Steve Trifone fondly recalls watching Peter Mazza play on the football field.
As Mazza’s position coach on defense from 1992-95, Trifone had a close up look at how the standout player motivated other people.
“He was a kid who never got frazzled; Peter played hard and the other guys followed him,” said Trifone, now the Cheshire athletic director. “When Peter was on the field, you never questioned if we were going to win.”
After shining as a multi-sport athlete at Cheshire High School, Mazza stayed in touch with former teammates and coaches on his way to playing football at Yale University and then becoming an attorney in California.
“For him, that (Cheshire) chapter was just the beginning of his career,” said Colorado State University football coach Steve Addazio, who coached the Cheshire Rams from 1988-94. “As nice as it to have a great high-school experience, it is important to take that forward. You keep moving, achieving, and striving.”
That journey came to a close on Tuesday, Sept. 1 when Mazza passed away in San Diego, California from colon cancer. He was 42-years old.
“I knew that he was sick; I had been in touch with other alumni,” said Trifone, who had shared Christmas cards with Mazza for years. “I was stunned when I heard the news that he had passed away.”
Addazio appreciated that former Yale University football coach Jack Siedlecki texted him of Mazza’s passing.
“I really loved him,” said Addazio. “The news was shocking to me.”
Three weeks earlier, Addazio had called Mazza to see how he was doing and ended up leaving a voicemail.
“I didn’t know that he was going toward the end of the line,” said Addazio. “I have such vivid memories of Pete and his family. It is hard to believe that he is gone at 42 with a wife, three children and a great career.”
As his high school coach, Addazio was touched by how Mazza overcame adversity, including dealing with the loss of his mother to cancer.
“I had a feeling that this guy would be able to do some wonderful things,” Addazio reflected. “Peter was one of those people who was different than the average guy. He was a tremendous person, wonderful competitor and had the ability to rally people.”
At Cheshire, Mazza played a key role in a historic run for the football program. During his career, the Rams went 46-0 and won four state titles.
“I remember when we beat Southington (in 1994) to break the state win streak record,” stated Trifone. “Peter was a big part of the team."
Under the coaching of Addazio and his successor, Mark Ecke, the Rams won six straight state titles from 1992-97 and set the New England high school football record for consecutive victories with 49 (1991-96).
“We had a bunch of great guys on those teams,” recalled Addazio.
A versatile player, Mazza contributed as an outside linebacker, defensive end, quarterback and tight end. As a senior, he was a captain and received Cheshire’s coveted Tommy DiDomizio Memorial Award.
“He was one of those guys that you’d want to have in a foxhole,” Addazio said. “You wanted him around.”
Along with football, Mazza also shined as an All-State selection in baseball and skiing.
“He was one of the best student leaders we’ve had here,” reflected Trifone. “He was a special kid and I looked up to him.”
As a senior, Mazza was accepted into the U.S. Air Force Academy, but changed course after graduation.
“He failed a health exam, but it ended up being a false positive test,” explained Trifone. “Addazio suggested that he spend a PG (post graduate) year at Avon Old Farms School.”
From Avon, Mazza chose to attend and play football at Yale. The Bulldogs went 1-9 in 1997, but the program bounced back to go 16-4 combined in the next two years.
Against rival Harvard, Yale won three straight from 1998-2000.
Trifone recalls going to Yale Bowl to see the Bulldogs play Colgate University. The matchup featured Mazza facing off against Phil Bowman, another former Cheshire football captain.
“That was great to see two local guys play on the college level,” said Trifone.
In 2000, Mazza became Yale’s 123rd football captain and led the Bulldogs to a 9-1 season. In finishing his career with 303 tackles as a linebacker, he was named Connecticut’s 2000 Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year.
“He had a special quality to lift people up,” explained Addazio, who attended a few Yale games to see Mazza play.
After graduating from college, Mazza went to law school at the University of Michigan and then moved out west to California. Living in San Diego, he was named as a federal prosecutor in 2006.
After eight years of working in the General Crimes, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, Major Frauds, and Special Prosecutions sections, he was hired as a partner at Jones Day and worked in business and tort litigation, among other things.
On Feb. 28, 2019, Mazza became the second-in-command or first assistant to Southern California’s U.S. Attorney General.
“He was very smart and ambitious. He had this great charisma about him,” said Addazio. “There was something different about Peter Mazza.”
Addazio plans to share more about Mazza in a letter to his family, including his three children.
“I’m sure they probably know, but I want to tell them how special their dad was,” stated Addazio.
Trifone has also spoken with members of the CHS Football Alumni Association about honoring Mazza in the future.