Izzo first IR athlete to win two state titles
Sam Izzo is a two-time Delaware state champion. He’s on the news. He’s in the paper. He gets stopped in the grocery store. He’s getting looked at by Division I schools.
Sam Izzo has every reason to be arrogant, but he remains humble. Instead of focusing on what his nine division titles, five conference titles and two state championships mean for his individual legacy at Indian River High School, the football, soccer and tennis star is more concerned with what it means for his community.
“It’s great for the community,” Izzo said. “It’s a huge thing for a high school like us. We’re very community-based. The community pull here at Indian River is just really special.”
Most recently, Izzo led the charge in the Indians’ 3-0 state championship soccer victory against St. Elizabeth, with two goals, but his first state championship was in 2011, when the Indian River football team knocked off Caravel Academy, 35-13. Izzo was the starting kicker on that team.
While Izzo has always played and excelled at soccer, he didn’t get into playing football until eighth grade, when he became the first player ever to play both football and soccer at the middle school.
“I played a little bit of wide receiver, a little bit of running back, and I kicked,” Izzo recalled. “My older brother Zach kicked for the high-school team.”
When Izzo got to Indian River, he didn’t try out for the team as a freshman, but he was encouraged to try out his sophomore year.
“Freshman year, Coach Norton stopped me after class one day and asked me if I was thinking about kicking the next year. They wanted to see how I would do compared to the upperclassmen kickers. I tried out and ended up being the starting kicker sophomore year.”
While playing for two varsity teams during the same athletic season posed a few scheduling conflicts for Izzo, for the most part he made it work. In fact, the only game he ever missed in his three-year career as both a football and soccer player was against Milford this past season, when the soccer team was in Virginia Beach.
“That really was the only [football] game I’ve ever missed for soccer. There were a few games where I had to drive up with my parents [and miss the team bus] to the football game because I wanted to stay for all of soccer practice. There’d be weeks where, Tuesday night, I’d have a soccer game in Dover, Thursday night I’d have a game in Smyrna, and then Friday night I’d have a game in Delmar for football. It’s definitely very hectic. It’s a crazy fall for me, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Despite his soccer background, Izzo had no problem fitting in with the football team.
“It’s been great playing football. Those guys have really welcomed me as family and treated me as one of the guys.”
“Sam’s a huge factor,” said football captain and center Joost Elling. “He hit people just as much as we did. He always comes out to work. We joke about soccer players not wanting to hit people — he takes it as an opportunity to hit people and lay some more contact than he’s able to do in soccer.”
“He’s Mr. Automatic,” senior wingback/safety Tim Roberts chimed it. “It’s not as much that we welcomed him in — he fit in. He works hard, and he’s a competitor. That just fits right into football. I can’t tell you how many times Sam would hit somebody. It could be any event and Sam would want to win. That’s what you want on your team. If Coach told him there was nobody left and we needed him on the line, I’d be willing to bet he’d be like, ‘Let’s go. Let’s hit somebody.”
Izzo not only being accepted by, but becoming a leader and a role model for, both IR soccer and football just further demonstrates the camaraderie between both fall sports teams.
“There’s a rivalry [between the two sports] but it’s very friendly,” Izzo said. “We joke around, but it’s all in good fun. We do it to push each other and get better. Spencer Murray is one of our biggest fans. All the soccer players go to football games. A couple [football players] even wore our white jerseys to the championship game.”
In the spring, Izzo will complete the final chapter in a storied Indian River athletic career on the tennis courts, where he will again play a key role in competing for a third straight Henlopen South title.
Head tennis coach Paris Mitchell views Izzo as one of the most successful athletes that the school has ever seen.
“He probably will go down as the most decorated Indian River athlete of all time. He’s played in so many sports and has done as well individually as the teams have that he’s played for. He just brings people up around him, because he’s got that desire to win and it rubs off and it’s infectious. He’s a kid I want to have on my team, I know that.”
Despite the acclaim, Izzo continues to be fueled by the desire to represent his community, rather than just himself. In fact, he said the best part of his athletic career has been being able to ride through the town of Dagsboro, lined with banners and fans decked out in green and gold to see their local team off to fight for a state championship.
“I got to do it three times — go all through Dagsboro and see hundreds of people lining the streets. It’s so much more special to play for your community,” he explained. “You’re playing for however many people went to high school here back in the ’80s and the ’90s and played soccer or played football.”
Izzo ends his soccer career with four division titles, four conference titles and a state championship. For football, he finishes with a state championship and three Henlopen South Conference titles. He can add to that list two tennis division titles, with the possibly of a third looming on the horizon.
While others attribute it to hard work and a fierce competitive nature, Izzo gives the credit to the athletic program at Indian River.
“I think it goes to show how great our athletic program at the high school is,” Izzo said of all the titles and championships. “To be able to be this successful over my four years here — it’s just been fun.”