Deer Park coach Dan Ferguson called senior Richie Keuler “old school” and for good reason. Fifty-five reasons to be exact.
The Falcons right guard and defensive end works a construction job part time during the summer, yet still managed to lift 55 times during the first 50 sessions of Deer Park’s offseason weightlifting program. Say what?
“We lifted four times per week,” Ferguson said, “but Richie would come down on off days and get extra work in.”
The Falcons will need that kind of effort and dedication this season as they jump from the No. 13 seed a year ago up to No. 6 in Suffolk Division II this year.
A quick recap of the Falcons’ 2015 season: Deer Park beat Centereach, 20-13, in what was the last game of the regular season but turned into a winner-makes-the-postseason, loser-goes-home contest. The Falcons lost the following week in the first round of the playoffs to eventual LIC champ Newfield, 54-6, but ended with a surprising 5-4 mark.
“We’ll see if we can live up to that,” said senior running back/linebacker Kermann Azemar, who rushed for 751 yards and eight touchdowns. “I want to face the challenges, do well, and play against the better teams.”
Azemar and the Falcons definitely will have those opportunities in 2016. Deer Park opens its season at home against No. 2 West Islip and hosts No. 4 North Babylon in week two. Later, the Falcons travel to No. 3 Newfield and then top-seeded Hills West in their final two games. of the regular season.
“They’ll be tough games,” said Keuler, who had 50 tackles, including 19 for a loss, with four sacks and eight forced fumbles last year. “Hopefully we come out winning.”
Ferguson added: “It’s a trade-off to start and end the season like that. It is more of a challenge, but it will make our wins more memorable.”
Last year was memorable for Ferguson, now in his second season, and his Falcons for a few reasons.
“Last year was a learning year. We had a new coach and we didn’t know what to expect in a lot of games,” said senior quarterback Jarett Bonser, who accounted for 16 total TDs (10 rushing) a year ago. “Now, I expect our best this upcoming year. We have a lot of guys coming back and we’re mostly experienced.”
Deer Park returns eight starters on offense -- including four-fifths of its offensive line -- and five on defense. The Falcons’ offensive line includes senior right tackle David Batkiewicz, Keuler at right guard, senior center Kevin Loeber, senior left guard Sam LeGendre-Cineus.
All four will play on defense, too. The newcomer is sophomore left tackle Anthony Bendici. Junior WR/DB Keshaun Jones and junior RB/DB Greg Vincent also will help Deer Park’s cause.
“We’re going to try and get our first playoff win in some time,” Keuler said, “and while we’re at it, go a little farther than last year.”
The Falcons last reached a Suffolk II final in 1982 and lost to Commack North, 27-0. Deer Park’s lone county title came in 1993 when it beat Sayville, 14-0, for the Suffolk III crown.
“I always tell the kids, ‘Football is supposed to be fun.’ Yes, you work hard, but some of my best memories are from being on a high school football field in practices and games,” said Ferguson, who played at Deer Park and graduated in 2000.
“My hope is for these kids to make some memories like that, too.”