Matt Jovinelli has a simple request for his mother when he goes off to college next year: Please send plenty of her homemade chocolate chip cookies. But first things first, and it starts with enjoying his senior year at Arundel and helping the football team get back to the state championship game. The Wildcats (4-1) have plenty of returning talent from last year's state finalist team.
One of the team's biggest strengths is its cohesive offensive line, and Jovinelli, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound guard, is a key element of the success. He relies on speed and intelligence to fend off bigger defensive lineman, help protect senior quarterback Billy Cosh and open holes for the Wildcats' running game.
Jovinelli, who maintains a weighted 3.75 grade-point average, is a two-year starter in football and will be starting his third season of varsity lacrosse as a defender. His top college choice is York College in Pennsylvania, where he would like to play lacrosse and major in business.
At Arundel, Jovinelli is on the school's finance committee and is a member of the Student Government Association. He's also a member of the National Honor Society and is involved in peer mediation and tutoring underclassmen. On weekends, he enjoys helping his father coach an under-13 rec football team and works as a lifeguard.
What approach did the team take into this season?
Going into this year, we really didn't think about going 10-0 or getting back to the state championship game. We just want to give ourselves a chance to get to the state championship game - even if it's as a fourth seed in the playoffs. Coach [Chuck] Markiewicz has really given us the belief that as long as you have a chance, then anything is possible. We proved that last year. Nobody really thought we could get to the state championship game or win Anne Arundel County. We were given the opportunity and we grabbed it.
What was it like reaching the state championship game last year?
It was a lot of fun; it was great. I really never thought of it as going to the state championship game. The first couple weeks of the postseason, it was the regular playoff mentality: "We gotta win, we gotta win." But then as we got closer it was like, "Oh, my God! One more game and we're in the state championship game and playing at M&T; Bank!" It was awesome.
How can last year's trip to the state championship game help the team this year?
We know that we can do it. We did it last year, and we have a lot of guys back. ... We've got a good shot. We know what it takes to get there. We've been to the very edge of what needs to be done. We know the type of effort and the type of work that needs to go into it, so I think the experience itself is great, just that we know what we have to do.
What's it like being part of such a successful and efficient offense?
It's great because all of us have a role. A lot of offensive linemen don't get credit, but we get a lot because we throw the ball a lot, which gives defenses a lot of opportunities to make plays in the backfield. But we've had three games without any sacks, and we've allowed just two sacks all season long. We give Billy time to throw the ball, and he gets it to whomever he needs to. Everyone has a part - it's like a chain, and the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. We're all very confident that our chain is strong and we can get done what we need to get done.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
There's a saying we have here at Arundel for the football and lacrosse teams. It's "Respect all, fear none." You have to respect everyone, because if you don't, you can get upset, something bad can happen. You look at the USC-Oregon State game and you could tell USC didn't really respect Oregon State, and, at the same time, Oregon State didn't fear USC.
I like to tell kids that you have to give everything your best effort, but remember that you have to respect everyone in life. But at the same time, you shouldn't fear what somebody else can do.
Do you have any pre-game rituals?
I always go to Subway on Route 175. They basically know what I'm going to get: sweet onion chicken teriyaki loaded with vegetables. I've been doing it for three years for football and lacrosse. Then I walk over to CVS to get a Gatorade or two. I try to get back to school as soon as I can so I can sit down and listen to some music. Something weird that I do - I never buckle my belt until game time. I'm not quite sure why.
When you go off to college next year, what's the favorite food your mother makes that you will miss the most?
That's a hard question. My mom makes a lot of good food. The one thing I'm going to miss the most is her chocolate chip cookies. She makes them three or four times a year for special occasions. They are the greatest thing in the world.
What makes them best?
If you asked my mother or father, they would say the love that goes into the cookies. I don't know what my mom does differently, but they are just so good. Even if they're a little burned you can eat a whole batch and don't even know it.
What has it been like mentoring freshmen?
It's very rewarding. I get to hang out with freshmen and talk to them. Freshman year was very difficult for me coming into a new school because I really didn't know anyone. Being an athlete really helped because I was given the opportunity to meet new people, make some new friends, and I had upperclassmen that could help me when I needed it. I want to give back to the school, and this is the best way I can do it.
Will you be able to vote this election?
Yes, I plan to vote in November.
What do you think is the election's biggest issue regarding youth in America?
Right now, I would say the most important issue for us is the economy. Whatever happens, my generation and the generation that comes after us is going to have to fix it, clean it up.
I'm not going to say I'm going to support the bailout or not support the bailout because I really don't know much on that. But I do know that something has to be done, and it's going to take a long time to fix it. We have to put our nose to the grindstone and get it done.