Bon and Gaudino reflect on 10 years of football

Bob Parana - Staff Writer

Ridgway senior football players Alex Bon and Dominic Gaudino turned their equipment in on Monday for a final time ending their 10-year careers. The two have been playing since the third grade when they started with the Ridgway Rockets midget program. They took time to reflect on their playing days and memories created over their decade on the field.

Both remembered their first practice and moving through the Elker program.

“I was nine years old and in third grade and didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Getting your equipment for the first time is very surreal. I remember getting number 60 and being the low man on the totem pole - they gave me the plastic facemask – I called it the 'concussion breeder'. I wouldn’t change it for anything it was the foundation for everything and here I am 10 years later turning my stuff in for the last time. To be honest it’s really tough,” said Bon.

“I got the OK to play when I was in third grade like Alex. Of course, I was 'absolutely I want to play with the older guys'. Seeing all those older guys leave last year was kind of painful thinking it was going to be me in another year. Now we’re handing our stuff in for the last time. To walk off together after 10 years is crazy. I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Gaudino said.

The pair, who won District 9 Class AA football championships in 2018 and 2019, remembered watching games as youngsters waiting for their chance to don the varsity maroon-and-while of their beloved Elkers.

Bon fondly recalled those days when he started following the team. “I remember back in middle school and looking up at the guys that were playing. I vividly remember every varsity game whether it was the Union playoff game or the battles over in Burg. I remember looking up to all those kids and thinking I’m going to be there at some point and I just had to be ready when it comes. It’s amazing when you realize you’re now the player that kids are watching,” he said.

Gaudino is thrilled to have had the opportunity to become a varsity player. “When I was growing up and going to middle school I watched those guys Alex watched and they were a major influence on the way we played football. They made us want to keep playing and I looked up to them. It’s crazy that I’m in the same place as they were and now people look up to us,” he said.

Both reflected on their early days and experiences during their 10 years of playing the game and how much it has impacted their lives.

“I would do all 10 years again if I could. I remember the first time I joined practice coming in smaller than Alex. I weighed 65 pounds when I first came out for football and maybe was four-foot-five. I was going up against huge kids that I couldn’t do anything against but I showed up for every practice and loved every single one of them. I always got back up and 10 years later now that we’re done it’s crazy how much things have changed since the beginning and how it’s shaped us,” said Gaudino with a smile.

Bon couldn’t help but shake his head and laugh when recalling the early days. “It’s amazing to see what you pick up over 10 years. Every day you learn something new and you develop each day not only as a player but as a person. I remember my first practice and not knowing a single thing and just being a body bag for the older kids but I loved it. You learn [the game] over the years. The more you do it the more you’ll appreciate it and you won’t take it for granted. In 10 years of football I never once regretted anything even if it was just putting my body on the line to help the older guys,” he said.

Ridgway finished the season 3-3. They went 3-2 playing in the IU9 Bubble which earned them a shot against Brookville in the District semi-finals. Both seniors feel despite not winning a fifth-straight district title getting the chance to play was worth all the extra precautions needed during the COVID-19 situation. Things were much different with limited fans and not knowing if there would be another game but to a man, the team committed itself to do all they could to get through a season albeit shortened.

“It was really eerie. I think this was the first season where anybody can say their biggest enemy was a disease. I give our team credit. I don’t know how other teams would have reacted to [the COVID-19 situation]. Although we might not have reached the goal we wanted [District 9 title] we made sure we came out every day of practice and worked our tails off,” said Bon who spoke about the opening night, 17-14 win at home over Kane which was the difference in reaching the playoffs. “When we went into it we thought it was going to be the only game we were going to play. I have a lot of friends in Kane and it was very surreal going against them. It’s the one memory I’m going to keep with me forever. I’ve played in a lot of big games but that one is always going to stick with me.”

“I know I had to take it like every day could be our last. I’m glad for the weeks we got even though we didn’t get to where we wanted to go. I’m proud of the way our team handled the season,” Gaudino said noting that he’s a stronger person for it.

It’s often said teams are family. While some teams preach it, the Elkers live it. The two seniors weren’t shy about elaborating on it.

