So, what will be vital for the Riverhead High School football team as it makes a bid this year for a third straight Suffolk County Division II championship? Will it be the play of its quarterback, Kenny Simco? The blocking of the offensive line? The running prowess of Ryun Moore? The tenacity of its defense?
While all of the above will undoubtedly be important, those are not the answers coach Leif Shay gave when asked that question. As Shay sees it, it comes down to something far more elemental: team chemistry and player personalities.
Shay said how well his players get along with each other and respect each other — the subject of his speech to them on the first day of preseason practice — will go a long way toward determining whether the Blue Waves go a long way.
“If they respect each other and they love each other, it makes a big difference,” he said.
The Blue Waves (10-2 last year) are coming off a season they had to love. One of the most memorable plays in the program’s history — an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown by Ryan Hubbard with six seconds left in last year’s county final — brought the Blue Waves a thrilling 20-14 triumph over East Islip and their seventh county title. They then lost to Carey, 20-6, in the Long Island Class II final. The Blue Waves are 1-3 in Long Island finals.
But all that is in the past. As Shay sees it, the team starts with a clean slate.
“That’s how we have to approach it,” he said. “We don’t rest on our laurels and what we’ve done in the past. As far as we’re concerned, we’re zero and zero.”
Coming off back-to-back county titles, the Blue Waves are seen as the team to beat. They are the top-seeded team in their division, ahead of No. 2 East Islip and No. 3 Smithtown East.
Shay said the Blue Waves will not be as reliant on the running game as they were last year and will have a more balanced offense, which will help play-action and keep defenses honest. In addition, he said, there is more athleticism on the defense.
“If they play together, they can be an outstanding team,” he said.
Three all-division players are back: Raheem Brown, a senior fullback/middle linebacker; Ethan Greendidge, a 6-foot-5, 320-pound senior lineman; and Ryun Moore, a junior tailback/outside linebacker.
Brown was responsible for 78 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries and 1 caused fumble.
Moore had a nice season last year, running for 601 yards on 103 carries (5.84 average) and making 59 tackles on defense.
Simco won all four games he started last year. The senior has secured the starting quarterback position after a preseason competition with junior Sharron Trent, who will play free safety. Last year Simco went 39 of 55, passing for 439 yards and 5 touchdowns. He did not throw an interception.
Others have starting experience as well, such as junior guard Robbie Powers, junior defensive end Tyrese Kerr, senior center Eddie Wills and senior cornerback R. J. Foster. Defensive back Steven Reid, wide receiver/cornerback Mark Andrejack and H-back/linebacker Connor Clinko could see bigger roles for themselves this season.
Among the new players who could make an impact are offensive tackle Dean Argenti, right guard Kevin O’Kula, H-back/outside linebacker Mike Carrara, middle linebacker Irving Reyes and defensive tackle Louis Eastwood.
Shay, who is in his 17th year as Riverhead’s coach, is approaching a milestone: a 100th career win. During his time with them, the Blue Waves have gone 95-51 (.651).
The biggest difference winning has made, he said, is enticing players to participate in off-season conditioning, and that has helped put the Blue Waves where they are.
“We need the community behind us this year,” Shay said. “We have a chance to do something special.”
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