The 32nd annual Mike Cleary Northeastern Ohio Chapter of the National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Awards Banquet was a Saint Ignatius affair.
Henry Cook '20 won the Inspiration Award, Nick Schwitzgebel '20 received Scholar-Athlete honors, Fred DiSanto '80 garnered the Dino Lucarelli Lifetime Achievement Award, and Brendan Gulick '09 served as the emcee of the event. And of course, the Northeast Ohio chapter of the NFF is named after the late, great Mike Cleary '52.
It was a great evening to be a Wildcat.
Cook's determination leads to big honor
When you bring up the name Henry Cook to the Wildcats' longtime head football coach, Chuck Kyle, two dates stick out.
November 12, 2001 and February 20, 2018.
"On November 12, 2001, I got an email from his dad that they had another baby boy," Kyle said. "He said they were going to name him Henry. I remember that well. Kevin, of course, had played and coached here and is in the Athletic Hall of Fame. With Henry being the youngest of three boys, you knew he would play and be athletic."
Indeed, Henry turned out to be a very good athlete, like his brothers Jack '16 and Ryan '17. During his first two seasons at Saint Ignatius, Cook started to emerge as a good football player and athlete.
And then the date February 20, 2018.
On that day, an accident in the weight room left Cook with serious, life-threatening injuries.
"Certainly it was serious," Kyle said. "The first few days were frightening."
The nature of the injury necessitated the use of a ventilator, emergency surgery, and a stay in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at MetroHealth. At first, it looked like Cook might not finish his sophomore year, and perhaps not even high school or college.
In what can only be described as a miracle, Cook was back at Saint Ignatius just one month later.
Well before Cook received an Inspiration Award, his courage and bravery inspired his classmates and teammates. The Saint Ignatius community quickly rallied around him.
"You're dealing with a very brave and determined young man. It's a loving family," Kyle said. "He has a lot of great friends at this school. Fifty years from now, Henry will tell you how important his friends were in all this. Within a month, he was back to school. What a miracle. The doctors did a great job. But there were guys walking him to class to make sure no one bumped into him, totally supporting him. Others were inspired by his determination."
For Cook, the accident and aftermath has had a profound impact. He no longer takes anything for granted.
"You don't take for granted the small things you did before, especially when you realize that in an instant, things can change pretty drastically. You appreciate things a lot more."
Just a week before the start of the 2018 season, Cook received medical permission to serve as the holder for extra points and field goals. Cook served in this role excellently all season.
The Shaker Heights native also participated on the track and field team in the spring, excelling with Kyle's Cinder Cats.
Cook's comeback became complete in the fall. The doctors gave him the okay to play full-contact, and he sure did. The proud Wildcat hauled in 29 catches for 543 yards. Most impressively, Cook led the team in touchdown receptions with 8.
Offensive Coordinator Nick Restifo, Hon. 19 always loved coaching Cook.
"One of the great things about Henry is that even as a junior, he knew every position," Restifo said. "We could plug him in anywhere. We could move guys in motion and he'll be able to know what he's supposed to do. Great hands. Even after the accident, he was not afraid to go over the middle. Talk about courage. That's one of the toughest things to do when you come back from an injury like that, to go across the middle and make some catches. He's an outstanding, classy young man. We've been so happy to have him in our program."
And as Coach Kyle pointed out, all along Cook has maintained a 4.3 cumulative GPA. If you're looking for the definition of student-athlete, look no further.
"This is a great story," Kyle said.
In the next few weeks, Cook will choose between the University of Notre Dame, the University of Virginia, or William & Mary. All great schools.
Wherever he goes, Cook will be a success.
"I'm pretty excited. This is a great honor. I'm grateful to have this opportunity," Cook said. "It's great to overcome it, and get back to the life I was living before everything happened. Just seeing everything come together and be able to do the things I love is awesome. I'm grateful to win this award, it's a good honor to have. I'm just thankful for the people who have gotten me to where I am now.
