A new season brings with it a new head coach and new systems on both sides of the football at East, and so far, the players have accepted the challenge with enthusiasm.
“The kids have been great, from day one,” said new coach Peter Melore, who takes over an East team that finished 3-5 in Suffolk County Division II last season and is seeded 10th in 2011. “If they stick with the plan and work hard, we’ll be OK.”
Melore spent 20 years coaching football at Farmingdale High School, where he teaches physical education. The Smithtown resident was most recently the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Farmingdale, one of the top high school football programs in Nassau County. He said he hopes to bring that winning tradition to East, which opens the season Saturday at home at 2 p.m. against 11th-seeded Hauppauge.
“I love the town, I love the people,” Melore said, noting he had just resigned from coaching at Farmingdale when the East position opened up. “I left football [at Farmingdale] because I thought it would be interesting to come to a place to make it a little bit better, not that things here were bad. But taking it to the next step is something I’d like to do here.”
“There’s been a lot of support, from the athletic director, to the community,” Melore added. “[Former varsity coach] Jim Saladino has really been great with the transition and has helped a lot.”
Melore’s coaching staff includes line coach Chris Denton, defensive backs and receivers coach Adam Sherrard, and defensive coordinator Pat Nolan, who for 15 years was the varsity coach at Massapequa High School.
The Bulls will run completely different offensive and defensive schemes, with a no-huddle spread offense and a 3-5 defense.
“The kids are working real hard learning a new system,” Melore said. “There’s a lot of change, different X’s and O’s, a different philosophy. There will be some growing pains, but we’re going in the right direction.”
The Bulls have 54 players on the roster and “a lot” of juniors, Melore said. But there are several returning seniors who will lead the Bulls in 2011, including offensive linemen Connor Winship (6-3, 225) and Dennis Lestrange (6-3, 220). Jake Koppelman (5-10, 170) will start at running back, with speedy Tim Devlin (5-10, 170) at receiver.
There’s a position battle at quarterback with senior Mike Buono (6-0, 180) and junior Josh Castro (5-10, 175). Melore said both have played well but neither has yet pulled away from the other, so they should both see time behind center. “It’s tough on them,” Melore said. “It’s a whole new system and there is a lot on the quarterback.”
On defense, Lestrange and Winship will be at the defensive end positions, with senior Alex Joly (6-1, 195) and Justin Roman (5-9, 200) joining Koppelman at linebacker. Devlin will start at defensive back. The Bulls hope to improve on a defense that allowed 28 points per game in 2010.
“We like to tell the kids, put the drill in the game,” the coach said. “Carry what you were taught into the game. Do the little things.”
An example of the Bulls’ growing pains could be found in the Bulls’ pre-season action. They played well in a multi-team scrimmage Thursday against Sachem North, but were flat in a scrimmage two days later against Ward Melville.
“We’re trying to get better every day,” Melore said. “That’s really the goal, to beat Hauppauge on opening day. My philosophy is you never stay the same. You get better or you get worse. And the goal is to always get better.”