off because he not only enjoyed a great season by his standards, but a historical one.

Dionisio set a school record for points in a season by a kicker by hitting for 62 points on seven field goals and 41 extra points.

He admits a lot of it had to do with his talented teammates, but Dionisio certainly did his part, connecting on all but one of his field goal attempts.

On Friday night, he nailed a huge one from 30 yards out in less-than-ideal conditions in the Raiders’ biggest game of the year. And it almost helped Ryan knock off the defending Class 5A state champions in the Catholic League championship in the same classification.

Archbishop Wood ended up downing Ryan 24–17 at a rain-soaked William Tennent on Friday. The Raiders hung with the Vikings for the entire game and fell just short of tying the game late in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Jahlil Sanders threw for 197 yards and two touchdowns, one to Mekhi Lang (two catches for 74 yards) and another to Tyreek Chappell (eight grabs for 102 yards).

The loss dropped the Raiders to 7–4 on the season, with a chance for an eighth win on Thanksgiving when they travel to Washington.

Losing, especially in such a close fashion to a talented team, hurt, but Dionisio was quick to also point out what a great season he and his teammates and the coaching staff led by head coach Frank McArdle enjoyed.

“It hurts that we can’t win the championship because we had so much talent,” Dionisio said. “Jahlil was such a great quarterback and he had so many guys to help him make plays. And the offensive line was great. They helped me a lot when I would kick, but they blocked every game for everyone. And the defense was great. This was a pretty special year.

“Coach told us to always keep chopping, always keep working, and we did that. He told us the harder we worked, the better we’d do. Just keep chopping.”

Dionisio hit a season-long field goal of 38 yards earlier in the year. He also had a memorable play during the Raiders’ win over Roman Catholic when he threw a 29-yard pass on a fake punt, but his biggest kick was probably the one against Wood.

Even though there was a lot riding on the kick, Dionisio didn’t think for one second that he was going to miss.

“I hit all the time in practice,” Dionisio said. “I got a great snap from (John O’Brien), and (Justin Collier) was the holder and he did great. I just hit it. I didn’t look at it as a pressure kick because I knew my teammates would have my back if I missed it or hit it. I wasn’t worried, so I just went out and did the job.”

Dionisio did say the slick conditions on the turf made things more difficult, but not too difficult for him to make good on the kick.

Dionisio is now starting to think about life after football at Ryan.

He’ll play lacrosse in the spring, where he is a long-stick midfielder, and he still has the Thanksgiving Day game to add to his school record for points by a kicker, but he wants to kick after graduating.

“I’ve talked to some schools, I really want to keep doing it,” Dionisio said. “That’s one of the reasons I gave up soccer, to focus on kicking and get better. I kicked all summer and lifted weights to get stronger. I really wanted to see if I could get an opportunity with kicking.”

Not only did he get that opportunity, but he got an opportunity to help Ryan kick it with one of the best teams in the state. And he got to be a key cog in an offense that lit up the scoreboard nearly every game.

“I took football really seriously, I went to every practice and watched film and tried to learn anything I could to make me be a better kicker,” Dionisio said. “We all worked, and it showed. Losing to Wood was hard, but I’m really proud of what we did.”