Across Suffolk County on Monday morning, on the first day of practices for the high school football season, teams set out for the grueling start of two-a-days.
At Bishop McGann-Mercy, the official start of the season was met with patience. For starters, a significant portion of the team still needed to pass physicals as of Tuesday morning, limiting the ability for the team to practice. By Tuesday afternoon, most of the players had made it out onto the field to begin preparation for the 2014 season, which promises to be a challenging one for the Monarchs.
“We’re probably a little further behind because of the new terminology, new plays and everything else,” said head coach Mike Buck, who was officially hired in June.
Buck, a former NFL quarterback and coach in the Arena Football League, will have his work cut out early in the season to get familiar with a new roster. He also needs to get to know his coaching staff, which includes one holdover from last year in Phil Lombardi. Buck said athletic director Paul Mastronardi assembled the coaching staff. Buck met one of the new assistants for the first time Monday.
Early on Buck said he’s leaned on Lombardi, who works in the school and has a good rapport with the kids.
“He’s been great,” Buck said. “But football’s football. The terminology changes a little bit. But throwing and catching doesn’t. They’ll get it. It’ll be fine.”
The Monarchs begin the season shorter on numbers than they’d like. Buck estimated the team had about 45 players between the varsity and junior varsity. Two years ago, when the Monarchs made the semifinals of the Division IV playoffs, they began the season with 55 players.
Buck coached most recently at Calhoun High School in Merrick. He was a standout football player in high school at Sayville and went on to play at the University of Maine, where he was the conference Offensive Player of the Year in 1987 and 1989. He appeared in 12 games in the NFL.
“Would it be nice to grab some roots and grow a program? Absolutely, and I’m hoping to do that here,” he said.
Buck said he heard about the opening when Mastronardi called him to see if he might be interested in the position.
“It seemed like a really nice opportunity,” he said. “He sold me pretty good.”
Buck takes over a team that went 1-7 last year, winning just one game on the final day of the regular season via forfeit.
In January, former coach Jeff Doroski was informed by the school he would not be hired back as the head coach, which sparked a contentious back-and-forth between parents and the administration. Doroski declined to stick around for an assistant position and went on to coach softball at Riverhead in the spring. He’s now the head football coach at Hampton Bays High School. Mercy does not play the Baymen this year. Another assistant from last season, Adam Barrett, is now the head coach at Centereach High School, where he previously coached as an assistant before joining Doroski’s staff at Mercy in 2011.
The schedule won’t be very forgiving for the Monarchs again this season. They’ll face each of the top three seeds in Division IV: John Glenn, Babylon and Shoreham-Wading River. They open the season at home Sept. 12 against Bayport-Blue Point.
“Right now I think we have as a good a chance as anybody,” Buck said. “There’s a lot of talent in this locker room.”