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When Josh Demko received the opening kickoff at his own 26-yard line, he took off. He beat four opposing defenders, setting himself up for a straight shot down the sideline for a 74-yard kick return.
Demko’s kick return propelled Carthage Central High School toward a 55-7 victory over Auburn High School in the sectional title game at the Carrier Dome, helping the Comets to the third seed in the NYSPHSAA Class A state tournament. For Demko, the 2019 moment was his favorite in a Carthage uniform.
“We were all really close, and we all believed in each other,” Demko said.
Carthage advanced to its first state championship game appearance in program history that year, later losing to Cornwall Central High School 30-27. Demko scored two of Carthage’s four touchdowns during the state championship, totaling 89 yards in the title game.
Along with starring for Carthage’s football team as a wide receiver and safety, Demko co-captains the school’s basketball team and was the lacrosse team’s leading-scorer his sophomore year. Demko brings an unmatched competitiveness when he’s locked into a game, said Jason Coffman, Demko’s stepfather and his coach since fifth grade.
At 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, Demko refers to himself as an “animal” on the field, using his strength and speed in every sport he plays. He participated in almost any sport he could growing up and usually stood out against younger competition.
“He was always naturally strong and he could always run,” Coffman said. “I’ve watched him grow into a really nice athlete.”
Coffman also coaches Demko’s club lacrosse team, the Orange Crush. The Crush gave Demko the opportunity to participate in numerous high-profile showcases and tournaments, which garnered interest from college coaches.
He was eligible to be officially recruited and receive offers starting Sept. 1 of his junior year, a day during which Demko received over 10 phone calls and emails from NCAA coaches.
“It was a great feeling but also pretty overwhelming,” Demko said.
Demko verbally committed in early March to Fairfield University in Connecticut on a full-ride scholarship. He developed a close relationship with the Fairfield coaches who recruited him, and said he felt like “their man.”
Fairfield’s head lacrosse coach, Andrew Baxter, sees Demko as a perfect fit for his program and the university. Demko will be one of 14 incoming freshmen next season, but Baxter expects him to be able to compete for minutes early on.
“What attracted me to Josh was his athleticism and his transition game,” Baxter said. “He is fluid in his movements and could play any position. He’s got an edge to him, that’s one of the things that D-I coaches are looking for.”
Both Coffman and Demko were swayed toward Fairfield when Baxter, along with two assistants, sat through one of Carthage’s football practices ahead of a state tournament game in mid-November. After the 15-degree practice, the Fairfield staff took Demko and Coffman to dinner.
NYSPHSAA regulations have delayed the start of the football season to March 1 and lacrosse season to April 19, meaning Demko will work individually to stay in shape.
But regardless of his senior football season, Demko hopes to carry on Carthage’s strong lacrosse tradition, which produced Syracuse All-American Casey Powell, at Fairfield.
“I want to make them proud,” Demko said.
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