Farmingdale linebackers Matt Dittmeier and Ryan Feiner shared that bond through their youth football years and into their freshman year, in which they went undefeated.
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The two seniors will anchor a ferocious Farmingdale defense when the Dalers (10-1) meet Floyd (9-2) for the Long Island Class I championship at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium Thursday night at 7 o'clock.
High school would be different for the dynamic tackling duo. Their dreams of Long Island championships and gridiron greatness were derailed when Feiner needed surgery on his pitching elbow in ninth grade.
"We were so good through middle school," said Feiner, who also is a blue-chip pitching prospect. "Our entire class was so talented."
Feiner came back from the surgery and concentrated on his baseball career, and elected not to play football as a sophomore and a junior.
"He had Tommy John surgery with Dr. David Altchek and the elbow was great," his father, Stu Feiner, said. "But he started having spasms and severe tightness in his pectoral muscle, and after a few throws he would lose velocity and strength."
Feiner sought medical advice from Dr. David Dines in Manhasset and learned he had a torn labrum and a displaced shoulder capsule.
"I wasn't going through another surgery and year of rehab," Feiner said. "So I hit the weight room hard. We worked out at Synergy in Farmingdale and Matt was bugging me to come back and play football."
Surrounded by more than 20 other Farmingdale football players at Synergy Fitness, Dittmeier convinced Feiner to give it one last shot. They called it the Synergy Squad -- dedicated gym rats working toward a common goal.
Feiner went to Farmingdale's summer football camp and clinic, and the pads felt good again.
"It came back to me how much I loved hitting people," said Feiner, who has a team-leading 66 solo tackles and 36 assisted tackles. "It was three years of no hitting. I missed it too much. My shoulder still bothers me, but I never stopped working out and go to the gym five days a week to keep everything around the shoulder strong."
At 5-10, 210 pounds, Feiner is the perfect fit in a defense that has many stars. He also has a 100 grade-point average and scored a 1,950 on his SAT.
Dittmeier has 44 solo tackles and 35 assists and runs sideline to sideline well. The defensive ends, Chad Tomasetti and Kevin Petit-Frere, have pressured quarterbacks into mistakes, and the hard hitting of Richie Lewis and Mike Gregorovic adds to the Dalers' defensive prowess.
When Feiner runs onto the turf, he'll lead the Dalers for the game of a lifetime. It wasn't the way they planned it -- but he's back.