It grows on you.
And Oceanside tackle James Kretkowski wants you to notice his thick, expansive beard and receive his clear, concise message. "I want everybody to know that when they see James Kretkowski, they better fear the beard."
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At 6-6, 290 pounds, Kretkowski would be a fearsome sight for opponents even if he was clean-shaven. He is a strong and powerful athlete who already has been offered full football scholarships to Fordham, Delaware, Monmouth and James Madison, according to Sailors coach Rob Blount, and is drawing interest from several Ivy League schools as well.
"He's one of our captains and one of our leaders on and off the field. He's got a 99 average," Blount said of Kretkowski, who has law-school aspirations after college. "He's a very good two-way player, but it's only his third year playing football. He didn't come out for the team until his sophomore year. As good as he is, as big as he is, he's still raw."
Kretkowski, who is being recruited by colleges as an offensive tackle, is a two-way starter for Oceanside, the No. 3 seed in very competitive Nassau I, behind top-seeded Massapequa, defending champion Farmingdale and just ahead of East Meadow and its returning Thorp Award winner Billy Andrle.
"We've been in the county semifinals the last three years. We're hoping James can get us over the hump and into the championship game," Blount said.
Kretkowski is certainly getting the Sailors some attention. Blount said his players, "Joked about the beard at first, but now they love it and they love to just look at it."
It's growing on the community as well. "When he walks around town, you can't miss him," Blount said. "Everybody stops to look at his beard. It's kind of like his trademark."
And that is fine with Kretkowski.
"It's little about the intimidation factor; it's a little bit of a style statement. It's a little of everything," Kretkowski said. "I started growing it at the end of last season and it's going until the end of this season. It's just part of who I am."
2012 record: 6-4
Coach: Kevin Shippos, 3rd season
KEY PLAYERS: Nick Balzano; WR/LB, 6-0, 190, Sr., Jack Korber; RB/DB, 5-7, 165, Sr.; Craig Berge, WR/DB, 6-1, 175, Sr.; Nick Capuana, RB/DB, 5-10, 175; Paul Dilena
RB/LB, 6-2, 240, Jr.
ABOUT THE CHIEFS: Balzano and Korber have this group thinking big. "There definitely are high expectations," said Balzano (104 tackles, 6 sacks last season). Korber (732 yards rushing, 324 yards receiving, 13 TDs) leads the offense, which also features Berge (51 receptions, 9 receiving TDs).
2012 record: 10-2
Coach: Buddy Krumenacker, 21st season
KEY PLAYERS: Kevin Vandermark, G/DL, 6-0, 290, Sr.; Curtis Jenkins, RB/S, 6-1, 185, Sr.; Tom Kennedy, WR/DB, 5-11, 175, Sr.; Zach Peter, G, 6-1, 235, Sr.; Xavier Sandabria
CB/WR, 6-1, 180, Sr.
ABOUT THE DALERS: Defending county champions, who lost to Floyd in Long Island championship, have size and speed, led by Vandermark and Peter up front and Jenkins in the backfield. Jenkins rushed for 1,230 yards and 12 TDs and is a dangerous returner. Plenty of depth on this 68-player squad.
2012 record: 8-2
Coach: Rob Blount, 5th season
KEY PLAYERS: James Kretkowski, OL/DL, 6-6, 290, Sr.; Connor Johnson, FS/RB, 5-11, 170, Sr.; Max Schneider, OL/DL, 6-0, 290, Sr.; Ryan Hertling, TE/LB, 6-1, 210, Sr.; Joe Denaro, SS/WR, 5-11, 165, Sr.
ABOUT THE SAILORS: Division I prospect Kretkowski anchors the lines and Johnson (82 tackles, 2 interceptions) is the heart of the defense. A physical offensive line is the team's strength. Nolan provides a capable receiving threat in an offense that will mix spread and wing-T.
2012 record: 6-3
Coach: Vinny Mascia, 16th season
KEY PLAYERS: Billy Andrle, FB/LB 5-11, 230, Sr.; Chika Ewulu, TE/DE 6-3, 220, Sr.; Tom Dolley, OT/DE 6-1, 270, Sr.; Nick Conti, RB/SS 6-0, 160, Sr.; Nick Suchocki, RB/SS 5-10, 150, Sr.
ABOUT THE JETS: Andrle (1,307 yards, 23 touchdowns, 49 tackles, 5 sacks) is only the second junior ever to win Thorp Award. He runs behind a strong and powerful offensive line. Wingbacks Conti, Suchocki and Bob Bender make flex-bone offense explosive. Seven starters return on defense.
2012 record: 8-3
Coach: Stephen Carroll, 26th season
KEY PLAYERS: Tyler Warner, QB 5-10, 175, Sr.; Matthew Guilfoyle, LB/RB 60, 185, Sr.; Anthony Erickson, C/NG 5-11, 250, Sr.; Paul Nosworthy, OT/DT 6-4, 260, Jr.; Elijah Tucker,
TE/LB 6-1, 185, Sr.;
ABOUT THE BRUINS: Warner (640 yards passing, 7 touchdown passes) must have a big year if the team is to reach the county championship game. RBs Nick Deluca and Anthony Correo are expected to boost an offense that has size up front. Guilfoyle (45 tackles) is stalwart two-way player.
