Justin DeGioia was nearly swept away as he battled chest-high water outside his family's Island Park home while trying to evacuate his six cats from the water flooding the living quarters.
"I almost got taken out . . . I probably would have died," the Long Beach High School junior said yesterday after his team's first football practice in 11 days. "I lost everything, pretty much."
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Though he managed to scramble up a set of side steps to the upstairs apartment, he said he and his mother lost their house and nearly everything inside. Being back on the football field, he said, helped him to forget, if only for a few hours.
DeGioia's scare is one of dozens that he and his Long Beach teammates have endured. But though the players have lost homes and cars, a football field and equipment, they haven't lost their postseason.
Thanks to donations, Long Beach, which was in danger of ending its season after superstorm Sandy, has mostly replaced its equipment. Hofstra University is allowing the team to use its indoor facility leading up to its quarterfinal playoff game against Carey Saturday at noon.
"It takes our minds off of it," said quarterback Adam Salvadori, whose parents are putting up running backs J.T. Forkin and Matt Firpo in their generator-powered home. "It's a return to normalcy, almost."
Wednesday, 30 Long Beach players (including seven junior varsity call-ups) made it to practice. Three or four others are expected by game day, said assistant coach Bill Whittaker, who plans to host a number of the kids at his North Bellmore home Friday night. About 75 percent of the team has suffered major property losses, he said.
Wide receiver Jake Brown had 21/2 feet of water in his house, Forkin's first floor went under water, as did that of Firpo, who said his family also lost all its cars.
"[Football] got everyone away from the devastation," Firpo said. "We have a city to play for . . . If the city sees us succeeding, that could give them hope."
The Long Beach Marines' odyssey to play football began Tuesday, when coach Scott Martin spoke on WFAN's Boomer and Carton show, and gained the support of former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason. Much of the equipment is coming from anonymous donors, said Rich Hahn, operations manager for the nonprofit Boomer Esiason Foundation.
"They aren't looking for any notoriety," Hahn said. "They're just stepping up and doing the right thing."
After a 5-0 start, the Marines dropped the last three games of the regular season. For the last week, football has been the last thing on their minds, DeGioia said. Now that it's coming back into focus, their weekend goal has given them a direction and a distraction from whatever comes next. DeGioia said he doesn't want to leave Long Beach, though looking for a new home might push he and his mother in that direction. He managed to salvage all of his cats, his Xbox and a pair of LeBron sneakers. He's donated some of his clothes to those who have lost more than he has.
"I don't really play a lot," the kicker and defensive lineman said. "But it would mean the world to be able to [win] after all the tragedy that has happened. Half these kids have lost these homes. It's unbelievable."
Chris Parler, a running back, echoed the sentiment. His goal is to make a statement on Saturday.
"We wanted to keep going and show everyone that we can do it," he said. "This is all we really have."