Football: Things already looking up at SWR

In the early parts of training camp last season, the Shoreham-Wading River football team’s lineup was in constant shuffle. With a new coaching staff, new system and a mostly new core of players, it took plenty of time just to find out where certain kids fit best.

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | The Shoreham-Wading River football team gets back to work Tuesday morning after missing several practices because of the weather.

Then sprinkle in some injuries, and it would get all mixed up again, with players sliding over to different spots.

With the growing pains behind them now, the Wildcats come into the 2011 season with a clearer focus, better understanding of where players fit and the kids themselves better prepared for what comes ahead.

“We’re light years ahead of where we were last year,” said second-year head coach Matt Millheiser.

The coaching staff already had a preliminary depth chart in place by the time the first practices kicked off Aug. 18. And with much better depth — 31 varsity players and 30 junior varsity compared to as few as 19 varsity players during one point last season — the Wildcats are better equipped to handle any injuries that may come their way.

The Wildcats also bumped back down to familiar territory in Division IV after a one-year stint last year in Division III because of a bump in enrollment. Their one season in the higher division couldn’t have come at a worse time. With all the changes and low numbers, the Wildcats limped through an 0-8 season. At times early in the season when healthy the Wildcats stayed competitive with teams over a half before wearing down in the second half. By the end of the season, as players continued to succumb to injury, the Wildcats had little chance.

“The one thing we were most proud of last year, and anyone who watched our games would know, is our kids never quit,” Millheiser said. “To go 0-8 and go through some of those rough scores, it’s easy to put your head down. The thing I’m so excited about this year is that group never quit. Now when they have a little bit of success it’s going to pay off for them.”

Rather than dwell on their misfortunes last season, the returning group of players, which includes nearly the entire team, got right back to work during the offseason.

“It’s the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said Millheiser, who was an assistant coach before taking over last season. “On average when we had our workouts we had between 15 and 25 guys depending on if there was a lacrosse tournament or baseball. They showed up and worked their tails off, which is exciting to me as a coach because they care and they’re committed.”

As has been the case for teams all across Long Island, the Wildcats’ lost out on a few practices because of Hurricane Irene. The team will get back on the field Tuesday morning and will play their first scrimmage Wednesday at Smithtown West.

“You get to find out things about guys,” Millheiser said of the team’s first scrimmage. “You have some new guys, some guys coming up from JV and when you’re with your own team everybody looks all well and good. When you strap it up and everyone’s moving at game speed, you find out about people.”

The Wildcats had a few changes to the coaching staff this season as well. The most notable addition being Tony Antonucci, a former head coach at Rocky Point and Mount Sinai.

“He’s a legendary coach and anything we can learn and get help from him is appreciated,” Millheiser said.

As the 10th seed in Division IV, the Wildcats open the season at home Sept. 10 against Southampton.