Seton-La Salle remembering Sheridan

Published Aug 12, 2013 at 10:10 am (Updated Aug 12, 2013 at 10:10 am)

When Seton-La Salle football coach Greg Perry heard about the shooting death of his former player, Zach Sheridan, on Aug. 3, he felt as if a bullet, too, had pierced his belly.

“Part of me is empty,” Perry said, attempting to fight off tears. “There is a great hurt in my heart and his tragic death has left a hole in our football family.

“I was his coach and he was my player. We bonded,” Perry continued. “We made that relationship for the rest of our lives. Now he’s gone.”

Sheridan, however, will not be forgotten. This fall, his alma mater will memorialize the Brookline native in two ways. The Rebels will wear the 2007 graduate’s initials on their helmets and their team captain, Tom Rizza, will don his No. 3 jersey for all games. A three-year starter, Rizza had worn the No. 2 prior to this season.

“What could we do?” Perry asked himself. “Because (Sheridan’s death) happened so quick, my first thought was to put ‘ZS’ on our helmets.

“As another way to honor Zach, I decided that his number would not be worn this season but then Tommy approached me and asked if he could give up his No. 2 and switch to No. 3. After some thought,” Perry continued. “I decided that Tommy would represent Zach’s legacy very well. Tommy is such a leader and what an honorable display by such a young man.”

As he had with his coach, Sheridan left an indelible mark upon Rizza. The All-Conference and All-Almanac performer played with Rizza’s cousin, quarterback Matt Rodgers, who went on to excel at Akron. During his scholastic playing career, Sheridan played linebacker on two conference championship clubs and one WPIAL title team from 2004-2006 before going on to star at Slippery Rock University. He ranked seventh in career tackles (315) and tied for 10th in sacks (11) in college.

“Zach was real good,” Rizza said. “I remember watching him play.

“I know this (his death) really has torn up the community, school and team so I just thought that maybe this (wearing his jersey) would be something nice to do for the family.”

Actions, like Rizza’s as well as a memorial vigil the team held on its football field the day after James and Denise Sheridan buried their 24-year-old son on Aug. 7, comfort more than words.

“My heart goes out to his mother “Dee” and his family,” Perry said. “How do you handle the funeral home and the arrangements? How do you answer that phone call?”

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning of Aug. 3, the Sheridan family, which includes siblings, Amanda and Lee Michael, received the call no clan wants to hear. At 3:27 a.m. Zachary was shot following an argument and fight between two groups of men. At 3:44 a.m. he was pronounced dead at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, the victim of a single gunshot wound to the chest.

“It’s definitely a different world out there than the one I grew up in,” said Perry, 51, the father of two grown daughters around Sheridan’s age. “In football, we teach them to get up and fight. But maybe, in life, you need to be able to walk away.”

Rizza agreed. He said that Sheridan’s tragic death has taught him a lesson. “It’s not worth it to fight with someone. Walk away. Be a better man.”

Now, all Rizza and the Rebels want to do is be the best men they can be for Sheridan. After what he described as a “very moving, powerful memorial service that brought people together” Rizza said, “we are going to do the best we can for (Zach) and win some games.”

Sheridan certainly did more than win games for the Rebels. According to Perry, he put a positive spin on the school.

“Zach was a great player here and at Slippery Rock, but he was a better person. He was a role model when he was here,” Perry said. “He had a great smile. I was glad he had the opportunity to play here because Seton-La Salle is better for it.”

Rizza betters SLS

When his career is completed, Rizza will also have made SLS a better place. The three-year starter in the Rebels’ defensive secondary is a Division I-AA prospect. Duquesne, Lafayette, Bucknell and Robert Morris have expressed interest in the 18-year-old son of Nancy and Dino Rizza.

“Tommy is a very humble and smart kid,” Perry said. “He gives us leadership on both sides of the ball. He’s been in the system and he understands what we are trying to do here.”

Because he comes from a family of football players—his brother, Anthony, was a quarterback at SLS—Rizza understands and appreciates the game. An All-Conference performer in 2012, he is expected to pick up where he left off this season. “He likes to hit people and assist on defense,” Perry said. “He’s a shut-down cornerback and he’s good at it.”

While he’s also good at basketball, Rizza prefers football, especially defense. “I like the contact,” he said. “I like defense best, better than offense, because I don’t have to think as much about it. I can just play.

“And while I’m an island out there by myself as a cornerback, there is a lot of responsibility. If I don’t get back there, they will beat you deep. We can’t have that.”

The Rebels can’t have anything but Rizza’s best.

“I’d love to play in Heinz Field,” said Rizza of the site for the WPIAL Class AA championships. “Everybody would. But, we have to take it step by step.

“Our goal is definitely to win the conference championship and go undefeated and I am going to do whatever I can do to help the team do that. I want to do the best I can for the team.”

Tom Rizza file

Age: 18.

Parents: Nancy and Dino.

School: Seton-La Salle.

Year: Senior.

Sports: Football, basketball.

College choices: Duquesne, Robert Morris, Bucknell, LaFayette.

Career plans: Major in business.

Summer spot: Stone Harbor, N.J.

Place to visit: Florida.

Surf or turf? Beaches. I’d rather go there than hike in the mountains.

Favorite class: English.

Classic read: “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Top restaurant: Benihana.

Favorite food: Teriyaki Chicken.

Best beverage: Lemonade.

Favorite hue: Blue. I like North Carolina a lot.

Favorite player: Darrell Revis.

Best basketball player: Lebron James.

Twitter or Facebook? Twitter. I don’t have a Facebook account.

Toughest team? South Fayette. Beating them was a highlight my sophomore year but I expect them to be the team to beat in the conference and I expect them to key on me because they love to throw the ball.

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