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Football Preview: Wildcats are still aiming high

Players change, coaches change. Standards don’t.

That’s the clear message coming out of the Shoreham-Wading River High School football team’s preseason training camp. Standards remain high. The players say so, and the team’s new head coach says so.

“We have a solid nucleus of kids who are working really hard, and they’re looking forward to upholding the tradition that has been set before them,” said Aden Smith, who after two years as an assistant coach at Shoreham, takes over from Matt Millheiser.

It’s a winning tradition. Shoreham won three straight Long Island Class IV championships from 2014-16. In 2014 and 2016, Shoreham received the Rutgers Trophy, which goes to the outstanding football team in Suffolk County.

Shoreham has a 41-5 record over the past four years. The Wildcats have won at least seven games for six consecutive seasons, including back-to-back 12-0 campaigns in 2014 and 2015. Since varsity football was introduced to Shoreham in 1997, the Wildcats have built a career mark of 106-85, according to Newsday’s Andy Slawson.

The Wildcats see no reason not to add to that proud history in 2018.

Last year Shoreham (7-3) was ousted by rival Miller Place (10-2), the eventual Suffolk Division IV champion, in a county semifinal. Miller Place has been pulled up to Division III, leaving No. 1 Babylon (10-1) and Shoreham as Division IV’s top two seeds.

Shoreham still has its dual-threat quarterback, Xavier Arline, a three-year starter who will also play defensive back. The elusive Arline ran for 904 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, according to Newsday.

“I like the fact that he’s a team player and helps the team,” Smith said. “He’s been working hard all offseason.”

Senior lineman Liam Mahoney will help open running lanes for Arline and others.

“Liam is a hard worker and he’s committed,” Smith said. “He’s sacrificed himself over the offseason and he’s led by example.”

Shoreham has more experienced starters in senior running back/defensive back Dom Visintin, senior wide receiver/linebacker D.J. Brown, senior linemen JoJo Puckey (listed at 6-3, 350 pounds) and Jack Logan and sophomore lineman Matt Zahn.

Meanwhile, Mike Casazza moves from the offensive line to H-back. The talents of linebacker and special teams player Jake Meeker, multi-purpose player Anthony Cimino and wide receiver/defensive back John Schwartz will also be put to use.

Smith, 37, a former inside linebacker for Stony Brook University, is in his 28th year in football as either a coach or player. Will he feel differently Friday night when he takes the field as Shoreham’s head coach in its season opener at Southampton/Pierson?

“It’s like as you prepare for any game,” he said, adding: “I think the game days are special, but all the game days are special. I don’t take it for granted. I definitely cherish it and definitely appreciate it.”

Riverhead (3-5) would appreciate an appearance in the playoffs, something the Blue Waves missed out on by a mere place last year, finishing ninth in Suffolk Division II.

The question is: Does Riverhead have the horses up front to make that happen?

Leif Shay has never had an offensive line this raw before in his 21 years as Riverhead’s head coach.

“Obviously, the weak point of our team is the offensive line,” Shay said. “We got to roll out more. We have to run a lot more screens … because we’re going to struggle up front. We have to do what we have to do.”

The brand new offensive line consists of left tackle Chris Harris, left guard Eric Fuhrmann, center Aashray Gandhi, right guard Jack Qualey and right tackle Ronan Cruz. William Sellers-Beeker is also vying for time on the line.

“If we’re not huge we’re going to have be great with our technique,” Shay said. “They’re getting better every day. Our technique has to be perfect.”

That line will be blocking for an All-Division quarterback, Cristian Pace. Pace completed 90 of 152 passes for 1,212 yards and 15 TDs against five interceptions. He also ran 51 times for 260 yards and two TDs. “He looks fantastic,” said Shay.

Riverhead has another All-Division player in Tyjon Hawkins, a senior tight end/defensive end. Hawkins led the team in tackles (42) and sacks (8 1/2, tied with the graduated D.J. Chandler).

“He’s going to be the team leader,” Shay said. “He’s never coming off the field so he has to be a coach on the field.”

Liam Egan, a transfer from Bishop McGann-Mercy, is a major addition at middle linebacker and tight end. He made All-Division last year.

Junior running back Albert Daniels (111 carries, 440 yards), senior wide receiver/cornerback Anthony Marcello, senior cornerback Isiah Braunskill (30 tackles) and senior linebacker Derrick Parker (22 tackles) are also returning starters.

Deonta Sykes will be the first freshman to start at defensive tackle during Shay’s tenure. He will also start at tight end. “He’s probably our best defensive lineman,” said Shay.

Also expected to see action are linebacker/offensive lineman William Garcia, lineman Justin Wallace, defensive end/wide receiver Jaheim Woodson, wide receiver/free safety David Squires and defensive end Tyreek Parker.

So much will depend on how the offensive line develops.

“It’s a work in progress this year,” Shay said. “I think it’s going to be an exciting challenge. We’re going to watch kids step up.”

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Photo caption: Junior quarterback Xavier Arline, who also plays defensive back, is in his third year as a starter for Shoreham-Wading River. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)