After struggling to compete in the brutal ranks of Division III, where most schools are from western Suffolk County and have traditionally strong football programs, this offseason East Hampton decided to move down to Division IV, in hopes of revitalizing its football program.
To coincide with the rules and regulations of Section XI, Suffolk County’s governing body of high school sports, East Hampton needed to drop its enrollment in order to drop a division. The high school’s population has grown over the last decade to about 700 students, but the football program for years has been classified based on the additional populations of Pierson and Bridgehampton high schools, which send athletes to East Hampton for football.
With the additional schools, enrollment numbers ballooned and forced East Hampton to play in Division III—but Pierson and Bridgehampton didn’t necessarily contribute many players to the team’s roster. Last season, the Bonackers only showcased one player from Bridgehampton and none from Pierson on the varsity roster.
So with the team not expecting any varsity players from Pierson again this season, East Hampton decided not to include any Sag Harbor players on its roster, lowering its enrollment size and allowing the drop to Division IV. Even by dropping a division, East Hampton most likely will have one of the smallest rosters, with just around 25 players on its current roster to start the 2012 season. Most teams have an average of 50 players on a team.
There has been a buzz, though, around town, simply because some rivalries will be renewed. East Hampton will host crosstown rival Southampton on September 22 (home opener, 7 p.m.), and up-island rivalries with Babylon and Port Jefferson also will be rekindled. East Hampton will be at Babylon in the season opener on Friday, September 7, at 6 p.m., and the Bonackers will host Port Jeff on Saturday, October 13, at 2 p.m.
“It brings back some of those exciting match-ups,” East Hampton head coach Bill Barbour said. “We also have to look at the opportunities that are present for us. The common misconception is that Division IV is a much weaker division. Elwood/John Glenn, Mount Sinai, Babylon are all very good programs and have been for a while now.”
Even though the team went winless in its eight-game Division III schedule last season, East Hampton was picked to finish sixth in Division IV this season in preseason rankings. The top eight teams in each division make the postseason.
Barbour, going into his sixth season as the team’s head coach, said it was tough to say if the ranking would be a good indication of how his team will fare this season.
“It’s hard to tell. We haven’t played a lot of these teams in quite some time,” he said. “I guess they’re going on what we had coming back and some of the situations we have with some of the teams in the past. It’s somewhere where I expected to be, in the middle of the pack, but nobody knows us, we don’t know them. It’s hard to say.”
James Budd, the team’s only All-Division First Team player last season, has graduated, along with Ryan Joudeh, Desmond Tavera, Jihovany Hernandez, Drew Griffiths, Joe Olszewski, Morgan Rojas, Johnny Orlando, Russell Young, Brendan Hemby and Mike Abreu. East Hampton should be able to replace those lost to graduation with a number of players who got significant playing time last season due to a number of injuries last season.
Cortland Heneveld, now a junior, will again be the Bonackers’ starting quarterback. He took over the starting role last season as a sophomore after Joudeh went down with what ended up being a season-ending injury on the first play of the season.
Also returning is senior running back/defensive end Andre Cherington, junior lineman Bryan Gamble, senior running back/defensive back Peter Vaziri, and senior Danny Barros, who was hurt midway through last season. Senior linebacker Jamie Wolf also is returning, along with running back/linebacker Brendan Hughes, junior lineman Thomas Nelson, and senior linebacker Chris Milia.
Barbour also is excited about a few players coming up from the junior varsity team, namely, junior linemen Richie Brown and Ben Newberry, sophomore lineman Tyler Quaresimo, and sophomore linebacker Colton Kalbacher. “We have quite a few guys with some rough game experience from last year and, hopefully, that’s going to make us a better team,” Barbour said.
Elwood/John Glenn, Mt. Sinai, Babylon, Shoreham/Wading River and Bayport/Blue Point were all ahead of East Hampton in the preseason rankings. The only team the Bonackers do not play out of those teams is Bayport/Blue Point, so a tough schedule is definitely on the horizon for East Hampton. Barbour, who has never coached in Division IV, isn’t putting high expectations on his team, though.