East Islip was new to Suffolk Division III and its explosive spread offenses last season.
With a year of experience against the division under their belts, the Redmen have a championship in their sights.
“We didn’t have any familiarity with the teams, and what they might try to do against us and what we would be able to do that would work best,” coach Sal J. Ciampi said. “I think that’ll be easier for us now in terms of preparation.”
East Islip hardly struggled in the new environment, going 9-2 and losing in the county championship to Sayville, 21-7. Still, more familiarity with the division could make its top-seeded team even tougher to beat.
“Moving to the new league, a lot more teams ran the spread,” said cornerback and running back Justin Taveras, who added that the defense relied primarily on its size and physicality last season. “This year, we’re a lot faster and more athletic at the back.”
The Redmen should also be more explosive themselves, thanks to the backfield duo of Taveras (739 yards, 7.7 yards per carry in 2015) and quarterback Kyle Fleitman, who is entering his first year as the full-time starter.
“We have two guys that can go the distance at any time, no matter where we are on the field,” Ciampi said. “Usually, we’re more of a grind-it-out team. We have a little more of a big-play ability this year.”
Still, East Islip’s trademark physicality remains, and that starts with lineman Kyle Nunez.
The 6-3, 308-pound right guard and defensive tackle is entering his fourth year as a starter and was a Newsday All-Long Island second team selection last season. “Usually you don’t get linemen that start as a freshman,” Ciampi said, “but he’s been able to do that because of how physical he is and how tough he is upfront.”
“He takes up three defensive players,” Taveras said. “You always know if you run on his side, you’re going to get four yards, at least.”
“He’s an animal, and he’s obviously one of the best linemen in the county,” said Fleitman.
Nunez said he’s as excited to block for the backfield pair as they are to play behind him, praising Taveras’ “leadership and great passion for football,” and calling Fleitman “the best athlete I’ve seen. He’s more than capable of doing anything on the football field.”
Added Nunez: “We know we have a championship group here.”