Scott D'Antonio talked about his role on the Garden City football team, and, like the animal scientist he hopes to become, said there was a simple reason for what he's done this season.
"I like the contact," he said, "but I like the idea of defense -- the concept of it -- of protecting something."
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D'Antonio, an outside linebacker and primary back, was talking about more than the line of scrimmage.
The Trojans this year are a team of lacrosse players and wrestlers, smaller than in the past and not as experienced. And yet, Garden City is 10-1 and returns to the big game at Stony Brook, Saturday at noon against Riverhead. It's the game the Trojans lost last year, against Newfield, and one that Garden City coach Tom Flatley said he is "overjoyed" to be playing.
"Some years, when I've had really talented teams, I started studying Suffolk after Week Four," Flatley said. "This year, we were a little late studying."
A good chunk of this successful season is on the shoulders of players such as D'Antonio, the brawny, brainy two-year starter who will play lacrosse at Cornell next year. He had 47 tackles in the regular season, including nine for losses, and 33 assists.
D'Antonio, along with Matt Schmelzinger and a rapidly maturing defense, made their stand this season in ways that are appropriate for the animal lover who's considering becoming a zoologist. "It's a lot of instinctual stuff," D'Antonio said of the defense. They're all athletes, after all, "and with defense, there's a natural flow to it."
Offense, he said, is a different animal, because this is his first year with consistent playing time on that side of the ball. His heightened role in scoring has underlined his understated form of leadership. "He's good at studying films," Flatley said. "He sits down with the coaches and understands what they want him to do. He's good at relaying all that to players, and they listen to him. They have faith that he's making the right decision."
Flatley calls D'Antonio "not your typical jock." He ran track, which most of his football players don't do. He sits in the cafeteria with his friends rather than other athletes. His speed is an added weapon in Garden City's spread offense, and his reliability has made him invaluable as one of four team captains.
"He's a different kind of guy," Flatley said. "If I had 11 like him, I wouldn't have to worry about Riverhead."
Alternately, because of players such as him, Garden City gets to worry about Riverhead.