Had Mr. Whipple been blessed with hands like Tom Seary he would have been allowed to squeeze the Charmin for as long as he wanted. And, if boxing great Roberto Duran had been similarly endowed, he probably would have begun tickling the ivories as a concert pianist instead of becoming the punishing Panamanian pugilist known forever as “Hands of Stone.”
By now I think you’ve got the picture – Seary could catch and release a newborn bird without it ever making a peep or getting into harm’s way. And by soft I don’t mean to denigrate and compare those hands to a baby’s posterior, but to impress upon you that once an athletic ball was thrown his way, that object was to not only land gently in those outstretched palms, but with the assurance that nothing of this world was going to loosen it from his grasp.
That God-given talent enabled him to excel in all three sports he starred in as a Norwich High School athlete. A three-year letterman on the baseball diamond, Seary started two years each on the football gridiron and basketball hardwoods. Although an all-star in all three endeavors, it was his outstanding success as a football split end that enabled him to become one of the newest inductees into the eighth annual Norwich High School Sports Hall of Fame.
“Pass catching came naturally to me,” reflected Seary. “My father and I would go through drills and pass patterns. I would stand with my back to him and he would throw as I turned around to catch it. There were many nights where we had to quit for my father’s arm was sore.”
Over the course of his two-year gridiron career, Seary earned unanimous first team All-Southern Tier Athletic Conference (STAC) status twice, was dually selected an All-County pick by The Evening Sun both falls, was the only non-Class AA or Class A player named to Union-Endicott’s prestigious All-Opponent Team and was selected to the All-New York State second team his senior year – all awards coming as a wide receiver. He also was tabbed a second team All-STAC punter, to boot, when he averaged 36.4 yards for his 24 punts. And, on defense he rang up four interceptions from his cornerback slot as a senior.
You might also label Seary a late bloomer. Having never played Pop Warner football, Seary began his grid career as a tight end and defensive end in the seventh grade under modified coach Dave True, after sprouting six inches that previous summer. After two years of modified action, Seary moved up to the junior varsity, where he was switched to split end and free safety by coaches Bill Spittler and Tobin Tansey.
“Both of those coaches made us all believe in ourselves, not only on the field but off of it, too,” recalled Seary. “Because of their mentoring, we went from boys to men, as Bob Seger sang in his “Turn the Page” ballad. And, my pass catching abilities really flourished under them, too. I possessed very strong hands, because of my days cutting wood with my father, and I could jump, as well. But, they taught me the proper positioning of my hands with my body.”
As captain of that 1978 NHS jayvee squad, Seary helped lead the Purple to a 7-1 record and a co-championship in STAC. The Tornado’s only defeat was by one point (13-12) to U-E. That was the prelude to a varsity career that saw Seary compile more receptions than any other Norwich receiver I have researched, all the while as part of a run-oriented offense.
During the course of his junior (1979) and senior (1980) falls, Seary pulled in 53 passes in only 15 games as injuries forced him to miss one game in each of those two autumns versus Utica Free Academy. A charley horse negated his services in 1979 when the Tornado triumphed 20-0 at Alumni Field, and a pinched nerve benched him in 1980 when the Purple traveled north for a 28-12 victory. To give you some idea of Seary’s pass catching accomplishments, consider that prior NHSSHOF inductees Peter Burton (2015) and Charlie Wightman (2012) carded only 35 and 31 receptions, respectively, during the course of their three-year careers, which saw them play in 30 and 28 games, respectively.
“Forty one years ago, I took a teaching position in Norwich and started coaching JV football, as well. I was fortunate to have an athlete like Tom Seary on my football team – someone who had a positive attitude, strong work ethic and great ability,” noted Spittler. “Unfortunately for Tom, we ran the veer offense, so we didn’t throw the ball a lot. However, when we did throw, Tom was often the primary target. I watched him make amazing catches while on the junior varsity team and into his varsity career.”
Echoing Spittler’s words, what he accomplished as a sophomore on the junior varsity only grew more magnanimous when he donned the varsity moleskins. During the course of those aforementioned 15 games, Seary caught at least one pass in each of them, pulling in multiple aerials on 14 occasions. As a junior receiver, he compiled 25 receptions for 236 yards, three touchdowns and a pair of PATs to rank second in STAC receiving behind U-E’s Gary Beddoe, who carded 32. A year later, however, he led the pack with 28 catches for 290 yards, two TDs and a trio of two-point conversions. Those 28 receptions easily outdistanced runners-up Dick Dino of Johnson City and Susquehanna Valley’s Jerry Kimmel with 21 catches each.
“It’s more his hands and his jumping ability,” said former Norwich head football mentor Lou Palazzi in a post-season article chronicling his 6-foot-2; 200-pound gridder’s all-star season. “I thought he was the best in the league last year, too.”
Seary’s most prolific games as a senior, when the Tornado compiled its first winning season in nine years of STAC competition, were when he chalked up five receptions each in contests versus Sus Valley and U-E, and as a junior when he turned in a personal-best six catches in another tilt with the Sabers. But, late-game heroics on two other occasions proved to be his most memorable.
On opening day, Saturday, Sept. 13, 1980 at Maine-Endwell, he was a two-way thorn in the sides of the Spartans. With less than four minutes to play, NHS quarterback Ben Guinn rolled out to his right and found Seary in the right corner of the end zone for the game-winning conversion and a 14-13 come-from-behind Purple victory that proved to be the Tornado’s first-ever win at M-E.
Prior to that conversion grab, Seary came up with a couple of clutch third-down plays. Moved to the slot position from his usual wide receiver role, Seary carried the ball for 15 yards and a first down on a counter play. Two plays later, Norwich was faced with another third-and-five situation just short of midfield, but Seary came up big again when he corralled a 23-yard strike from Guinn to keep the 92-yard, late-game drive alive. Later on, Jeff Aust pulled the Purple within one with a 10-yard run. If Seary’s offensive exploits weren’t enough to bring dismay to the M-E crowd, two plays following his conversion catch, he picked off an errantly thrown aerial from Spartan signal caller Randy Bullock to seal the win.
“Seary had a tremendous game today,” said M-E head coach John Furey following that contest. “He was all over the field. Defensively, he was just fantastic.”
In similar fashion the year before, Norwich trailed Seton Catholic Central 12-6 with 41 seconds remaining. Seary proceeded to catch both the tying touchdown and the subsequent conversion toss to pull off the 14-12 triumph.
Quarterbacking the Purple offense that day was Tim Whitney (2017 NHSSHOF inductee), and he remembers Seary’s heroics very well. “One of my most fond moments was in my senior year when we trailed Seton 12-0 in the fourth quarter. We drove down around the 10-yard line and Tom made a great catch to make it 12-6. We held Seton on the next set of downs and got the ball back with less than two minutes to play. We converted on a few fourth downs, and eventually found ourselves in the exact same spot as our last drive. I recall looking at Tom and he flipped his head as if to say let’s make it happen again, and we did. Now tied 12-12, we ran the exact play again for the two-point conversion, and Tom made it happen again. He definitely was the hero of the day.
“That day was indicative of how Tom played every game. He kind of reminds me of Dwight Clark (the former great receiver from the San Francisco 49ers). Unfortunately for Tom, we ran an option-based offense which hindered wide receivers. But, whenever we needed to throw, you knew who we were going to. He also was an excellent blocker and saved my butt many times.”..