East Hampton High School’s football team has nowhere to go but up, and this fall it presumably will.
Last year, if you recall, the Bonackers, who were outnumbered, undersized, and outplayed by all their Division III opponents, went 0-8.
In the second game of the season, with Kings Park, the starting senior quarterback, Ryan Joudeh, went down with a severe ankle sprain, and his sophomore backup, Cort Heneveld, and the team’s best defender, Dan Barros, were taken to the sidelines with concussions, a “first” in this writer’s memory. And so it went.
But there was some not-so-bad news last February when East Hampton shed Pierson in football at the varsity level — at least temporarily — in order to move down from the black-and-blue Division III (where the team had compiled an 11-30 record in the past five years) to the somewhat less daunting Divison IV. East Hampton entered the season Friday ranked sixth, in the middle of the pack of the division’s 14 schools.
Bill Barbour Jr., the head coach, said following a recent preseason early-morning practice, that while Division IV had its football powers too — John Glenn, Babylon, and Mount Sinai among them — “renewing old rivalries, with teams like Babylon, Port Jefferson, Mercy, and Southampton (which also went 0-8 last year) should be a lot of fun.”
The rivalry with Southampton dates to 1923, making it one of the oldest on Long Island, though the teams have played just a few times in the past quarter-century, the last being in 2006, the year before Barbour took over from David MacGarva as head coach.
The numbers this fall are somewhat better than last, with 27 on the varsity squad (and 20 to 21 on the junior varsity) as of Labor Day weekend, though there is plenty of experience as the result of some of last year’s younger players having undergone trials by fire.
Steve Redlus, the offensive coach — Barbour is overseeing the defense, and Jason Menu is in charge of special teams — said East Hampton is running the “flex bone offense that Navy and Georgia Tech, and to some extent the other service academies — Army and the Air Force Academy — employ.”
“It’s a quick-hitting, triple-option offense,” Redlus explained. “We’ve moved the quarterback under the center instead of having him four yards back as we did with ‘the pistol,’ which didn’t work for us last year because we didn’t have the speed or the athleticism required — it took too long for the plays to develop.”
The coaches are confident that Heneveld — who learned this past year that he’d been accepted at Annapolis, a singular coup for a high school sophomore — will make good decisions as an option quarterback. With the fullback three yards behind him, Heneveld will be flanked by two halfbacks at the edges of a five-man line, and there will be two wide receivers.
Among the other experienced returnees are Barros, Pete Vaziri (whose 95-yard kickoff return against Kings Park was probably last year’s highlight, that and the initial touchdown drive that Heneveld orchestrated at Rocky Point), Thomas Nelson, Andre Cherington, Sergio Betancur, Jamie Wolf, and Bryan Gamble, the lone returning offensive lineman.
“We’ve got some big boys on the line, and some who aren’t that big but who are tough,” said Barbour, adding that “at the skill positions we’ve got a ton of guys.”
In answer to other questions, the coaches said they had kids who could run, catch, and, in the person of Max Lerner, a sophomore, kick.
The team scored a couple of times — more than the Jets had as of that date — in a three-way scrimmage at Hampton Bays with Mercy and Southampton on Aug. 29. Concerning that scrimmage, Redlus said, “We saw a lot of good things . . . we got a lot done. There were a couple of mental mistakes, but we’ll clean those up.”