His team may be moving down from Suffolk I to Suffolk II, but Connetquot quarterback Drew Guttieri doesn’t believe the road to a championship season will be any easier. Suffolk football division alignments are based on enrollment, as larger schools have a bigger talent pool to draw from.
“I think it makes it harder,” said Guttieri of the move to Suffolk II. “There’s a lot of good competition there. We have to take it week by week. There are a lot of good teams like Northport, Lindenhurst, West Islip, Bellport. Every team has good players.”
While Division I is known for sporting the highest level of talent in the county, especially in perennial powerhouse and 11-time county champion Floyd, Connetquot coach Mike Hansen echoed a similar sentiment as his quarterback.
“It’s tough,” Hansen said. “Division I has always been very difficult and has kind of up and down years. I definitely think this is an up year for Division II. So if there were any year I would’ve chosen to come down to Division II, it wouldn’t have been this year.”
Connetquot, seeded third in Division II, finished 6-3 last season and lost to Sachem East in the Suffolk I quarterfinals. Despite believing things could become tougher this year, Guttieri says the expectations have been ratcheted up.
“To win a championship, get to the LIC and get that ring,” Guttieri said. “That’s our team’s expectations.”
Not only has Connetquot gone without a Long Island championship since 2008, the Thunderbirds haven’t claimed a county title since that same season.
The 6-3, 200-pound Guttieri arrived at the Newsday football photoshoot on Wednesday in prime conditioning following a season in which he passed for 1,806 yards, 17 touchdowns, with six interceptions, and also rushed for 201 yards and five touchdowns.
“If he stays healthy, he can have an unbelievable season,” Hansen said. “He’s got it all. He can run and last year he was battling a sprained knee and couldn’t run as much. But we expect him to run the ball. He’s intelligent, makes great decisions.”
Guttieri said his chemistry with dynamic receiver Cole Bunicci will once again play a key role in Connetquot’s overall success and run at a title.
“Everything runs through him,” Guttieri said. “Our whole offense. We try to get him the ball because he’s the playmaker and our offense goes as he goes.”
Bunicci, who made 37 receptions for 435 yards and four touchdowns in 2018, looks forward to the final season playing alongside his longtime quarterback.
“It’s unbreakable,” Bunicci said. “We’ve been playing together since we were 7 or 8. It’s our last time to put on a show so hopefully we can make it happen.”
Other players such as running back/slot receiver Tyler Cordes and tight end Jack McCarthy will be key contributors for Connetquot. Hansen said improved speed will be one of their strengths.
“We have really good team speed all around,” Hansen said. “My linemen are really athletic . . . I think our overall speed is better than it has been in the past.”
At the helm when the Thunderbirds last won it all, Hansen likes this team’s chances of challenging defending Suffolk II champ Lindenhurst and claiming another Long Island crown.
“I think our chances are as good as any,” Hansen said. “I coached the team that won the Long Island Championship in 2008, and that wasn’t the most talented team I’ve had. But they were tough and it takes a lot more than just talent.”
Bunicci described what it would mean to him to have an opportunity to bring the Thunderbirds their first Long Island Championship in over a decade.
“It would mean the world to me,” Bunicci said. “After playing football with these same guys since a young age. We’ve been putting the work in since forever.”