"I want to thank all of the doctors and nurses who helped out," Cook continued. "The coaches and teachers at Ignatius helped me academically and athletically. It's been great. And my parents have done so much. They did all they could for me to get back to where I am today."
Schwitzgebel earns Scholar-Athlete nod
The Wildcats typically have a Scholar-Athlete each year at the NFF Scholar-Athlete Banquet, and this year, the honor went to Nick Schwitzgebel.
The star offensive lineman started all 10 games for the Wildcats at left tackle in 2019. He played exceptionally well for the Football Cats all season long, protecting the flank of quarterback Griffin Hanna.
In November, Schwitzgebel committed to Dartmouth University. The Clevelander is the latest in a long line of Wildcats to head to the Ivy League, and one of many offensive lineman to matriculate to the next level.
Yes, his coaches and teachers are plenty proud of him for four outstanding years at Wildcat High.
DiSanto earns Lifetime Achievement Award
Since he arrived at at the corner of West 30th and Lorain, Fred DiSanto '80 has been a household name in the Saint Ignatius community.
A three-sport student-athlete at Saint Ignatius, DiSanto turned into a star with the Wildcats. He played football, basketball, and baseball at Saint Ignatius, excelling in all three. DiSanto's name is even on the baseball record board, as he hurled a no-hitter against Brush in 1980.
After his time at Saint Ignatius, DiSanto headed to Case Western Reserve University. DiSanto thrived there, too, in the classroom and on the field. He became the only Spartan student-athlete to earn 12 varsity letters with four apiece in football, basketball and baseball. As the NFF program noted, DiSanto set plenty of passing records as the starting quarterback of the Spartans, and garnered All-American honors twice.
During his time at CWRU, DiSanto earned both a bachelor’s degree in management science and a master's degree in business administration.
DiSanto's business career has been no less successful. DiSanto became the title chief executive officer of Ancora in 2006 and then chairman in 2014. DiSanto leads Ancora and its three Registered Investment Advisors along with its Broker Dealer. In 2016, DiSanto was named Sales & Marketing Executives of Cleveland’s 2017 Business Executive of the Year.
DiSanto has since been enshrined in the Athletic Hall of Fames at Saint Ignatius and Case Western Reserve University. At CWRU, DiSanto is a member of the Executive Committee for the Board of Trustees. He formerly served as the Chairman of the Board of Regents at Saint Ignatius. The alumnus is also a Trustee and former Chairman of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.
The Dino Lucarelli Lifetime Achievement Award was well-earned.
The emcee is an alum, too
Even the emcee of the evening was a Saint Ignatius alumnus. Brendan Gulick '09 served as the host of the evening's festivities.
Gulick interviewed the head football coach at The Ohio State University, Ryan Day, on the stage. As always, Gulick did a wonderful job.
Since starting the Saint Ignatius Broadcast Network, Gulick has built a very successful broadcasting career. After graduating from John Carroll University, Gulick moved around quite a bit. He broadcasted for the Rockford Aviators (minor league baseball), Southeaster Oklahoma State, Dayton Dragons (minor league baseball), Case Western Reserve University, the University of Cincinnati, the Delmarva Shorebirds (minor league baseball), and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore before coming home.
Currently, Gulick is a freelance sports broadcaster. He does broadcasting work for a wide array of organizations, including the NCAA, The Ohio State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Baldwin Wallace University, Spectrum Sports Ohio, the National Women’s Soccer League, and the United Soccer League. Gulick also works as a Sports Anchor for 92.3 The Fan.
Yep, Gulick is a busy man. He also owns one of the best voices in Northeast Ohio, and one day you may hear on national broadcasts as a household name. He's a pro's pro and the pride of the SIBN.
On a related note, Gulick recently appeared on a podcast and talked plenty about his time with the SIBN. Give it a listen! Click here to listen.