For Steve Redlus, who played for the team that was on its way to a county championship in 1995 when a controversial downfield-blocking call on its tight end, Troy LaMonda, stifled a probable victory drive, realized a dream this week when he was named as East Hampton High’s varsity football coach, replacing Bill Barbour Jr., who recently resigned.
When five years ago Barbour replaced David MacGarva, it was thought that the program, whose numbers were far outweighed by those of the schools up west, might turn around, but that has not been the case.
It has become an adage here that football prospects would rather surf, and while that may be a half-truth, or a quarter-truth, the fact is that the sporting menu has become so various in the past 20 or so years that the traditional big three of football, basketball, and baseball no longer hold the sway over athletes that they once did.
All by way of saying that Redlus, 35, a physical education and adaptive physical education teacher at the high school — as well as the varsity football team’s offensive coordinator — knows what he’s up against.
It has helped that East Hampton was able to move out of the black-and-blue division this past year, “though Division IV still has its powerhouses, the Babylons, the Shoreham-Wading Rivers, the Mount Sinais, the John Glenns, just as in Division III,” Redlus said. “Division III’s a meat grinder, there are no breaks, whereas in Division IV there are some games where you’re not overmatched physically.”
At the end of the month the new coach, who played football for four years at the State University at Brockport and helped coach there for a year, will know where East Hampton will be seeded among the conference’s 14 teams and what the fall’s schedule will be.
Meanwhile, Redlus, who captained Brockport’s football team in his senior year and played varsity basketball there for three years, is going to be actively promoting the sport at the junior high and youth levels, not only here, but at Pierson, in Sag Harbor, and at Bridgehampton. In addition, Redlus said he will meet one-on-one with the players in the high school, emphasizing the need to get bigger, stronger, and faster.
In order to move down to Conference IV, East Hampton divested itself of Pierson, with which it had been combined at the varsity level, though it remains combined with the Sag Harbor school in the lower grades.
A believer in well-rounded athleticism, Redlus will not demand a particular allegiance to football, though weight training during the school year and in the off-season will be emphasized. “I want every kid to play three sports, I want them to be in competitive situations the year round . . . on the wrestling mat, on the lacrosse field . . . Richie Browne — one of our returning senior linemen — is a great example of what I’m saying. He went out for wrestling this year for the first time and did great. He lost 20 pounds and is in the best shape of his life. Consequently, he’ll be a better football player because he went out for wrestling.”
And Mike Burns, the popular former athletic director, boys track coach, and longtime assistant varsity coach here, is to play a significant role in the new coach’s revival plans.
When asked if the return of Burns — a teaching retiree — had been his idea, Redlus replied by way of explanation, and with a smile, “He’s my father-in-law — he couldn’t refuse. I’m married to his daughter Maureen, who’s a preschool teacher at the East Hampton Day Care Learning Center.”
His father-in-law, he added, had helped coach Westhampton Beach to consecutive county championships in 2011 and ’12.
Redlus, who’s also the president of the East Hampton Coaches Association, said he’ll hold monthly coaching staff meetings from here on. His appointment was announced by the athletic director, Joe Vas, Friday morning.
Vas and Redlus said there are two assistant coaching positions open, one of which had been occupied by Jason Menu, who, like Barbour, cited family obligations as a major reason for resigning.
When asked about the seniors expected to return, Redlus said, “We’ll have Cort Heneveld [the Annapolis-bound quarterback], who was all-county this fall, and Bryan Gamble, an all-division center and defensive lineman, and Ben Newberry, an outside linebacker and guard, among others. I’ve named Cort, Bryan, and Ben as the team’s captains.”
“We’re looking at a total rebuild of the entire program — high school, middle school, and youth programs all figure in my plans. I want everybody to be on the same page.”
“I’m meeting with Pierson’s athletic director on Feb. 27. I’m hoping their juniors will play on our jayvee, with the idea that in time we’ll move back up to Division III. . . . We’ve had some great players from Pierson over the years, among them Pete Deleski, who coaches our jayvee, Mike Daniels, an inside linebacker and center who was a teammate of mine, Randy Steyart, who played at Sacred Heart, Matt Paul, who played for a year at Temple. . . .”
Ditto Bridgehampton. “I played with Relly Hopson and Oran Davis . . . I used to pick up Maurice and Jarrel Walker on the way to 6 a.m. practice. . . . We’ve got Anaje Lamb, who’ll be a senior, on our team now. He’s an offensive and defensive lineman. We’re still combined at the varsity level with Bridgehampton.”
It won’t be easy to repeat as a playoff contender: East Hampton has only nine varsity returnees, and there were last fall only 16 on the jayvee. Moreover, the East Hampton Middle School’s squad, to which Springs and Sag Harbor contribute, “only had 12 eighth graders, though there were 33 seventh graders. Those are the kids we’ll be concentrating on. . . . If we were able to keep 20 kids at each grade level, we’d have 40 on the varsity, which would be a nice number.”
Asked about the recent concerns having to do with concussions, Redlus said, “There will always be injuries in football — that’s part of the game — but we’ll teach the correct tackling fundamentals, tackling with the head up, not down. That will be a major focus.”
“Our team goal,” Redlus said in parting, “is to make the playoffs again. If we do, it would be the first time we’ve done that back-to-back since my senior year in 1995 and Robbie Peters’s in ’96.”
“I’m looking forward to the grind and to the challenge of coaching high school football. . . . It’s definitely a dream come true.”