The task that lies before the Shoreham-Wading River High School football team is a daunting one. Just how do the Wildcats follow up their act from last season?
Last season was possibly the best the Wildcats ever had. They defeated Mount Sinai for the first time in their history. They played their first home playoff game. They picked up their first playoff win. They advanced to the Suffolk County Division IV semifinals for the first time. And when it was over, they could hold their heads high as the proud holders of a 7-3 record.
Matching that record of achievement will not be easy, especially when the Wildcats no longer have their star running back, Tyler Anderson, who graduated. What the Wildcats do have, however, should not be overlooked. They have a strong arm and a fine pair of hands.
With Anderson now playing lacrosse for Stony Brook University, the Wildcats might be tempted to feature their passing game more. That seems like a no-brainer, considering they have quarterback Dan Hughes throwing to two fellow seniors, speedy wide receivers Bryce Casey and Isreal Squires.
“I feel we have the most athletic group in our league,” Hughes said. “There’s no secondary that’s going to be able to run with some of the kids that we have. Bryce and Izzy can flat out fly. You know, they’re track stars and they can run, and that can create some problems.”
Wildcats coach Matt Millheiser, whose team started preseason practice on Monday, acknowledged that he has to make use of the two speedsters.
Among the players Shoreham has lost are two who have moved on to college football. Tight end Mitch Identsohn is playing at Springfield College (Mass.) and kicker Zach MacAuley is at St. Lawrence University (N.Y.). In addition, the Wildcats bid farewell to an experienced offensive line that helped pave the way for all of Anderson’s rushing yards.
And yet, the Wildcats, who are seeded third in Division IV behind No. 1 Elwood/John Glenn and No. 2 Babylon, sound as optimistic as ever.
“We’re just as good as last year, or better,” said Bobby Buckey, the senior guard/defensive tackle and team captain.
One explanation for that optimism is the threat the Wildcats pose through the air. “The passing game is going to be great,” said Casey.
The 6-foot-5 Hughes has been Shoreham’s starting quarterback since he was a sophomore. Casey called him “fantastic. I couldn’t ask for a better quarterback.”
Hughes has worked on his game, attending about a half-dozen camps since the spring. He said he has worked on his fundamentals and improved. Not only that, he said, but he has learned the importance of reading defenses, recognizing coverages and identifying what routes work best against them.
“It’s not always the big throws that you see on TV that are the best,” Hughes said. “Sometimes you just got to take those three- or four-yard gains.”
As for the loss of Anderson, Hughes said: “He was a phenomenal player. He did everything, offensively, defensively, but it’s part of the game, you know. People move on.”
Chris Rosati, a junior, can run the ball well, he said.
Millheiser said the Wildcats also have more depth than they did last year. “This year I think there’s good competition so that we don’t know where people are going,” he said. “It’s not because we don’t have people, it’s because we have so many really good people that there will be good competitions for starting spots. It’s a good problem to have.”