It's a new beginning for , in more ways than one. Win-less a year ago, the Thunderbirds are shaking things up with players in different positions, a fresh attitude, and a new coach from across town.
Michael Patrovich is the new head man at Hills East, after a stint as a varsity assistant and junior varsity coach at Hills West. Patrovich knows what goes into the building of a winning program; Hills West was the Class III Long Island champion two seasons ago. Now he's taking his skills a couple miles east.
"A lot of things went wrong last year that affected the outcome of [East's] season, but [former coach Kevin Hill] has laid a good foundation of teaching football here," Patrovich said. "We've brought a positive attitude and really have a great group of kids."
Attitude. That seems to be the prevailing theme in camp. Patrovich said that the players are eager to put 2010-2011 behind them, and get in the win column this year.
"Football is important to the kids on this team, I think they will take losing personally, which I don't know was the case in the past," he said.
Head Coach: Michael Patrovich (1st year)
Ranking: #14, Division II
2010: 0-8 (no postseason)
Venue: Tom Collins/Chris Panatier 9/11 Memorial Stadium
Breakdown: Patrovich plans to use a spread offense, but will show a wing T look as well. It's all about flexibility, in terms of personnel and what their opponents show them.
R.J. Nitti will be at quarterback for the Thunderbirds. He had a rough go last year after being pressed into duty due to injuries. Now a junior, Patrovich says Nitti is a lot more comfortable under center this year.
"This year we're expecting a different chemistry from our offense with him as our quarterback for the entire summer," Patrovich said.
When East spreads out, Nitti will look to throw to his backup of a year ago, Justin Ashley, as he moves to wideout. Rasheed Williams will be another top target at WR, but the group took a hit when D.J. Paul broke a leg during a summer camp.
Jake Gnieser will get the bulk of the carries out of the backfield, and he says his philosophy at RB is simple.
"Be physical, run some people over with the offensive line, run hard," Gnieser said.
That line will feature zone blocking, with some trap and drive blocking mixed in. Ryan Coyle moves from fullback to center and will be joined up front by David Albanese, Michael LaRusso and Chris Teufel.
Defensively, Patrovich says one of the big off-season pickups was not a player, but a coach, as coach Richard Pryhocki comes over from Harborfields to run the 'D'. A 3-4/3-5 system will be used, again, it all depends on the match-ups.
"We've got some linebackers that are good scrapers, so we don't need to send guys [blitzing] all the time, we're not going to sit and play football but we're also not going to send guys for no reason," Patrovich said.
Up front, Mike Dwoskin will join Teufel at defensive end, with Connor Quinlan in the middle. Gnieser and LaRusso will double as linebackers, along with Jessy Garcia and Jack Tesoriero.
Two way players can be found throughout the roster, and Patrovich says that's the way it has to be for the time being.
"We're rebuilding a program here, so it's not like we're picking from 60 kids, so we're going to have kids playing both ways," Patrovich said, adding new strength & conditioning coach Jeff Dimoulas has been a big plus.
There will be a variety of coverages in the defensive backfield: cover-2, cover-3, man to man, you name it. Brandon Brightman will be at corner, with Ashley joining Billy Ciceron at safety.
Coyle will handle kicking and punting duties for now, but Patrovich says he is looking elsewhere as Coyle already taking a pounding starting on both lines.
Expectations: It's year one of a rebuilding program for an East team that was 0-8 a year ago, so really, it's about getting a couple of wins and taking things one game at a time. Patrovich says the first couple of games, Sept.9 at Copiague and Sept.16 against Centereach are winnable. A quick start could bode well as the memories of 2010 give way to the effort in 2011.
"It's a domino effect, once you start losing, it just tends to ruin the morale of a team," the head coach said. "I think we have a completely different attitude this year, the kids are going to fight for each other, and they're not going to accept losing as easily as we did last year."