There’s definite reason for enthusiasm at training camp this year for Shoreham-Wading River. After a 6-2 regular season last year, the Wildcats advanced into the semifinals of the Division IV playoffs.
They enter this year with the core of their skill position players back on offense, including quarterback, wide receiver and running back.
But Shoreham coach Matt Millheiser knows there’s another word that can replace enthusiasm: expectations.
“It’s a double-sided coin,” Millheiser said. “It’s nice to have expectations where people believe in you enough to say, ‘Hey, they’re capable of this and that.’ But it’s also a little more pressure.”
Under Millheiser’s tutelage, the Wildcats have gotten better and better each season since 2010. Two years ago they shocked everyone by making the playoffs. Last year, it wasn’t so much a surprise when the Wildcats finished as the No. 3 seed in the division and won a first-round playoff game against The Stony Brook School.
So what’s the next step this year?
“There’s excitement in terms of getting better and making strides against the better teams in the league,” Millheiser said.
The Wildcats will begin this season where they left off last year: third in Division IV. The preseason rankings list Shoreham behind Babylon and Mount Sinai, the two mainstays of D-IV. Babylon won the Class IV Long Island championship last year.
As the Wildcats begin their first official practices this week, one of the early question marks centers around the offensive line.
“It’s trying to find the right fit, making sure that we all find the best place to put them to help the team,” Millheiser said. “Obviously, there’s always competition and battles on the field but the main thing is settling that offensive line.”
However the line shapes up, it will undoubtedly have one of the top runners in the division behind it in senior Tyler Anderson. A four-year varsity player, Anderson put up huge numbers last year. He finished the season with 18 touchdowns.
Millheiser fully expects another huge season from Anderson, who also plays linebacker. Now he’s looking to see him as a bigger leader on the team.
“When times get tough and things get a little shaky on the field, I’m going to expect a little more leadership,” Millheiser said. “Not just from what he says, but how he acts in a role that people will get behind him and follow him.”
The Wildcats return junior quarterback Danny Hughes and wide receiver Isreal Squires, who teamed up for some highlight reel plays last year. While the Wildcats will still be a run-first team, Hughes should get plenty of chances to find the speedster Squires on passing routes.
“I would say you’re going to see us utilize Izzy and Danny’s skills a little bit more this year,” Millheiser said. “We have some known quantities in terms of weapons this year that we definitely weren’t aware we had at the start of last year.”
With a 29-man roster on the varsity to start the season, the Wildcats will face a challenging preseason schedule to prepare for the season. Their first scrimmage features Sachem East, Miller Place, Smithtown West and West Babylon. They’ll play a game scrimmage against Half Hollow Hills East.
Millheiser said one notable change to the coaching staff this year is the addition of Tom Fabian, who was the JV head coach last year. He’ll coach on the varsity this year as the defensive coordinator, while also coaching the receivers and defensive backs.