High school football players in the 1970s did not dare to change Joe Sanfilippo's play calls. Except for Jay Jewell.
Starting his senior year as quarterback for the Salamanca Warriors in 1971, Jewell’s team trailed Albion, a much bigger school, 7-6, midway through the fourth quarter. When Sanfilippo sent in a run play on a crucial down that Jewell “knew was not going to work,” according to his classmate and teammate Jud Foy, he made a different call: play-action pass.
“He looked at us in the huddle and told us Jay was changing the play to which we were all shocked,” Foy recalled. “But he called for a play-action and hit Stu Davis, our tight end, on a post that was so wide open for the winning score that it was incredible.”
The pass put Salamanca ahead as it went on to win 15-12, the first and closest game in what turned out to be a perfect season: 8-0. Jewell’s teammates weren’t the only ones stunned by the play call.
“The assistant coach of Albion, who knew Joe very well because he used to coach at Little Valley,” Foy said, “came into our locker room at the end of the game and asked Joe, 'Who the hell called the pass?' To which Joe responded it ‘sure to hell’ wasn't him. But Jay knew if we went with the play, we weren't going to win this game. And he had enough guts and confidence in himself to change it and win a game for us. Then we went on to go 8-0 after that. That's the type of leadership Jay had.”
Jewell, age 65, died last month on Aug. 14, in Mount Joy, Pa., due to complications associated with cancer, according to his obituary. A three-sport athlete who went on to play four years of basketball at Salem College (now known as Salem University) in West Virginia. He twice made the Big 30 All-Star football team, in 1970 and 1971, and his teams only lost two games in that span.
— To Foy, the story of Salamanca’s 1971 opener tells the story of Jewell’s leadership.
“Jay knew it was the right thing to do because they were putting eight in the box every single play because it was raining out there,” Jewell said. “Joe doesn't throw the ball on dry days, let alone in the rain, but Jay knew it would work. He just told Stu Davis, 'Just don't drop it.'
“That just was unheard of in Salamanca. (Sanfilippo) was the Woody Hayes of high school football. When Joe sent a play in, you ran that play. But Jay had enough guts to change it, and had he not, we'd have been 7-1 and we would not have ended up No. 2 in New York state that year.”
Foy knew Jewell since age 8, and they played football, baseball and basketball together, along with attending Salem College — where Foy golfed — together. He said Jewell married his sweetheart, Wendy, who survives him along with two sons, Christopher and Lucas. In high school, Jewell was “inseparable” with close friend Dave Hamacher, who himself passed away in May.
“Jay was a very easy-going, well-liked kid and a leader for every team he played on,” Foy said. “Everybody looked to Jay. He was the calming force on everything.
“It was a quiet (leadership). He wasn't real vocal about things, it's just the way that he set the tone for football. He was our quarterback, basketball he was our all-star guard, baseball he was a shortstop/catcher. He just had an easy way about him like his mom and dad did.”
— Brad Weitzel, the Salamanca native, longtime baseball scout and college coach, said he considers Jewell a “Mount Rushmore” figure in Salamanca football, the best quarterback in its history, along with one of its best point guards in basketball.
“I was young, but I was old enough to understand it then,” said Weitzel, who was in eighth grade during Jewell's senior year. “He was the quarterback of the football team and he also played inside linebacker on the football team, and he was not the biggest guy on the field, he was probably everything of 5-(foot)-8 and 165, 170 (pounds), but he was definitely the toughest on the field.”
Weitzel wrote a passage on Jewell in his unpublished book on the history of “42 Years of Dominance” of Salamanca football. He includes memories of Jewell umpiring Salamanca Youth Activities (SYA) baseball games.
“He took a lot of pride in being a good umpire as he took control of the game and made sure everyone had some fun,” Weitzel wrote in a passage shared with the Press. “I was always pumped when we showed up behind the bus garage and found out that he would call balls and strikes. I just about pitched every game at that age and he would make his calls behind the pitcher. We had many conversations between innings and pitches. We would have some great talks, even though I was four years younger than he was.”
Weitzel said he idolized figures like “Bobby” Nugent and “Chuckie” Crist, but was too young to know them in school. But getting to know Jewell through pee wee and midget football and SYA baseball and basketball made an impact on him.
“The biggest thing he did for me was that he believed in me and never belittled me or made me feel inferior,” Weitzel wrote. “He respected me as a young athlete and was always very positive with me and did for me what he did for his own teammates. Jay was the constant leader for kids of all levels. Jay led me in the right direction and showed me how to be a ‘winner.’”
— Foy said Jewell’s cleverness with play calls stretched back at least as far as their freshman year. On the winning side of a blowout against Bradford Floyd Fretz, then-JV coach George Whitcher told Jewell, “I do not want to see the same play run twice in the second half, do you understand?”
“So we get out in the huddle and Jay said, ‘OK, quarterback sneak through the zero gap.’ We ran it,” Foy recalled. “He says, ‘Quarterback sneak through the one gap.’ We all looked at him and he said, ‘It’s not the same play.’ So we ran it.”
Whitcher called a quick timeout and the English teacher asked, “Is there anything I just said that you didn't understand in English?”
“And Jay said, 'No, you said not the same play twice.'” Foy recalled. “Jay said, 'That wasn't, coach. I ran a quarterback sneak through the zero gap, then I ran a quarterback sneak through the one gap. Two different plays.’ And George didn't know how to answer it. Jay was right.
“But that's my favorite memory of Jay, when we were learning to play for George and then of course for Joe. And it’s funny because I got home that night and told my father (Lou Foy) about it, who was the athletic director and assistant coach on the varsity, and my dad just laughed about it.”