GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Pat Marelli recorded a team-leading 76 tackles (eight for a loss) last season for Bishop McGann-Mercy.
Bishop McGann-Mercy has been a perennial underdog. But can a football team remain an underdog after winning a playoff game, reaching the Suffolk County Division IV semifinals and turning in its best season in decades? Has that underdog tag been shed?
Those questions remain to be answered, but, if nothing else, coach Jeff Doroski has noticed an attitudinal change in his team.
“We have a great respect for the teams that we’re going to compete against, but we’re not going to back down from anybody,” he said. “We’re going to go out there and we’re going to compete, and we’re going to put our best foot forward every game.”
It sounds like something one would hear from a confident team, and if the Monarchs gained a measure of confidence from what they did last year, it would be understandable.
Seeded 12th in a preseason coaches poll before last season, McGann-Mercy bucked the odds, posted its first playoff win since 1991 (a last-second thriller over Hampton Bays), ending up with a 7-3 record. It was their highest single-season win total since 1978.
“I feel like when I’m older I’m going to exaggerate it to like we won the states or something,” said Pat Marelli, the senior center/middle linebacker who had a team-leading 76 tackles (eight for a loss) to go with a sack in 2012. “It was awesome to be a part of that.”
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Luis Cintron said a tougher schedule puts greater pressure on Bishop McGann-Mercy, but it’s nothing the Monarchs can’t handle.
Reggie Archer, an all-county junior who ran for 1,088 yards and six touchdowns, said, “In a way, I guess you could say we surprised ourselves a little bit, but we always believed in ourselves.”
McGann-Mercy’s reward for that is a No. 6 seed this year in the 14-team division. Along with that ranking comes a considerably tougher schedule that includes games against the top four seeds: defending Long Island champion Babylon, Mount Sinai, Shoreham-Wading River and Elwood/John Glenn. As if that isn’t enough, “the other four games that we have aren’t easy, gimme games,” said Doroski, referring to dates with Center Moriches, Wyandanch, East Hampton/Bridgehampton and Southampton.
“It’s a tough schedule,” Doroski said. “We know we have our work cut out for us, but we’re excited about that. We want to have the opportunity to prove last year wasn’t a fluke.”
Doroski said he told his players it’s as if they have been moved up from the kids’ table to the grown-ups’ dinner table. But, far from shying away, the Monarchs say they welcome the challenge and understand the task that lays before them.
“They know the level of difficulty that it’s going to be,” said Luis Cintron, a senior who plays outside linebacker and fullback. He said, “There’s a lot of pressure,” but quickly asserted that it’s nothing the team can’t handle.
Aside from the schedule, there are other issues to be faced, like dealing with the loss of 11 graduated players, six of whom were two-way starters. Furthermore, in McGann-Mercy’s first two preseason practices on Monday, senior quarterback Asaiah Wilson, who had joined the team as a transfer from Longwood last year, wasn’t present. Doroski said he still didn’t know if Wilson, a major contributor to the team’s fortunes, would be rejoining the team or not, leaving things in a strange limbo.
Meanwhile, the Monarchs have no choice but to operate as if Wilson will not be on the team. “If he’s not here, obviously we’ll miss the production, but we’re prepared to move forward,” said Doroski.
In the meantime, the ball is being placed in the hands of sophomore quarterback K. J. Santacroce.
Paul Annunziata, a cornerback/running back, and linemen Colin Ratsey and Andrew Glasgow are also being counted on for production.
The Monarchs have what Doroski said is a first, a girl trying out for the team. Jackie Spinella, a senior, plays the offensive line.
“It’s a bunch of hard workers, I can tell you right now,” Cintron said. “We’re on a mission this year.”
Doroski said he told his departing seniors after last season that what they achieved can never be taken away from them. “That’s something they’ll have with them for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Referring to his current players, the coach said: “My question to them, moving forward, is, what’s going to be your legacy? What memory are you going to make in Mercy football?”
More questions to be answered in the coming months.