NISKAYUNA — Freshman wide receiver Cameron Grasso will find himself in a unique spot Friday night when his Niskayuna football team hosts Queensbury in its first Section II Class A Grasso Division game of the season.
The Grasso Division was so named a few years ago as a tribute to Cameron’s grandfather, the late and legendary coaching great Joe Grasso, whose 204 wins accumulated in a short stint with Vincentian Institute and a longer one with Bishop Maginn included a victory in the very first Section II large-school Super Bowl.
“He was an amazing man,” Cameron Grasso said of his grandfather, who was among the first class to be inducted into the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame in 2010. “I always looked up to him.”
This Sunday will mark the six-year anniversary of Joe Grasso’s unexpected death at the age of 66. Just days before that, he was on the sideline assisting Christian Brothers Academy when it beat Niskayuna, while in his glory years before that, he was guiding his gritty Bishop Maginn teams to seven straight winning seasons from 1978-84 and eight winning seasons from 1992 through 2000.
“Joe and I had some great dog fights,” said Jack Burger, the former Troy football coach who met Grasso’s teams in numerous Big 10, Metroland Conference and playoff games. “He would suit up 25, 26 guys, and there would be 20 guys who could play. You knew going in you were facing a well-coached football team. That was given.”
Among Grasso’s star players were Joe Burke, formerly the head football coach at CBA, and his son Mike, who is currently working as an assistant football coach at Niskayuna.
“From a Niskayuna football standpoint, it’s a huge game. A division game. First one,” Mike Grasso said of the matchup with Queensbury at Schenectady’s Larry Mulvaney Field. “From a personal standpoint, it’s a little extra special. It’s the first time I’ll be [coaching] in the division named after my dad. My son is on the team. That creates another dynamic.”
At a practice earlier this week, Cameron Grasso said he was well aware of the unique scenario he and his father — both in their first year with the Niskayuna varsity — are in.
“It’s an honor,” the young Grasso said of his grandfather. “I wear his name. My name represents him. My name represents our family. It’s a good feeling to play with his name on my back.”
Though Cameron never got a chance to play for his grandfather like his dad did, he did get to see him in action close up as a water boy and ball boy.
“I was three, four, five years old,” the now-14-year-old Cameron Grasso said. “To be around it was great.”
Cameron Grasso said he has heard the tales of his grandfather leading small numbers to great accomplishments in his time at Bishop Maginn from 1977-2015.
“People saw how he ran his program,” Burger said. “People wanted to emulate that.”
Joe Grasso’s run included seven Section II title-game appearances and two 10-0 teams that won area crowns.
“He was very energetic. He was on-and-off angry and happy, but he always loved you no matter what,” Cameron Grasso said.
Mike Grasso said his dad would be awfully proud of his grandson, who is the only freshman on the Niskayuna varsity.
“He is a great talent. He has produced already in our first three games,” Mike Grasso said. “He has proven that he belongs.”
Cameron Grasso caught a touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Ethan Gilson to help Niskayuna beat Washingtonville 21-12 in its Week 0 non-league season opener .
“That was a surreal feeling watching that,” said Mike Grasso, who also serves as head coach of Niskayuna’s varsity boys’ basketball team. “I am thinking, ‘Am I old enough to have a son scoring a touchdown in a varsity game?’”
Cameron Grasso also ran for a touchdown the following week in a 21-7 non-classification loss to Saratoga Springs.
“He is very athletic,” Niskayuna head coach Brian Grastorf said of Cameron Grasso, who also returns punts. “He’s got a lot of speed. He is a competitor.”
Niskayuna (1-2) and Queensbury (0-2) met in the final Grasso Division game of the 2021 season and the “Fall II” season before that, and with wins in each (27-7, 33-21, respectively), the Spartans denied the Silver Warriors a berth in the Section II playoffs.
“The last few weeks we’ve been trying to get our identity on offense, and we hope it comes out this week. We want to put it together,” Grastorf said. “Defensively, there’s no guessing what Queensbury will do [with its double wing attack]. They wear on you and try to make you make mistakes.”
Niskayuna is coming off a 25-7 loss to La Salle, while Queesbury lost to Amsterdam last week (60-35) and to Shaker the week before (54-16). Queensbury is one of only three Section II Class A teams that have yet to win a game.
“Queensbury always has a good team with good coaches, but I think this year it’s going to change,” Cameron Grasso said. “We want to set the tone on the opening kickoff. Score touchdowns. Play good defense. We all have to go hard. I think we’ve done some good things, and now it’s time to tighten it up and hope for the best.”