Jack Cassidy rifled a long pass to the corner of the end zone and Jake Piccininni made an over-the-shoulder grab. Cassidy tapped each lineman on the shoulder to acknowledge his appreciation of the good pass protection, then the signal caller sprinted to congratulate his receiver.

The enthusiasm pumped up Wednesday's early morning practice session and hyped his teammates.

Cassidy, one of Long Island's top quarterbacks, is the consummate leader. His strong arm and able legs will be the key in Connetquot's run at a Suffolk Division I title.

"We have some guys that have really worked hard in the offseason and came in here ready to go." Cassidy said. "We have excellent team speed and playmakers. But the game is won on the line with linemen that can protect and make their blocks."

Cassidy knows it takes an entire team to win a championship. No one player is good enough to win it all. Connetquot, who has a 21-3 regular season record over the past three seasons, has exited the playoffs in heartbreak fashion three years in a row, losing by a total of seven points.

The T-Birds lost 14-13 to Sachem North in 2013 when a two-point conversion pass fell incomplete. A botched extra-point kick eliminated them last year in a 29-28 upset loss to Patchogue-Medford in a quarterfinal game. They'd beaten Patchogue 45-13 during the regular season.

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"We've had some disappointing finishes," said Connetquot coach Mike Hansen, wiping his brow. "We just move forward and prepare for this season and get another opportunity."

Cassidy, who rushed for 543 yards and passed for 1,221 yards as a junior, is just as dangerous on the run as he is through the air. He threw 12 touchdown passes and rushed for another nine scores.

"He's an excellent runner for a quarterback," Hansen said. "He's a very physical player but we want to keep him healthy and not running into the middle of the defense too much."

That's where senior halfback Jack Richardson, a punishing runner with breakaway speed comes into play. Richardson gained 1,032 yards and totaled 13 touchdowns (12 rushing) last season. His cutback ability and vision helped him to 11 runs of more than 40 yards last season.

"We're an up-tempo offense with a lot of skill guys," Hansen said. "It all starts with Cassidy. He has a load of experience and he'll make good decisions. Richardson gives us that 1-2 punch."

With an offense that wants to keep the defense reeling and off balance, Hansen has made conditioning the focal point of camp.

"We didn't develop our younger guys enough last season and it hurt us at the end during the playoff run," he said. "We getting this started early. We're getting guys in shape and we want to go deeper into our bench without losing quality of play. I'm pleased with the development of our receivers and the lines are falling into place."

The Thunderbirds will have Colin Grippo, Will Gonzalez and Piccininni at receiver.

Richardson also is expected to jump into the strong safety role. He'll take the position that was vacated by the graduated Sean McKean, who earned Suffolk's Tom Cassese Award as the top defensive back in the county.

The line had an added surprise when highly regarded two-way performer Cameron Rose of Islip transferred into the district. Rose, the younger brother of Cobi Rose, an All-Long Island player last season, is expected to learn the system quickly to step in and contribute.

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Senior Greg Malkasian, with four years of varsity experience (two years as a starter) leads a young group up front. But senior tackle Patrick Galvin and junior tackle Luciano DeRenzo have looked sharp in camp.

The T-Birds open the season against Patchogue-Medford.