They're talking and texting T-Bird football this week. In the halls of Connetquot High School, students and teachers alike are buzzing over tomorrow afternoon's showdown at Floyd.
Thunderbirds coach Mike Hansen has even received e-mails from former players suddenly interested in his 5-1 team that poses a genuine threat to the 6-0 Colonials and their Long Island-best 39-game winning streak.
"Some of them are in college but they're taking the time to wish us good luck," Hansen said. "There's a lot of energy for this one. This is huge. Without a doubt it's a tremendous opportunity and we'll make the most of it."
Hansen was effusive in his praise for Floyd's success under coach Paul Longo, calling it "a winning factory that he's created over there." But Connetquot has risen from a preseason No.6 seed to a team that, in tri-captain Jonathan Sternbach's words, "thinks we have a shot. They're tough. They're the team to beat and the best team around. But we're really excited about the game. If we beat them ..."
The senior wide receiver/safety and three-year starter didn't have to finish the thought. Everyone in school and around town knows what's at stake. It's Floyd, the three-time defending L.I. champion. It's "the streak." It's for first place and a potential top seed for the Division I playoffs. It may be Homecoming Day at Mastic Beach, but the visitors will be well-represented. "We'll have a huge turnout," said Sternbach, whom Hansen called "an explosive, big-play kid."
"The whole school is excited," Sternbach said. "Everyone's saying they're going to the game."
There hasn't always been such a buzz about Connetquot football. This is the first time since 1995 that the Thunderbirds have won five games in a season. Hansen, in his seventh season as coach, observed, "You see the attitude evolve over a couple of years. When I first got here, the kids hoped to win. Now, they expect to win."
That's because an influx of juniors from last year's unbeaten junior varsity has made an impact, particularly on the offensive line. Hansen cited starters Kevin McHale
(center), Mike Compitello (tackle) and Ryan Lanigan (guard) as players "that made a really good adjustment." He also mentioned junior Brian McIlvain, who was starting at guard before suffering a knee injury that will keep him out another week or two.
A knee injury also sidelined one of the team's stars, fullback/linebacker Jeremy Leggiero, for last week's game against Ward Melville. "He's iffy," Hansen said of tri-captain Leggiero, who has had an outstanding season. "He's a really tough kid."
He's not the only one. "We pride ourselves on our toughness," said Sternbach, who returned one kickoff for a touchdown and another for 85 yards. "We play every down like it's our last."
That's a good idea, considering tomorrow's opponent.