Cermak readies for life on the Hudson

Heritage High School senior Michael Cermak takes in the moment after signing a National Letter of Intent with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point last week. Seated with Cermak at Heritage are, left to right, grandfather, John Cermak, mom, Ann, and dad, Robert. Standing, left to right, is Heritage principal Earl McMahan and Mountaineer assistant coach Jason Hicks.

Photo by Jenifer Clark

Heritage High School senior Michael Cermak takes in the moment after signing a National Letter of Intent with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point last week. Seated with Cermak at Heritage are, left to right, grandfather, John Cermak, mom, Ann, and dad, Robert. Standing, left to right, is Heritage principal Earl McMahan and Mountaineer assistant coach Jason Hicks.

Robert Cermak knew his son, Michael, would sign with Army.

The Cadets’ coaching staff made a great sales pitch: Division I football, five-star education, sprawling, picturesque, old-world campus. That said, it was when they entered the academy’s football offices during a visit last fall he knew Michael was hooked.

“Setting there on a pedestal,” Robert Cermak said, “are three Heisman Trophies.”

On national signing day last Wednesday at Heritage, Michael made it official, signing a National Letter of Intent with the Cadets to become the first Mountaineers to sign with a Division I school since the mid 1990s.

The running back/linebacker who led the Mountaineers to a stunning upset of defending state champion Catholic this season, Cermak isn’t kidding himself about what lies ahead. Signing with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point is a far cry from the commitment most high school prospects agreed to last week.

West Point is the Army. After football, after college, there’s a five-year military commitment that must be fulfilled.

“When you make this decision, it’s a life decision,” Michael Cermak said.

Like his father, Michael said he was blown away by the tradition and sheer pageantry that is West Point.

“It’s unreal,” he said. “Everything’s made out of stone. It looks like it came out of the 1800s. It’s fantastic. Seeing the Hudson (River) from the stadium is tremendous.”

So, too, Heritage coach Brint Russell said, is the player the Cadets are getting in Cermak.

Cermak distinguished himself before he ever played a down at Heritage. One of the area’s top prospects while still in middle school, Cermak shunned chances in high school to abandon a struggling Heritage program for greener pastures.

“It’s sad when it’s amazing when a kid stays where he’s zoned to go to school,” Russell said. “Michael did what Michael was supposed to do; he stayed true to his school.

“He loves Heritage and he wanted to graduate from there.”

Before Cermak concluded his Mountaineer career this past season, he did something else, something that will endear him to fans of Heritage football long after he’s gone.

In his first season as Mountaineer coach in 2009, Russell instituted a platoon system at Heritage. Cermak, the team’s top ball carrier the year before, began the season at linebacker.

“That’s my biggest regret of the season,” Russell said, “not letting him touch the ball more earlier in the year.”

By the Catholic game in Week 9, Cermak was starting full-time in the backfield as well. In rousing display, Cermak scored all three touchdowns in a 21-7 Mountaineer shocker.

It wasn’t the touchdowns, though. It’s what Cermak did each time he crossed the goal line that’s to be remembered, Russell said.

“He scored and handed the ball to the referee,” Russell said. “He scored again and handed the ball to the referee.

“He was so exhausted at the end of the game we almost had to help him off the field.”

Cermak, in keeping with Russell’s assessment, accepted little credit for the landmark win for himself.

“That was a tremendous game,” Cermak said. “What a great team effort.”

The team Cermak will join this summer really likes that kind of thinking.

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