There’s a different vibe around Ward Melville football this season.

Entering the 2016 season No. 3 in the preseason rankings, the highest in school history, according to coach Chris Boltrek, the Patriots look to prove worthy of the seed.

“Ten times bigger expectations,” said starting linebacker and lineman Rob Brando. “We know exactly what we’re capable of and exactly what we can do. We know that we’re going to go out there and we’re not like ‘Oh, it’s Ward Melville.’ We’re trying to blow the top off this league and win a championship.”

The Patriots suffered a heartbreaking 41-40 playoff loss to Connetquot on a last-second blocked field goal after driving to the 12-yard line. Ward Melville trailed 28-7 at halftime before rallying to take a 40-34 lead before Connetquot scored with 38 seconds remaining.

“It kind of gave us an idea of what to expect going into the game because we were kind of losing by a lot at halftime,” said senior running back and defensive back Eddie Munoz. “So it shows us how to be ready for a game like that and it definitely did motivate us and . . . get back and get revenge on the whole league.”

Coach Boltrek added, “For the kids to fight and claw their way back into that … it also speaks volumes to the fight these kids have so that, combined with the talent we have, I think is what makes us so exciting.”

Wide receivers Munoz and John Corpac – who combined for 17 touchdowns last year – lead the talented skill-position squad along with receiver Andrew McKenna and running back Patrick Germano. Wes Manning, who played wide receiver last season and will take over at quarterback this year, is excited to have such a group at his disposal.

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“I’m pretty confident,” Manning said. “I think we’re going to be pretty good this year. Just looking to get the ball to the playmakers, let them do their thing.”

Brando, Stephen Torrico and 6-5, 310-pound Thomas Kutchma will be anchors on the line. Germano, who also started at linebacker last season, returns as a key defender looking to rally the defense to improve on last season’s success.

“I think we worked great as a team last year,” Germano said, “but I think we can even improve on that this year.”

Boltrek, in his third season as Ward Melville’s head coach, is excited with the progress inside the program. He said the school hasn’t been thought of as a “football school” often, but he’s trying to get some top athletes in the school to join the team and change that culture.

“Overall I think we’re a program heading in the right direction and I think the kids have bought into it and I think the community has bought into it a little bit,” Boltrek said, “and so I think the expectations are high.”