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Football Preview: SWR feels pressure of four-peat bid

The seed was planted early. Real early.

Echoes of the postgame celebrations of Shoreham-Wading River’s third straight Long Island Class IV football championship were still ringing when coach Matt Millheiser pulled Xavier Arline aside to give him a message. “I want four,” he told the player.

Some coaches are never satisfied.

“That’s a good thing, though,” Arline said. “It keeps us pushing. It keeps us working.”

SWR (10-2 last year), which has a 34-2 record over the past three years, raising the Rutgers Trophy in 2014 and 2016 as the best team on Long Island, holds itself to a high standard. With that comes pressure, the pressure to keep SWR football’s golden era alive with an historic four-peat.

“It definitely puts the pressure on everybody,” junior guard/defensive end Liam Mahoney said. “You don’t want to be the one to break the streak.”

Part of SWR’s success is its work-before-play philosophy. The Wildcats have been toiling in the hot summer sun, preparing to defend their titles. It will not be easy, though. SWR is seeded second in Suffolk County Division IV behind No. 1 Miller Place (7-3). And then there are other contenders to worry about like No. 3 Elwood/John Glenn, No. 4 Amityville and No. 5 Babylon.

“Obviously, with the success we’ve had the last three years, the expectations now have been ratcheted up,” said Millheiser, who takes a 54-19 record into his eighth season as SWR’s coach. “We used to want to make the playoffs, win a playoff game, get to the county finals. Now the expectation is to make the Long Island championship [game] and win it, but you can’t focus on that. Once you start looking at that, like I said, the details start to go by the wayside and you’re too much focused on the finish line and not how to get there.”

Line play could help SWR reach its ultimate goal. Senior guard/defensive tackle Daniel Curtin (6-foot-6, 290 pounds) made 62 tackles, including two sacks, last year. Mahoney (6-5, 265) was good for 56 tackles and three sacks. Ethan Baumack, a senior fullback/linebacker, was in on 60 tackles.

Arline enters his junior season as the starting quarterback and defensive back. He will hand off to senior running back/strong safety Kyle Boden. Jack Schirtzer, a sophomore free safety/wide receiver, could be a sleeper. Jake Meeker will help the linebacking corps.

“Everyone just gives a hundred percent in, and we’re going to get a hundred percent out,” said Arline.

For Mahoney, this is a great time of the year. “Yeah, it’s still summer and now you have football,” he said. “It’s the best.”

The Riverhead football schedule that coach Leif Shay handed out listed playoff dates, including the Long Island Class II final Nov. 24 at Hofstra University. Wishful thinking? That would be a major jump for Riverhead (1-7), coming off its worst season record-wise since 1991.

“We always plan on being there,” said Shay, whose Riverhead teams have gone 107-66 in his first 19 years as coach. “It’s just a matter of getting focused on business to get there.”

A first step was a concerted recruiting drive to raise player numbers. It has worked. The Blue Waves, who finished last season with 22 players, have 43 on the roster. An additional 38 are on the junior varsity team.

“You need the bodies,” Shay said. “It drives the athletic office crazy, but it’s a good problem to have.”

Riverhead, seeded 11th among 12 Division II teams, will make good use of senior wide receiver/defensive end Darnell Chandler’s 6-3, 190-pound frame. Also bringing size are senior tight end/defensive end Dean Koukounas (6-7, 215) and senior lineman Joe Stimpfel (5-11, 265). Two other seniors, wide receiver/defensive back Tommy Powers and tight end/linebacker Ben Mearkle, are also key players.

Cristian Pace, a junior who sat out last season, is the starting quarterback. He will hand off to Lawrence Bishop and Albert Daniels. Jonathan Gonzalez will be a two-way starter at offensive tackle and defensive tackle. Rudy Polanco will start at guard. Defensive end Latrell Jeffries and defensive tackle Shireef Leonard are probable starters. Among the newcomers are cornerback/running back Jarvis Jillian, defensive end Tyjon Hawkins, free safety Anthony Marcello and linebacker Connor Zaneski.

“We’re excited,” Shay said. “We think Riverhead football is back to where should be.”

Believe it or not, but there can be an up side to having a down season, such as the one Bishop McGann-Mercy (1-7) endured last year.

In Mercy’s case, a number of players new to the varsity scene picked up valuable game experience. As for the losses, they can instill a hunger in players. “They want to strive to do better,” coach Jeff Doroski (20-32, seventh year) said. “It makes them work hard to improve.”

“Obviously, we’re looking to improve from last year,” Doroski said. “Last year was really disappointing. We had a good group of guys who worked really hard. The results weren’t what we wanted.”

Hoping to turn things around for Mercy, seeded 14th in Division IV, is junior quarterback/free safety Ryan Razzano, a second team All-Division player.

“Ryan has looked very good for us in preseason so far,” Doroski said. “I think he has grown tremendously in the past year, just with his command of the offense.”

Doroski likes a senior group that includes lineman Matt Paglia, wide receiver/linebacker John Urrico, lineman Gabe Boro and Max Beyrodt, a returning two-way starter at wide receiver and defensive back. Gabe Schrage is a returning starting lineman.

Three juniors — Anthony Bossone, David Scott and Jakyle Lake — are competing at running back. Middle linebacker Ethan Aube will help anchor the defense.

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Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River coach Matt Millheiser and his players collected a third straight Long Island Class IV championship trophy last year. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)