Josh Gutierrez works at the center position as the Connetquot offense moves briskly up and down the practice field. Stamina is a key to the up-tempo style of Mike Hansen's team. All-county guard Sean Moore anchors an athletic offensive line that opens gaping holes for a bevy of experienced backs.
"We're athletic and in excellent condition," said Hansen, in his 12th season. "It's different this year in camp. We're the top seed for the first time in school history. And with that comes high expectations."
In the waning seconds of a Suffolk I semifinal last season, Connetquot dropped a 14-13 heartbreaker to crosstown rival Sachem North, the eventual Long Island Class I champions. That stinging loss has hung around and become a battle cry this year.
"We haven't forgotten how it ended," Gutierrez said. "Our guys are focused and committed to the program. It's a very tough division but we've filled some key positions and we're ready."
Connetquot better be prepared as they open the season against rugged Commack, which finished the 2013 regular season undefeated and was the top seed in the playoffs. The Thunderbirds then host Sachem North in Week 2.
"We find out immediately who we are," Hansen said.
So what of Sachem North, which celebrated the program's first Long Island Class I title last year. Halfback Kevin Bragaglia is the only returnee from the four-headed monster that ran over opponents on the way to the title. He'll have Bryant-bound two-way lineman Anthony DiMatteo to clear the way.
Patchogue-Medford is the second seed with lightning quick Dom Cassella in the backfield. And for the first time in 14 years, Floyd is not the first or second seed. The Colonials, who have made the playoffs for 13 straight years, are seeded sixth.
The complexion of the division has also changed with three teams moving up from II. Bay Shore, Central Islip and Whitman, all non-playoff teams last season, will find the going tough in I. Half Hollow Hills East dropped to II.