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Senior captain lineman Ben Corniello made All-State while helping the Hand football squad get back to the Class L state final this year. Outside of school, Ben coaches a flag football youth team in Madison, is active with Special Olympics Connecticut, and works with kids who have disabilities in the Buddy Baseball program. (Photo courtesy of Ben Corniello )
Ben Corniello loves to chase down quarterbacks as a member of the Hand football team. A starter at offensive and defensive tackle, Ben recently finished a high school career that saw him guide the Tigers to a tremendous amount of success the past three seasons. While he liked manning both lines, Ben says that he got his greatest joy from playing defense, and he certainly has the accolades to show for it.
Hand posted a combined record of 37-2 to go with 36-consecutive wins and a pair of Class L state championships during Ben’s tenure as a two-way varsity starter. Although Hand came up one victory shy of the three-peat this season, Ben says that he will always cherish the relationships he formed with his fellow Tigers.
“There was an indelible bond between our players and our coach,” Ben says. “It was unbreakable.”
Hand took a 17-13 defeat to St. Joseph in the final of this year’s Class L State Playoffs. Ben was proud of the Tigers for fighting right through the final whistle, while nearly pulling off a crazy comeback in the closing minutes.
“I’ve watched part of the film, but it’s difficult. It’s all very emotional,” says Ben. “I think overall that we could have executed better. I still believe that we had an extremely well-skilled team this year, and I feel that we could beat anyone in the state. They were talented, as well, but if we were to play them 10 times, I think that we’d split those games.”
Ben led the Tigers alongside fellow senior captains Phoenix Billings and Isaiah McNeilly this year. They were three of the key athletes in a senior class that featured other stalwarts like Colin McCabe, Shane Reiner, Ethan Haberman, and Jesse Lutz.
“We’ve all been playing together since the 4th grade. We are a brotherhood,” Ben says. “We spent time together away from the field, and many of them join me on the lacrosse team in the spring.”
Ben is a defender on the Hand boys’ lacrosse squad. However, football has always been Ben’s main sport ever since he stepped on the field as a six year-old.
“I have this life-size photo in my room. It was taken back then. I have a helmet on which is way too big and this new mouth guard hanging out,” says Ben. “That was 12 years ago, and I’ve loved going through this town and playing. We’ve had incredible coaches. I’ve played for and against many terrific players. It’s really been 12 wonderful years, and it has ended.”
There were some down times, however. In his freshman year, Ben earned a spot on the offensive line when Hand struggled through the season and finished with a record of 2-8.
“We only won two games that season and graduated some outstanding players,” Ben says. “All of us in that class weren’t sure how we were going to do in 2017 when [Head] Coach [Dave] Mastroianni took over.”
Ben grew from 180 pounds as a freshman to 245 pounds for his senior season—and the team grew right along with him. After starting out 1-1 in Mastroianni’s first year at the helm, the Tigers won 36-straight games prior to this year’s state final, capturing the Class L state title in the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Coach Mastroianni says that Ben always gives an A-plus effort both on the field and in the classroom at Hand.
“Ben was the model student-athlete and the kind of kid that you’d want to build your program around,” says Mastroianni. “He started 49 varsity games and that stat alone should tell you how outstanding a player he is. That’s a testament to his work ethic.”
Ben earned a varsity of awards for his performance this fall. Ben made the All-SCC Tier 1 Team as a defensive player, marking the third year in row that he garnered All-Conference honors. He also made All-State, in addition to earning a spot on the Walter Camp Team for the second-straight campaign. On the season, Ben finished with six sacks, two fumble recoveries, and 61 tackles.
Next year, Ben will continue his football career when he suits up at defensive end for Columbia University. Ben will be majoring in financial economics at the Ivy League institution in New York City.
“My first plans were to go to Holy Cross, but when the coaches from Columbia showed an interest, I changed my mind,” Ben says. “I had always wanted to go to an Ivy League school.”
While he’s looking forward to competing in college, Ben is going to miss the time that he spent with the Tigers on the gridiron.
“It will be a big step for me,” says Ben. “And an emotional one, as well, because of all I’ll be leaving behind.”