By Daniel Martin
Justin Thompson has been waiting for his Archbishop Molloy teammates to deliver on a promise they made to him at the beginning of the 2012 season.
Thompson, a former Molloy soccer player paralyzed from the waist down by an attacker’s bullet in October 2011, sat on the sidelines Nov. 13 as the final seconds ticked off the clock at St. John’s University’s Belson Stadium.
All Thompson could think to do was smile when the clock hit zero, securing a 1-0 victory over Fordham Prep and CHSAA Class AA city title for the Stanners. His teammates rushed the field and the crowd erupted in celebration.
“They told me they were going to do it, so they didn’t lie,” Thompson said after the game, still smiling. “It feels good. It’s the best feeling.”
The crowd began chanting Thompson’s name as he was presented the city championship trophy, teammates crowding around for pictures as newly crowned kings of the city. The title is Molloy’s first since they won back-to-back championships in 2008-09 and its 14th overall. This one was worth the wait because of its added meaning to everyone involved.
“It’s a culmination of a lot of things for these kids,” said Molloy Coach Andy Kostel. “But undoubtedly Justin is a big part of that.”
The first 66 minutes of the match were even, back-and-forth offensive attacks. But in the 67th minute, Molloy (17-1-0) got its first glimpse of daylight and capitalized.
Senior Zach Zayas crossed the ball in front of the net down near the end line and junior Mike Mendez drilled the shot into the back of the net, which proved to be the decisive goal. The aggressiveness was something Kostel had been hoping to see from Mendez.
“I said, ‘You still have to prove to me that if you have the chance to shoot, you’d shoot,’” Kostel recalls telling him. “He sure as hell did.”
Thompson, who watched Molloy play for the second time this season, proved to be the motivation Mendez needed. He didn’t want to let him or the rest of his teammates down against Fordham Prep (14-4-0).
“I’m just glad I was able to put it away,” he said. “We just did that for Justin. We know he’s fighting, so we wanted to fight hard for him, too.”
The road doesn’t end here for Molloy, who now moves on to the state tournament. It starts a quest for another championship, a journey from which Thompson, who is hoping to walk again, draws as much inspiration as his teammates draw from him.
“They worked hard for me, so I’m going to work hard for them,” Thompson said. “I’m going to give them a championship in a different way.”