“It’s so true and it’s not just something that goes on during the season. It’s a family all year round. Everybody is a brother from the time you first sign up to the last time you hang things up and even after that. I’m friends with kids that I thought I’d never be friends with and I’m still friends with them because of the connection of us being together out on the field. It’s an atmosphere that sports keys on that other experiences can’t replicate. It’s the same with basketball and baseball. These sports have an effect, that creates a family-like bond and it’s great,” Bon said.

“I consider all these guys as my brothers. It’s what I always said especially at the end of the season (when he addressed the team after the loss in Brookville). We are a family. We’ve been with each other since day one. We’ve all grown up together and I think football was a major contributor as to why we’re all so close,” said Gaudino.

It’s been amazing over the past three years of covering the team to see the interaction between the coaches and players. From head coach Mark Heindl down through the junior high an incredible bond has been formed. Both players felt privileged to be under the guidance of the Ridgway staff.

“Coach (Adam) Ehrensberger was my first coach and he really got me into football. Throughout my 10 years, I can honestly say we have had the best coaching staff and I wouldn’t want to play for anybody else. When times got tough our coaches responded. They got us motivated to keep working and I truly believe they put the most time and effort in out of any other coaching staff. I’m so proud to have played for them,” Bon said.

Guadino echoed the compliment “I started off with coach Ehrensberger with the Rockets and I thought he was an amazing coach so I stuck with it. I’ve had many good coaches all the way through. It’s crazy to see how well the coaches have treated us and how much they taught us through all these years,” he said.

While the crowds weren’t the same this season the Ridgway fans have left a huge impact on the two seniors.

“I wouldn’t take any other fans in the world over the ones we have. They’ve always been so supportive of us and they’re always there no matter where we are. It’s amazing knowing how much they contribute to the game. They’ve been phenomenal,” Gaudino said.

“The Ridgway-Johnsonburg Elkers have the best fans. I’m a little biased because I think it derives from our class’ parents nicknamed ‘the Cowbell Crew’. They create an atmosphere that makes it fun. We have super fans that dedicate themselves. They think all week about Friday night and I find it hard to believe other teams have the fans that we do. I remember looking out at the fans my junior season and being mesmerized by how many people were here for the season opener and throughout the season and playoffs on the road. The following is unreal,” Bon said.

The two were more than happy to encourage youngsters to take up the game.

“Ridgway is a football town with Burg being included. I think football is one of the best activities you can get involved with. If you have the opportunity to play go out. You won’t see a better atmosphere with your friends. Even if you don’t like the sport I recommend giving it a try. I bet we had 10 guys on the team this year that could care less about football but wanted to be around their friends and make memories. Every day you make a memory that you will carry with you for life. I think football offers so much more than just playing. You won’t regret it,” said Bon.

Gaudino couldn’t agree more. “I’d say jump on board immediately. Once I did I wanted to stick with it all the way through. It’s great to experience. I would recommend anyone to start with flag football or the Shamrocks. It’s amazing what we have experienced playing football,” he said.

Both acknowledged football has helped prepare them for what lies ahead in their lives. Bon summed things up for the two of them. “I always think the story isn’t told by the end but the journey. These past four years of high school and all the way down to third grade have truly been magical and truly has shaped who we are as people and where we're going. Playing sports pushes you to be better in all aspects of life whether that be academic, friendships, or relationships. It pushes you to be better. I know I’m excited about the next steps in life while remembering the times I had as I move forward,” he said.

Both looked out onto the empty field and into the bleachers while taking time to thank all involved for their wonderful experience.

“I want to thank all the coaches for all the experiences and for what they gave me. So many people have made this special. I want to encourage anyone to go out there and play football for Ridgway. We’re going to need you and I’m going to miss it,” said Gaudino.

“I want to thank all my coaches and teammates, especially the seniors that did this with me. They made it special. Every year I’ve been involved has been special. I just want to tell the younger guys to not take it for granted. Just keep on working because you’re really going to miss it when it’s over. You want to go out with no regrets,” Bon said.

While they are done with football both are looking forward to basketball season which if all goes well will begin in early December. The Elkers have won the past two District 9 Class AA championships.