Perhaps nothing fosters team bonding better than going away to camp like the Greenport/Southold/Mattituck/Shelter Island high school football team did last month.
For three days, the Porters got away from distractions and focused on football at a team camp at Stony Brook University. They roomed together, practiced three times a day, scrimmaged against Amityville and Syosset, and clicked the fast forward button on their development.
“It was one of the best experiences of my football career,” said Gene Allen, a versatile senior who plays cornerback, rover, wide receiver and quarterback.
It still may be premature to say just how much of a benefit the camp was, but the Porters claim they are already seeing positive results from it. If there was one drawback to camp life, it was the heat they had to deal with on the roasting field turf at Stony Brook’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium.
“It got up to 120” degrees, said Connor Andersen, a senior guard/middle linebacker. “Some kids’ cleats were melting.”
By comparison, the two-a-day preseason practices that the Porters started on Monday at Greenport High School are no problem.
“It was a great experience,” coach Jack Martilotta said of the camp. “The heat was a little much. We had a couple of shoes start melting apart. All the kids who went to the camp, they’re breezing through this. A lot of kids spent a lot of time in the off-season making sure they were in shape, and I think it’s showing right now.”
Off-season training, fueled in part by the determination to turn things around after an 0-8 season last year, can work wonders. The 2012 season was hardly kind to the Porters. A double-overtime, season-ending loss to Southampton put an end to their pain. It was the 13th consecutive loss for the Porters, who dropped three games last year by a total of 18 points.
“It was rough because no one expects going into a season and being 0 and 8,” Allen said. “That just killed me, and now it’s just extra motivation.”
Andersen said motivation is the only thing he takes away from last season. “Hopefully that motivation will turn into wins,” he said. “We’ve been looking phenomenal. The Stony Brook camp helped a lot. We’re running plays really smooth, and we’re all close as a family and as a team.”
All the way around, the Porters appear to be in a better situation than they were a year ago. As the No. 13 seed among the 14 teams in Suffolk County Division IV, they have a more forgiving schedule. They lost five players to graduation, but have more than a dozen seniors this year.
“They play like seniors,” Martilotta said. “They’re young men and they lead, and young kids look up to it.”
An example of that leadership was seen near the end of Tuesday morning’s practice when a number of varsity players ran alongside a junior varsity player, Chris Schwamborn, and encouraged him as he completed a conditioning run.
In addition to returning veterans like Allen, Andersen, running back Frank Sierra and lineman Cody Fisher, the Porters have a transfer from Bishop McGann-Mercy, senior lineman Owen Finnegan, who should help. The Porters didn’t have a junior varsity team last season and barely had enough players to field a JV team two years ago, but numbers are up, and Martilotta said there will be a JV team this year.
Jared Schenone, a senior quarterback, has been a bystander during these first practices. He had an emergency appendectomy two weeks ago after having been told that his appendix had burst without him knowing it two weeks earlier while he was at the Stony Brook camp. Schenone, who sat out the entire 2012 season with a wrist injury, is awaiting medical clearance to practice. In the meantime, the Porters still have Allen and Matt Drinkwater, who threw most of the team’s passes last season.
But what is past is past. The Porters are looking forward to better days ahead.
“We are a different team this year, I’ll tell you that, a hundred percent different team,” Allen said. “We have a bigger line. Everyone’s bigger … faster, stronger.”
If the Porters produce a season worth remembering, they may want to trace its beginnings to the camp in Stony Brook.