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Jewell recalled as great leader of early ‘70s Salamanca football teams

High school football players in the 1970s did not dare to change Joe Sanfilippo's play calls. Except for Jay Jewell.

Starting his senior year as quarterback for the Salamanca Warriors in 1971, Jewell’s team trailed Albion, a much bigger school, 7-6, midway through the fourth quarter. When Sanfilippo sent in a run play on a crucial down that Jewell “knew was not going to work,” according to his classmate and teammate Jud Foy, he made a different call: play-action pass.

“He looked at us in the huddle and told us Jay was changing the play to which we were all shocked,” Foy recalled. “But he called for a play-action and hit Stu Davis, our tight end, on a post that was so wide open for the winning score that it was incredible.”

The pass put Salamanca ahead as it went on to win 15-12, the first and closest game in what turned out to be a perfect season: 8-0. Jewell’s teammates weren’t the only ones stunned by the play call.

“The assistant coach of Albion, who knew Joe very well because he used to coach at Little Valley,” Foy said, “came into our locker room at the end of the game and asked Joe, 'Who the hell called the pass?' To which Joe responded it ‘sure to hell’ wasn't him. But Jay knew if we went with the play, we weren't going to win this game. And he had enough guts and confidence in himself to change it and win a game for us. Then we went on to go 8-0 after that. That's the type of leadership Jay had.”

Jewell, age 65, died last month on Aug. 14, in Mount Joy, Pa., due to complications associated with cancer, according to his obituary. A three-sport athlete who went on to play four years of basketball at Salem College (now known as Salem University) in West Virginia. He twice made the Big 30 All-Star football team, in 1970 and 1971, and his teams only lost two games in that span.

— To Foy, the story of Salamanca’s 1971 opener tells the story of Jewell’s leadership.

“Jay knew it was the right thing to do because they were putting eight in the box every single play because it was raining out there,” Jewell said. “Joe doesn't throw the ball on dry days, let alone in the rain, but Jay knew it would work. He just told Stu Davis, 'Just don't drop it.'

“That just was unheard of in Salamanca. (Sanfilippo) was the Woody Hayes of high school football. When Joe sent a play in, you ran that play. But Jay had enough guts to change it, and had he not, we'd have been 7-1 and we would not have ended up No. 2 in New York state that year.”

Foy knew Jewell since age 8, and they played football, baseball and basketball together, along with attending Salem College — where Foy golfed — together. He said Jewell married his sweetheart, Wendy, who survives him along with two sons, Christopher and Lucas. In high school, Jewell was “inseparable” with close friend Dave Hamacher, who himself passed away in May.

“Jay was a very easy-going, well-liked kid and a leader for every team he played on,” Foy said. “Everybody looked to Jay. He was the calming force on everything.

“It was a quiet (leadership). He wasn't real vocal about things, it's just the way that he set the tone for football. He was our quarterback, basketball he was our all-star guard, baseball he was a shortstop/catcher. He just had an easy way about him like his mom and dad did.”

— Brad Weitzel, the Salamanca native, longtime baseball scout and college coach, said he considers Jewell a “Mount Rushmore” figure in Salamanca football, the best quarterback in its history, along with one of its best point guards in basketball.

“I was young, but I was old enough to understand it then,” said Weitzel, who was in eighth grade during Jewell's senior year. “He was the quarterback of the football team and he also played inside linebacker on the football team, and he was not the biggest guy on the field, he was probably everything of 5-(foot)-8 and 165, 170 (pounds), but he was definitely the toughest on the field.”