Joe Cocozzo’s name is synonymous with Mechanicville football, his No. 77 jersey on permanent display at the high school.
Seeing his son, Anthony, step onto the field in the maroon-and-white of archrival Stillwater was a little surreal, though not as much as one might expect.
After all, while Anthony was on the field Saturday afternoon at Warrior Park, starting at center as a freshman in his first varsity game, Joe was on the team’s sideline, coaching up the Stillwater offensive line.
“I thought it would be [strange],” Joe Cocozzo said, “but it seems as though almost half of our kids came from Mechanicville. They have parents that I all know.
“With some of these familiar names, it’s not as big a deal.”
With his dad on head coach Ian Godfrey’s staff, Anthony Cocozzo has grown up around Stillwater football. A few years ago, he was one of the team’s waterboys. Now, he’s the team’s starting center.
For Anthony Cocozzo, putting on the Stillwater jersey for the first time as a varsity player was a dream come true.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said, “just to feel like a Warrior now.”
The younger Cocozzo comes into his football career boasting an impeccable pedigree, considering dad’s resume is among the best in Capital Region football history.
As a hulking lineman, Joe Cocozzo was a star at Mechanicville in the 1980s who went on to win a Rose Bowl and earn first-team All-American honors at the University of Michigan before an injury-shortened NFL career that saw him start on the offensive line for the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.
Which means that what he says as an offensive line coach comes from a pretty good position of authority.
“It’s pretty surreal that Joe’s here,” Godfrey said. “I’m telling you, he’s one of the most modest, down-to-earth guys. He does it for the kids. He’s been with us from the beginning.”
Anthony Cocozzo described his father’s coaching as tough, but fair — “It’s a lot of fun. It’s helpful,” he said — but there’s no favoritism on display.
Nor, Joe Cocozzo said, should his son expect any.
“He’s going to take his lumps,” Joe Cocozzo said. “That’s for sure.”
Though he’s young, Anthony Cocozzo isn’t in the starting lineup just because of the family name. Godfrey said the young center is growing into his frame and loaded with potential.
“He’s very cerebral,” Godfrey said. “The talent is certainly there. . . . He’s getting some size to him, and he’s learning. Everybody’s just kind of learning on the job.”
With Anthony Cocozzo starting at center, senior Rhett Mercier — one of just two returning starters on offense for Stillwater — has kicked outside on the line to play tackle this spring.
Mercier was part of a dominant group in the trenches along with the likes of Brian McNeil and Justyn Kovalsky that powered Stillwater’s 2019 Section II Class C championship squad.
With nearly all of that group gone to graduation, Anthony Cocozzo is part of a next generation of Stillwater football hoping to replicate that team’s road to success.
“We’re very young,” Anthony Cocozzo said. “I think, in the next year or so, we’ll be extremely competitive.”
“He was here and saw that last group,” Joe Cocozzo said. “He can see these seniors now and how to conduct themselves, how to be a good team player, and grow with this young group.”
Anthony Cocozzo’s first taste of varsity football was a tough learning experience, as Stillwater opened its season last Saturday with a 12-8 Class D loss to Lake George/Hadley-Luzerne.
Coming up to varsity after playing at the modified level in 2019, the freshman center was immediately struck by the difference in play.
“It’s so much faster,” he said. “Everyone’s bigger, stronger.”
With Anthony starting as a freshman, there’s likely to be a Cocozzo repping Stillwater colors for years to come, especially when you factor in that his younger brother, James — a sixth-grader whom Godfrey said is “maybe a little bigger” than his older brother — is also coming through the pipeline.
And dad is thrilled to continue being a part of the program’s future.
“It’s a great community,” Joe Cocozzo said. “I really like it here.”
Even if that means coaching his sons down the road against his alma mater in one of Section II’s fiercest rivalries.
“That’s always a huge game,” he said. “It was a huge game when I was young.”