For many, it will be the last organized football game they ever play. Of course, they are focused on the job at hand, not thinking about what comes next. But whenever the end comes, there is no escaping the reality that the players will end their football careers as either winners or losers. And nobody wants the latter.
There are three weeks left on the Long Island high school football schedule, but not every team is still playing. It is the second round of playoffs, where the top four teams of each conference play. The winners will then face off in the conference finals. The next step is the biggest a team can make on Long Island.
The Long Island High School Football Championships, held every November since 1992 at Hofstra’s James Shuart Stadium, pits the top teams from both Nassau and Suffolk counties against each other. For the local football fan and team sports purist, it is a must-see, must-experience event. Up to 15,000 will attend each finals game—something no Long Island team will experience during the nine-game regular season.
This is not Odessa, Texas.
Teams that make it to the Big Game don’t want to lose. A team never wants to lose. And under the bright lights of Hofstra, standing on vivid green turf and surrounded by thousands of fans, everything is amplified and colored. Plays seem to crawl in slow motion. The mind’s eye takes a million pictures. Glory can come at any second, from any player, just as goats will be born.
Movies have been made and books have been written about the Big Game. Undoubtedly, there is something different about high school football, before the corruption of business and money taints programs, coaches and players. There is a purity and sanctity to the game and the intentions of its players. Only a precious few will ever go on to play at another level.
In a few days, the teams will take the field and battle for a chance to be called a champion.
There’s a lot of work to do first.
Monday: Bumps, Bruises and Movies
At first, it looks like a big group of teenagers hanging out next to the high school. The uniform T-shirts give them away, though. The Lynbrook Owls (8-1) are preparing for a game against the Hewlett Bulldogs (6-3). It is a solid Conference III rivalry. The playing fields are barely two miles apart, if it’s even that far. On Nov. 14 at 1 p.m., the teams will meet on the turf at Hofstra. It will be their second meeting of the year. The first, played on Lynbrook’s home field, was a 28-14 win for the Owls.
“They will be ready to play us,” says Owls Head Coach Steve LoCicero. “We have to be focused.”
LoCicero is in his fourth year as head coach at Lynbrook. He played for Bayport-Blue Point High School and then for Marist College. He came to Lynbrook after six years at Oceanside High School. But it is not just a job. LoCicero has made a full circle. His first high school coaching job was right here, with the Owls. And in 1992 his team won the first Long Island Championship game between Nassau and Suffolk at Hofstra. The memory serves as motivation.
“I have been talking about 1992 a lot to the kids,” says LoCicero. “[That] was an unbelievable year.”
That team was tight. The units were close-knit. It is a spirit that LoCicero fosters. Their motto is “Brothers Forever,” and many players write the sentiment on their arms for game day.
LoCicero’s affection for the job and the players is obvious. With a baseball hat pulled low and eyes behind small-framed glasses, LoCicero stands watch, clad in a gray hoodie sweatshirt with “00” on the back under his name. This is the third trip he will make as a head coach to the Big Four, and he wants to see his kids go all the way. Today, the team is not wearing pads. LoCicero says it is not necessary.
“I know they can hit,” he says. “We don’t need to get very physical this week.”
They will stretch, do some conditioning drills, lift weights and then go to the high school auditorium to watch game film. LoCicero and his staff stand off to the side quietly, assessing their players’ bumps and bruises. They are also waiting for news from Thomas DeNapoli. He is the No. 1 quarterback in a wacky, screwy two- and sometimes three-QB offense. DeNapoli went out of a game the previous week against Bethpage. He has a leg injury—not good news for a running QB. In his absence, T.J. Virgona heaved three TD passes and helped the Owls win their first playoff game, 41-20. Many teams would make a lot out of it, but with the Owls, it’s business as usual. Virgona is solid and a regular behind center. A minivan pulls up, and a young man gets out with his father. It is DeNapoli, straight from the doctor’s office. The players continue to work out. They throw medicine balls to each other. Eyes are cast to DeNapoli to see how he walks.
Tags: Brendan Cohn, Chris Vacarro, Don Makofske, Dr. Santo Barbarino, Dustin Maskuli, Ed Parenteau, High School Football, Jake Farrington, Jay Iaquinta, Joe Venezia, Jon Zaccaro, Mike Kozakowski, Nassau County, Neil Giordano, Ray Acevedo, Steve LoCicero, Steven Covo, Suffolk County, T.J. Virgona, Thomas DeNapoli, Wayne Shierant, Wellington Mara