Tuesday was Day 2 of preseason training camp, and there weren’t all that many players on the dusty, dry practice field at Greenport High School.
According to one of the Greenport/Southold/Mattituck high school football coaches, the Porters had about 20 varsity players report to the team. The junior varsity turnout, he said, was “light.”
Then again, the Porters don’t seem alarmed. The team historically doesn’t carry a large roster, and additional players usually filter in as the first day of school approaches.
The question of numbers this time, however, is highlighted because of what prompted the premature ending of the Porters’ season last year. After starting the year with 22 players, the Porters played six games before a rash of injuries took their toll. The team canceled its final two regular-season games when it was left with only 13 healthy varsity players.
According to the athletic director, Jim Caliendo, the junior varsity team had about 15 players, and there were over 35 players on the junior high school team last year.
And so, the Porters finished up with a 2-6 record and an uncertain future. Although school officials pledged that they would do what they could to keep the program running, some parents of players and fans expressed concern that the program would be dropped.
Mike Buck, who coached Bishop McGann-Mercy last year, became the Porters’ new head coach as Jack Martilotta stepped aside after having served in that post for five years to become the team’s defensive coordinator. Martilotta said he made that decision in light of the demands on his time.
Martilotta, who ran Tuesday evening’s practice for Buck, didn’t sound worried at all about the player turnout so far.
“We never have big numbers, but the numbers that we have, they’re kids that are committed,” he said. “They want to play and I think we’ll be fine.”
Martilotta said numbers weren’t the biggest problem at the beginning of last year — until the injuries quickly piled up.
“When you have small numbers and injuries start coming down, each one has such a big impact,” said Tristin Ireland, who was one of the injured players who couldn’t continue last year.
Ireland, a senior running back and linebacker, played in the Porters’ last game at Port Jefferson last year, but tore the labrum in his right shoulder.
“It was rough,” he said. “I tried to stick it out as long as I could but it just got to the point where you just can’t take it any more. You can only do so much.”
Ireland bypassed surgery and went through physical therapy to prepare himself for this season.
Dominick Panetta, a senior tight end and strong safety who is the Porters’ leading returning tackler with 30 tackles (not to mention four interceptions and a fumble recovery), was healthy but disappointed by the unexpected early end to the season.
“It was tough, like I definitely wanted to keep going,” he said. “Everyone else wanted to keep going, but we understood.”
In the meantime, the Porters are adjusting to a new head coach in Buck and a new playbook.
Among the players the Porters have in training camp are quarterback/free safety Dylan Marlborough, lineman Liam Finnegan, wide receiver/cornerback Garrett Malave, tailback/linebacker Keegan Syron and fullback/linebacker Jacob Kollen.
“I think we have the right pieces to be successful,” Panetta said. “We just have to execute.”
Martilotta sounded optimistic during an interview before the practice.
“So far so good,” he said. “They’re not quite in football shape yet. They will be soon. They’re good kids. They’re hard-working kids, and they’re excited to be here. We’ve got some receivers who are a little bit older, a little bit taller. We’re hoping we’re going to be able to throw that ball around a little bit, and we’re going to try and win some games. Like any team, we have to go from having how many kids I’ve got out here individually, to pulling them together and having one team, and that’s the challenge for any coach at any level.”
Finishing the season is also part of the plan. Ireland doesn’t believe that the team is jeopardy because of low numbers. “I think we’ll be alright,” he said. “I know more [players] are coming.”
Photo caption: Dominick Panetta, who plays tight end and strong safety, is Greenport/Southold/Mattituck’s leading returning tackler from last season. (Credit: Garret Meade)