The emotion was still visible behind John Booras' sunglasses.
A faint trace of tears collected at the corners of his eyes, his voice quivered ever so slightly as he tried to put a magical Connetquot season into words. "I felt like we were going to do great this year and we were going to go all the way," the Thunderbirds' team manager said. "And it came true."
A severe medical condition stripped the senior of the chance to play varsity football. But the Thunderbirds say he was just as integral to their season and their 21-13 Class I Long Island Championship win over Freeport as the players who suited up.
The vertical pink scar, running along the back of Booras' head, is the only sign of the hard life he's led. The smile on his face never fades, despite undergoing brain surgery last year. He remains cheerful despite having to give up the game he loves.
Booras, 17, has Chiari I Malfunction, a congenital or acquired defect where the portion of the skull in which the cerebellum and brainstem sit is smaller than normal, resulting in pressure at the base of the skull.
The teenager, who also suffers from scoliosis, had seen neurologists, and orthopedic and scoliosis specialists over the years, but none of them had uncovered the true ailment plaguing him. Last summer, his parents found a new neurosurgeon, who requested an MRI which confirmed he had Chiari I Malfunction.
Booras was told he would need to have brain surgery. And that he could never play football again.
"We told him he had to do it because he eventually could become paralyzed," said his mother. "All of the coaches were great. Players came to visit him and they said, 'John, don't worry. We'll make you a part of the team.'"
Fully healed, Booras returned for a second season as the Thunderbirds' team manager.
"He's come to the realization that he can't play because of his condition and he's making best of it," said Connetquot coach Mike Hansen. "A lot of kids in this situation might say, '[Forget] it.' But he'll come up and say, 'You need me to do anything coach?'"
That's why he and the rest of the coaching staff named Booras a game captain for Friday's game against Freeport. Wearing his No. 90 red, silver and white jersey over a black hooded sweatshirt, Booras walked onto the field before the game, side-by-side with the other Connetquot captains.
"I said to team, 'There's only one guy who can walk out for the coin toss with the other captains,'" Hansen said. "Because everything he's been through and he stuck with us. He works hard, he's always looking for ways to contribute because he knows he can't play."
Booras became team manager to be closer to his friends and older brothers -- Kevin, 18; Billy, 19; and Tom, 22 (all Connetquot alums) -- who he grew up playing football, baseball and basketball with. He didn't start playing organized football until middle school, when he played on the offensive and defensive line for the Thunderbirds' junior varsity team.
But as much as Booras wishes he could be on the field ("I miss just getting to hit people," he said with a laugh. "Letting out my aggression."), patrolling the sidelines with his fellow teammates and coaches, is more than enough.
"It's tough because I can't play with them, but I know I'm helping out any way I can," he said.
"It's an amazing opportunity just to play the game of football, so to lose that is just devastating. I can sympathize," said senior lineman Danny McInerney, who missed most of this season with a torn ACL. "He loves the game and we love him. He's a part of our family. Football's a unique sport where you get that family-like relationship with people, and he's our brother."