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Roosevelt begins football season as midnight riders

Roosevelt's Johnnie Akins, right, celebrates with teammate Justin

Roosevelt's Johnnie Akins, right, celebrates with teammate Justin Terry after picking up a first down on a fourth-and-1 situation late in the fourth quarter. (Nov. 25, 2012) (Credit: James Escher)

Roosevelt began its 50th football season in a most unusual way. The team’s first practice, as allowed by state rules, was on Monday, but instead of the traditional 8 a.m. start most schools on Long Island used, the Rough Riders started their session at 12:01 a.m. Let the Midnight Madness begin.

“We wanted to do something special, something unique,” veteran head coach Joe Vito said. “I came up with the idea of Midnight Madness. We wanted to give the kids a positive experience and make it memorable for our golden anniversary.”

Roosevelt won the Nassau IV championship last season and is the preseason No. 1 seed in the coaches’ poll, led by flashy running back Johnnie Akins and Stony Brook-bound defensive end Raymond Jones. “We actually had about 50 people watch practice,” Vito said of what was essentially was a late Sunday night gathering. “The whole thing was awesome. The kids were so excited I don’t think their feet touched the ground the first 10 minutes of practice. We got good feedback from everyone, including our superintendent.”

Vito used Midnight Madness has a motivational ploy, telling his players, “While everyone else is sleeping, we’re practicing. They liked the idea of getting the jump on everybody.”

So what did the Rough Riders do for an encore on Tuesday? “I was so impressed with the first day of practice,” Vito said, “that I gave them the day off.”