Where others could see an excuse, James Giattino saw a purpose.
His mother, Deborah, was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer when he was in eighth grade, and rather than giving up or slowing down, Giattino, a promising student and talented two-sport athlete, doubled down on his efforts. If his mom had to go through that much pain, then he would give her a reason to smile.
"The way some kids are, they can use that cancer as an excuse to not do your work," Sayville coach Rob Hoss said. "You're pouting, you're sulking, you're not doing well in school. What he did instead was internalize it and use it as motivation to make his mother proud."
It is for all that and more that Giattino earned the LaBue Award, given to the outstanding scholar-athlete in Suffolk football, Monday at the Hyatt Regency in Hauppauge.
The Sayville senior has a 102.120 average, is ranked 18th in a class of 290, earned a 2090 on his SATs and is currently taking four AP classes. On the field, he proved himself a leader, and caught 22 passes for 531 yards and seven touchdowns, the final coming in a failed bid to win the Long Island Championship. The wide receiver / safety also had 40 tackles and two interceptions.
Hoss called Giattino a "character kid" -- an emotional, passionate player with a contagious sort of zeal.
"The most amazing part of it is that he continues to go strong and keep working," Hoss said. Both on the gridiron and the basketball court, "he's a team kid -- he's one of those kids who puts himself behind his teammates."
And when, earlier this year, it came time to write an essay about all his accomplishments, Giattino was clear in his purpose. It's was all, he wrote, "for my astonishingly strong mother."
Suffice to say, mom is proud.