When you cover enough football games – almost 30 years worth in my case -- they start to blur together so that only the extraordinary plays and players are easily recalled.
Some of the more exciting players to come through the New York pipeline in recent years have included running backs Ray Rice and Mike Hart and quarterback Greg Paulus. All of them displayed that "it" factor. They made clutch plays on the high school field, and they had an aura about them.
You knew they were winners just by looking at them in pads and listening to the way the spoke in postgame interviews. They were cool and confident. They acted like they belonged, and they did belong.
I don't recall exactly when I had the moment of clarity last year, but I remember thinking at some point that Rush-Henrietta (Henrietta, N.Y.)
had a chance to win any game it was in based upon Ashton Broyld's presence alone. As he displayed for the final two months this season, the quarterback of the state-champion Royal Comets has that same "it" quality when he steps on the field.
I'm more cynical than giddy these days, so I don't get that same vibe from a player very often anymore. But I do remember the instance previous to Broyld when I saw an "it" player.
It was Kihary Blue at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse in early November 2008.
That game left me with great memories, and now all any of us have left of the young man is memories.
Blue died early Thursday morning at the age of 19.
He had been critically wounded in a drive-by shooting six days earlier on a Syracuse highway. Another man in the car was also wounded by gunfire, and police said the incident sparked a weekend revenge shooting that left a 20-month-old baby dead last Sunday afternoon just a few miles from where many of us were watching the state high school football finals..
Police characterized the shootings as acts of gang violence, though they went out of their way to point out to a Post-Standard
reporter that Blue was not known to be affiliated with a gang. To the best of their knowledge, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And now he's another crime victim, one more statistic from a story that plays out on a regular basis in communities up and down the New York State Thruway – Buffalo, Rochester, Geneva, Syracuse, Utica, Albany.
One more bit of unrealized potential.
Blue was an outstanding two-sport athlete at Henninger (Syracuse)
. In basketball, he was 10th-team all-state guard in 2008 as a junior and seventh team the following year. He was All-Central New York in basketball and football as a senior.
Basketball was the ticket to the next phase in his life. He earned a scholarship to Guilford Technical Community College near Greensboro, N.C., last year and was going to enroll next semester at Monroe Community College outside Rochester.
It was football, though, where he made that special impression two years ago for Henninger against West Genesee, the defending state champion, in the Section III Class AA final.
Blue went 10-for-19 for 297 yards and threw four touchdown passes as the Black Knights earned their first sectional title in eight seasons. His first scoring strike was a 75-yard play to running back Shaquille Leggett on a screen pass, and Henninger went into halftime with a 24-14 lead.
When he wasn't throwing, Blue was scrambling to keep plays and drives alive.
And when he wasn't doing that, Blue was still making the plays that winners make.
When Blue kicked off to open the second half, he drilled a line drive into the legs of a retreating West Genesee up back, and the Black Knights recovered at their own 49. On the next play, Blue struck again with a perfect deep throw to Chris Gainey for a 51-yard TD.
The kickoff was the fluky sort of play that you generally don't see in large-school football. At that level, championship-caliber teams usually have a specialist who can drive the ball to the 10-yard line and beyond.
Henninger had no such luxury, so the duty was left to Blue. It turned out to be the third time the Black Knights had recovered a ball in such fashion that season.
Blue was amused that a reporter would be amazed over the quirky trickiness. But he turned serious and pointed out the ensuing deep throw and TD were no accident. It was calculated to take the wind out of West Genesee, and it succeeded.
"We're just playing football," he said. "Just playing football."
Blue's work that day was magic, the sort of clutch performance a reporter roots for because the story practically writes itself.
I was sure that night that Blue's name would remain prominent on the sports page behind his high school days. For that fleeting moment in time, Kihary Blue had "it."
Now, though, all we have is memories and the hope that the next special player gets the chance to thrill us more at a higher level.