The Tortella tradition of excellence lives on at Howard High.
Joey Tortella has picked up the torch handed down from older brother Frank and is carrying it with pride.
The senior linebacker is the defensive captain of this season's outstanding Howard team, which is undefeated (4-0) and hoping to follow in the 25th anniversary footsteps of Howard's 1974 undefeated state championship team.
Tortella, an emotional leader, made 12 tackles against Woodlawn, 19 against Mount Hebron, 18 against Wilde Lake, and five against a pass-oriented Glenelg team that rarely ran the ball. In addition, he caused a fumble and caught a touchdown pass as a tight end against Mount Hebron. He made a fumble recovery against Wilde Lake. And he intercepted one Glenelg pass.
"For 48 minutes, I believe that it's my field out there. And because I'm in charge of the defense, if anyone messes up, I feel I've messed up," Tortella said.
Tortella, who has a 3.7 grade-point average and a 1,240 SAT, has blossomed this season for a combination of reasons. The three-year starter is bigger, now 6 feet tall, and stronger -- at 210 pounds, he's 50 pounds heavier than he was as a sophomore.
He's attended linebacker camps at Penn State two straight summers and understands the position well.
And he's been hitting the weights hard since last January, now bench pressing 275 pounds.
It helps also that he receives tremendous family support.
"My brother always has something positive to say," Tortella said. "I'm glad I'm able to keep the family tradition alive and fill his big shoes."
Frank was a two-time All-County football player whose team won the county title his sophomore year, an All-County baseball player, and an outstanding wrestler who is now attending West Point -- the same academy Joey is hoping to attend.
Joey also wrestles and plays baseball. He posted a 25-9 wrestling record and finished third in the county and region last season. And he batted .414 in baseball.
"He plays smart football," Howard coach Vince Parnell said. "He makes the right reads and with his experience can correct his mistakes. He's one of the best in the league."
Mount Hebron coach Larry Luthe concurs with Parnell about Tortella's place among county linebackers.
"He's the best we've played against so far this season," Luthe said. "He was involved on 80 percent of the plays, either forcing the tackle or making the tackle. He almost single-handedly beat us and caught a touchdown pass, too."
Because Tortella played offensive guard last season, that was his first high school touchdown. He has caught three passes.
"We have an extra fire this season," Tortella said. "We're doing something right because everything's connecting. We're more physical. We practice hard, and the intensity shows. We don't argue, and we're having fun. The coaches stress having fun and keeping it in our heads that we're better."
Tortella also thinks the addition of speedy running back Antuan Jones and bruising defensive end Louis Matthews, neither of whom played last season, has boosted this team.
"They are two hard players who want to win," Tortella said. "I've never seen speed in high school like Antuan's."
Joey seems certain to surpass his brother one way: "My brother's senior year," he said, "the football team had a terrible season."
Pub Date: 9/30/99