After Matt Millheiser stepped down as head coach of the Shoreham-Wading River High School football team and the post was awarded to Aden Smith, Smith was asked if Millheiser left any words of advice for him.
He sure did: “Good luck.”
Those words, as Smith remembers them, were well chosen. Smith has a tough act to follow. Millheiser resigned after last season as the coach who had guided the Wildcats to three straight Long Island Class IV championships, from 2014-16. In that time, Shoreham twice won the Rutgers Trophy, which goes to the top team in Suffolk County, regardless of class. North Babylon (1997 in Class III, 1998-99 in Class II), William Floyd (2005-07 in Class I) and Lawrence (2012-14 in Class IV) are the only other teams to win three straight Long Island titles. No team has ever won four in a row.
Shoreham went 7-3 last season, losing to Miller Place in a Suffolk Division IV semifinal and leaving Millheiser with a 61-22 record for his career.
So, how does one follow up on that record of success?
“Pretty huge shoes to fill,” said Smith, who had served as an assistant coach on Millheiser’s staff for the past two years. “I mean, they have made a lasting impact on Long Island football, on Long Island football history.”
At the same time, Smith doesn’t sound daunted by the task that lays before him. On the contrary, he’s excited. So excited that he was in his office well before the start of the team’s first preseason practice on Monday afternoon.
Smith, 37, a product of Malverne High School and a former inside linebacker for Stony Brook University, began his 28th year in football as either a coach or player on Monday. But it was also his first day as Shoreham’s head coach.
Smith was taken by surprise by Millheiser’s unexpected departure.
“It definitely caught me by surprise,” he said. “It sure caught the community by surprise. It definitely caught the kids by surprise.”
And so, a new era begins, a new chapter in the program’s proud history.
The difference between being an assistant coach and a head coach, Smith said, is a “big change. You know, everything stops with you.”
Smith brings a great deal of enthusiasm to his new job. “I think enthusiasm is important, not only for interscholastic sports, but just in life in general,” he said. “Nothing great can be accomplished without enthusiasm.”
And there’s more.
“I want to instill discipline, structure, toughness, a sense of family togetherness for the team,” he said. “Those are core values.”
Pointing out that Shoreham’s five-week offseason program included five competitions, Smith said: “Competition and competing is definitely important to us as a staff. I think those ingredients translate into a successful program.”
As Suffolk Division IV’s No. 2 seed, Shoreham once again has a target on its back.
“I think that the core, the nucleus of kids, they’re committed,” Smith said. “They’ve made a tremendous sacrifice over the summertime, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get it done.”
What would make this a successful season for Smith?
That’s an easy one to answer.
“Obviously, win the last game,” he said. “That’s everybody’s goal … I want kids to walk away and have a positive experience, to say, ‘Hey, I want to come back and be a part of this program.’ That would be the ultimate compliment for me.”
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River’s new head coach, Aden Smith, shares a laugh with his players during the team’s first practice on Monday. (Credit: Bob Liepa)