What started as a patchwork unit evolved into a finely woven offensive line that proved to be a key to Freeport’s run to the Long Island Class I football title.
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The Red Devils opened the season with a unit composed of five players who had never lined up together, some of them natural defenders. But by season’s end, Joel Cruz, Isaiah Louder, Dashaun Thomas, Savion Dewar and Robert Fitzsimmons were strengths for a team that beat Floyd, 28-14, for the Long Island Class I championship. It was Freeport’s fifth Long Island title and first since 2010.See alsoMeet Newsday’s All-Long Island fall teams for 2016
“The line was outstanding,” coach Russ Cellan said. “We did not have one starter returning on either side of the ball. A couple of them are mainly defensive players. Every week, they just kept getting better.”
The unit came together almost out of desperation, Cellan said. “ ‘It’s you guys or nobody,’ ” he told his players. “And they understood that.”
Thanks to the holes they opened, the Red Devils were able to take advantage of the speed of quarterback Rashad Tucker, receiver Jaelin Hood, running back Jahred Wray and others. Wray, who scored nine touchdowns, praised the guys in the trenches.
“The line worked really hard over the summer to become one cohesive unit,” he said. “They became a great line, maybe one of the best I’ve ever run behind playing football.”
Freeport dominated opponents by getting its playmakers into open space, which was Cellan’s goal for the offense coming into the season, given the athletes on the roster.
Tucker, a natural runner, matured as a passer behind the sturdy offensive line. He stood tall in the pocket, even when under duress, and found receivers such as Hood, who had 18 touchdown catches.
Hood and Wray agreed that the turning point came in the team’s first meeting with Farmingdale on Sept. 30, a 31-20 loss. Freeport led 20-17 before Farmingdale scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
It was then that the Red Devils knew they could contend with the elite teams in Conference I, and it was from there that the offensive line cemented itself as one of the conference’s best.
“We went into that game maybe not knowing how good of a team we were, but after we left, we knew we could hang with anybody in that division,” Wray said.
And so, in Freeport’s next meeting against Farmingdale in the Nassau final, the Red Devils had the confidence and playmakers to beat the Dalers, 53-28.
The win was proof that Freeport vastly improved from the first month of the season, when the offensive line was just piecing things together.
By season’s end, that line was a strength of a Long Island champion.