2012 record: 4-5
Coach: Paul Rorke, 20th season
KEY PLAYERS: E.J. Aronson, LB/WR, 6-0, 175, So.; Travis Hammer, WR/DB, 5-9, 160, Sr.; Brad Balogh, OL/DL, 6-1, 230, Sr.; Pat Molloy, RB/LB, 5-10, 175, Sr.; Steven Hutchingson, WR/DB, 5-11, 160, Sr.; Cole Samaroo, RB/DB, 6-1, 190, Jr.
ABOUT THE BRAVES: Receivers Hutchingson and Hammer and youngster Aronson could open things up for Molloy. Upper-class leadership provides hope for a return to the playoffs.
2012 record: 5-4
Coach: Justin Williams, 1st year
KEY PLAYERS: Alan McDonnell, RB/LB, 6-2, 220, Sr.; William Jacobs, WR/DB, 5-8, 150, Sr.; Malcolm Fuller, WR/DB, 6-0, 155, Jr.; Tahreek Hodge, WR/DB, 6-0, 165, Sr.; Rackwon Jackson, WR/DB, 6-2, 170, Sr.; Malik Howard
RB, 6-1, 195, Sr.
ABOUT THE KNIGHTS: Howard is expected to be a force at running back and threat on kick returns. Add him to an offense heavy at wide receiver with veterans Jacobs, Fuller, Hodge and Jackson.
2012 record: 4-5
Coach: Chris Rogler, 3rd season
KEY PLAYERS: Andrew Weiser, G, 6-0, 235, Sr.; Vinny Ruggerio, OT, 6-1, 240, Sr.; Max Friedman, LB, 5-9, 195, Sr.; Ryan Schenk, RB, 5-9,175, Jr.; Brian Cameron, LB, 5-9, 185, Jr.; Noah Franker, FB/LB, 5-10, 215, Sr.
ABOUT THE HAWKS: Won't sneak up on teams after earning playoff spot as 12th seed last year. Weiser and Ruggerio make offensive line one of team’s strengths.
2012 record: 1-7
Coach: Russ Cellan, 28th season
KEY PLAYERS: Shawnee Barrett, WR/DB, 5-5, 145, Sr.; Davelle Hooks, QB, 6-4, 180, Sr.; Jah'Sheem Martin, OL/DL, 6-2, 255, Sr.; Jameel Lamont, RB/LB, 5-10, 180, Jr.; Anthony Bierria, WR/DB, 6-1, 165, Sr.; Tashawn Tillman, LB/OL, 5-10, 210, Jr.
ABOUT THE RED DEVILS: The program, which slipped last year after being a perennial power, expects to rebound behind Barrett, a small, fleet wide receiver and Hooks, a big quarterback.
2012 record: 2-6
Coach: Frank Chimienti, 5th season
KEY PLAYERS: Ludwig Louis, WR/DB, 6-1, 185, Sr.; Boljan Castillo, LB/TB, 6-1, 205, Sr.; Stephen Falana, WR/CB, 5-11, 160, Sr.; Vito Friscia, QB, 6-1, 200, Jr.; Chris Robert,
OL/DL, 5-11, 235, Sr.; Joe Piccolo, WR/DB, 5-5, 140, Jr.
ABOUT THE EAGLES: Friscia will run the spread, throwing to Louis, Falana and Piccolo. Castillo (64 tackles, 6 sacks) is a defensive force.
2012 record: 1-7
Coach: Bill Cherry, 1st season
KEY PLAYERS: Darius Meadors, RB/LB, 6-0, 230, Sr.; Shamar Jack, RB/DB, 5-11, 185, Sr.; Ra'nard Broyles, TE/LB, 5-11, 175, Sr.; Joecephus Vanable, All-Purpose, 5-5, 145, Jr; Malik Russell, RB/DB, 5-5, 145, Sr.; Ronald Louiscau, OT/DT, 6-4, 245, Sr.
ABOUT THE TIGERS: Senior-laden defense, led by Meadors, Broyles, Russell and Louiscau, is reason for optimism. Versatile Vanable can be a game-breaker. Team has some speed but not much size.
2012 record: 0-8
Coach: Richard Carroll, 1st season
KEY PLAYERS: Tommy Brennan, QB/FS, 6-3, 190, Sr.; Thomas Miller, C/DL, 6-1, 220, Sr.; Calvin Rogers, RB/LB, 6-0, 200, Sr.; Kyle Carroll, RB/DB, 5-10, 155, Jr.; Jeff Cherubin, OL/DL, 6-3, 220, Sr.
ABOUT THE COMETS: Coach Carroll believes better health and depth in the backfield means better things are ahead. Brennan (650 yards rushing, 550 passing) is solid and Kyle Carroll rushed for 450 yards. Miller, Rogers and Cherubin are experienced on defense.