Latrell Horton doesn't need to think long to remember the day a perfect season slipped from Longwood's grasp.
After a 9-0 start, it ended abruptly with a 38-22 loss to Patchogue-Medford in a Suffolk I semifinal Nov. 14. That moment is stuck in the minds of Horton and his returning teammates. "The feeling -- you can't even explain it," Horton said. "It really hurt."
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As if that disappointment wasn't enough motivation, the Lions, who were the No. 1 team entering the playoffs, are seeded third heading into Friday's opener at Sachem North. Floyd is the top seed, with Lindenhurst No. 2.
The Lions lost All-Long Island running back Isaiah White but have a strong offensive line anchored by Anthony Lavio and Matt Weiss, who won the Zellner Award as the county's top lineman. He was the first junior in 34 years to earn the honor.
"Our motto this year is respect: Go and get it, nobody's going to give it to you," quarterback Marquis Simpson said. "We did lose a big, big piece in Isaiah."
Backing up teammates, filling different positions and increasing the team's strength each game will help adjust to the loss of White, Simpson said. One guy who does all three on both sides of the ball is Weiss. The offensive and defensive lineman anchors a team looking for stability after White's departure.
Weiss said he wants to improve on his award-winning season for the benefit of his teammates and second-year coach Joe Cipp, who has instilled a renewed work ethic.
"Everyone wanted to play harder for him because he's a really hard-working coach for us," Weiss said. "I want to work for him."
While Weiss, a quiet giant at 6-1 and 270 pounds, gave most of the credit for his success to his team, Simpson didn't shy away from highlighting Weiss' importance, along with Lavio's, on the line of scrimmage.
"Running behind him is going to be amazing," Simpson said. "Lavio on the side with him, it's going to be good."
Horton, a fullback and linebacker, will have an increased presence on defense, and he credited the time he spent learning from the Weiss/Lavio duo.
As for being able to recall last season's disappointment vividly, Horton said the thought of having to get through another season for a chance at redemption doesn't seem hard to imagine, even under a hot summer sun.
"I can picture it more; I can feel it more, just have to keep working hard," Horton said.
And forget about talking. Simpson has a better idea for those who doubt the resiliency of the Lions.
"Just watch," he said.