If attitude is any indicator, the East Hampton High School football team ought to be in for a good season, despite the fact that the roster of 26 is relatively small and the fact that there are only seven varsity returnees.
Still, Steve Redlus, who’s in his first year as head coach, is upbeat, as are his assistants, Mike Burns, the former athletic director here (and Redlus’s father-in-law); Joe Mensch, a world-class snowboarder with Olympic aspirations who played football at William Floyd High School; Ken Barron, a Pierson biology teacher who played football at Islip and at Susquehanna University, and Mike Ritsi, who after making a remarkable recovery from a severe knee injury in his senior year here went on to quarterback at Endicott College.
“Steve is as hard a worker as you’ll find, as is Burns — they’ve turned things around,” Bob Budd, who’s been involved with East Hampton football in one way or another since the mid-1960s, said during Saturday’s four-way scrimmage here with Hampton Bays, Southampton, and McGann-Mercy.
Ranked eighth among Division IV’s 14 teams in the preseason, the Bonackers’ campaign will be bracketed by games with second-seeded Mount Sinai (at home on Sept. 12) and top-seeded Babylon (at home on Nov. 2).
“We’re playing three of the top four [John Glenn, the fourth seed, being the other] teams,” said Redlus following a pumped-up workout in the school’s weight room early Friday morning, a workout that capped the “hell week” of double sessions. “We’re taking it one game at a time. Win, lose, or draw, we’ll know where we stand after the Mount Sinai game.”
“Football is 90 percent mental,” he replied in answer to a question. “Yes, you’ve go to know what to do, but then you have to believe that you can do it. When things go against you, do you fold or do you fight?”
“You don’t have to be a great athlete,” he continued, “but you have to have heart. We’re trying to bring back the old spirit, the Bonac mentality. Teams that played us knew, even if they won, that they’d been in a game. We may not have always had the best athletes, but Bonackers had a reputation of being tough. That’s why our motto this year is ‘One Tough Bub.’ We want to bring back the days of guys like John Kalbacher, Eddie Budd, Ernie Vorpahl, and Joey McKee.”
The team has four captains — Cortland Heneveld, the 6-foot-3-inch, 215-pound senior quarterback, who is among Newsday’s “players to watch,” Bryan Gamble, a 230-pound senior center and defensive end; Ben Newberry, a senior guard and outside linebacker, and Thomas Nelson, a senior wide receiver and defensive back, who was added to the group Friday morning in recognition of his performance in the preseason camp.
“Our goal,” said Redlus, in reply to another question, “is to become one of the dominant programs in Suffolk County, a fearless team that expects to win every game.”
Another goal is to have the players sell $10,000 worth of $20 merchant-discount booklets to help underwrite the costs of such things as the filming of games (“that’s $3,000 alone”), team dinners, a season-end banquet, and the printing of bumper stickers and T-shirts.
“We’re our own booster club,” said Redlus, who added that a Hudl online video-editing program would enable opposing coaches to share game film electronically (thus obviating the need for him to drive to Manorville early Sunday mornings to make exchanges) and would also enable East Hampton’s coaches to insert coaching tips on game film that their charges upload onto their computers.
In answer to other questions, Redlus said, “We’ll run the flexbone offense that Navy [where Heneveld is to play lacrosse] and Georgia Tech use. It’s a triple-option offense that suits Cortland fine. He’s in his third year at the position. Our focus will be to run, but Cortland isn’t afraid to throw the ball.”
“On defense, we’ll play a ‘multiple 50,’ which will allow us to match up with whatever our opponents throw at us. We’ll have nine guys in the box to help stop the run. Our safeties will play run first. . . . Our team speed is very good. These guys have been working out hard since May 13.”
In Nelson and Wanya Reid, a track sprinter who transferred from a New York City school last year, East Hampton has two excellent wide receivers. Reid will also see action at halfback and defensive back. Nelson is a defensive back too.
Max Lerner, who kicked well for the Bonackers last fall, is no longer playing football, though Redlus said Lucas Escobar will double up as a varsity soccer player and as the football team’s field goal kicker to begin with, with perhaps punting and kicking off to come later.
“He’s the first one we’ve ever had do this,” said Redlus. “We’re ecstatic about it — he’s a quality student-athlete.”
The season-opener, as aforesaid, is at home with Mount Sinai next Thursday, at 4 p.m. Then follows another home game, with Greenport, on Sept. 21, at 2 p.m.; a game at John Glenn on Sept. 28 at 1:30 p.m.; a game at Center Moriches on Oct. 5 at 2 p.m.; the homecoming game with Southampton on Oct. 12 at 7:15 p.m.; a game at McGann-Mercy in Riverhead on Oct. 19 at 1 p.m.; a game at Wyandanch on Oct. 26 at 1 p.m., and the aforementioned regular-season-ending game with Babylon here on Nov. 2 at 2 p.m.