Stefano Guarisco scores five TDs to lead Central Catholic-Morgan City past St. John _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Central Catholic's Stefano Guarisco carries for a big gain as St. John's Chandler Hebert (64) and Peyton Voisin (59) pursue during a September game.

When Stefano Guarisco served as ball boy for Central Catholic-Morgan City’s football team, he idolized the team’s star player Lloyd Grogan, often imitating him during the team’s halftime while dreaming of the day he would play for the Eagles.

“He just made big plays week in and week out,” Guarisco said of Grogan, now a junior defensive end at Louisiana Tech. “As he went, the team went. I really looked up to him.”

Grogan, like Willie Shepherd before him, was considered a generational player that played a significant role in the rise of Central Catholic’s program — a role Guarisco has literally carried on during his record-breaking career.

“I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to coach some very good football players over the years,” Central Catholic coach Tommy Minton said of Guarisco. “He’s definitely in that upper echelon, near the top of that list.”

Considering some of the talented players Minton coached during his tenure at Patterson, including former All-American and state’s career rushing leader Kenny Hilliard, that’s quite a compliment to Guarisco, who leads No. 7 Central Catholic (8-1, 5-1) against No. 2 Ascension Episcopal (9-0, 6-0) in a key District 7-1A home showdown at 7 p.m. Friday.

While sheer numbers may ultimately define his career as the school’s leader in rushing and points scored, Guarisco’s further endeared himself to his coaches with a fierce work ethic and to his teammates with his leadership and selfless nature.

Guarisco takes the state’s third-highest rushing total into Central Catholic’s regular-season finale, where a victory would give the Eagles a share of the 7-1A title and enhance their power rating for next week’s Division IV state playoffs.

Guarisco’s carried 219 times for 1,994 yards and scored a staggering 32 rushing touchdowns, plus four receiving TDs and two kickoff returns. Those totals give him a state-high 282 points that factor in his 27 2-point conversions.

Not only did Guarisco’s rushing total enable him to eclipse Shepherd’s school single-season mark of 1,915 yards but with 4,624 career yards on 656 carries, he also became the all-time leader as well, breaking Shepherd’s record of 3,987 yards.

“I give a lot of credit to the offensive line, to the wide receivers and tight end for blocking,” said Guarisco, who runs behind a line with four returning starters. “It’s a collective effort. It’s not me by myself.”

With deep roots at the school, his father and grandparents attended Central Catholic as well, Guarisco’s career nearly didn’t take off after a lacerated kidney cost him his eighth-grade season and left him uncertain about playing in high school.

Then football coach David Fuhrer made Guarisco a two-way starter as a freshman at defensive back and slot receiver before moving him to running back and slot receiver a year later.

Guarisco cracked the 1,000-yard plateau for the first time with 1,091 yards to go along with 37 catches for 598 yards, 580 return yards and four interceptions.

He was just getting started.

Minton brought a spread system in 2014 and with it came more opportunities for the 5-foot-8, 180-pound Guarisco to showcase his talents, being able to run in between the tackles and utilize his speed to get to the outside.

Last season, Guarisco rushed for 1,529 yards and scored 22 TDs, earning Class 1A honorable mention All-State honors after leading CCMC to a 9-3 record and Division IV quarterfinal round.

Not only was he productive, but Guarisco belied his size with an uncanny durability, allowing him to twice carry 40-plus times last season and once this year.

Guarisco, who rushed 28 times for a career-high 402 yards and five TDs in a season-opening 54-27 win over St. John, has compiled 6,718 all-purpose yards and 80 TDs.

“If we keep winning, I’ll be a lot happier than getting a lot of yards and touchdowns,” Guarisco said. “I’d rather keep winning to get to where we want to be. Our goal is a state championship.”