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Garden City: Not perfect, but still very good

The third annual Long Island football combine at

The third annual Long Island football combine at Half Hollow Hills West will attract hundreds of possible football recruits looking to test their skills in front of interested colleges. (Nov. 27, 2009) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Five games, 166 unanswered points. Then, a field goal.

Garden City was as close as a team could come to perfection last season, not allowing a single point until the sixth week of the season and outscoring its opponents 356-28 en route to a 12-0 record (including nine shutouts), a Long Island Class II title and the program's fourth Rutgers Cup (GC also won in 1992, 1998 and 2005).

Everyone on the team, including the coach, recognizes such domination isn't likely to be repeated. So we offer a hypothetical question to the Trojans: What happens if Mepham returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the season-opener on Sept. 7? Can you recover?

"I think this team knows that maybe we're not as strong as we were last year," said senior Tom Gordon, who'll replace Matt Montgomery as starting quarterback, in between practices on Wednesday morning. "Definitely all these kids have the same amount of heart. What will go through our mind if they do do that? I don't think us seniors, as leaders, will let it hurt us, so it definitely won't trickle down and hurt the other kids."

Added head coach Tom Flatley, who's entering his 26th season, before the question even got out of my mouth: "It's not going to be traumatic. It'd probably be better if we did give up a touchdown the first game — one, not too many."

After all, the team's been in that position before. After fumbling the opening kickoff against Long Beach in Week 6 last year, the Trojans allowed a field goal — the first points they sacrificed in the 2009 season. How did they respond? By scoring 53 straight points in a blowout victory.

So, on Wednesday morning, it was back to basics at Garden City. The linemen worked on their three-point stances, the running backs worked on handoffs and the QBs practiced their three-step drops. Said Flatley: "Just getting them to be the best they can be. All we can ask them is to give 100 percent, you can't get any more out of people."

This year's team, which is the top seed in Conference II, will run through fullback/linebacker Stephen Jahelka, one of only two returning first-team All Long Island selections from Nassau. In addition to rushing for 666 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, he made 42 solo tackles with 33 assists and was a finalist for the Piner Award, given to the county's best linebacker.

Jahelka has already committed to play lacrosse at Harvard next year along with his backfield mate Brian Fischer. Gordon will play lacrosse at Johns Hopkins. Despite entrance into these top-notch academic institutions, Flatley noted their book smarts don't always translate to the football field.

"Some of them who are bright in the classroom aren't bright on the football field," Flatley said. "I've always found the opposite, some of them who are not very good in the classroom are very bright on the football field."

Yet Jahelka, Fischer and Gordon are naturals on the football field, just like they are with lacrosse sticks in their hands. And in an age where specialization is becoming the norm, the Garden City trio wants to prove they can carry the torch from last year's team on the football field. 

"You could make the argument that a lot of us are going places for lacrosse and we won it all last year, but I think all we've been hearing since [last] Thanksgiving weekend was that we weren't going to be able to do this again," said Jahelka, adding that it also helps having the lacrosse coach, Steve Finnell, as an assistant on Flatley's staff. "The selflessness on our team showed last year, and this year, we have an even bigger chip on our shoulder to go get it done again."

Could this team come close to last year's domination? "Right now I'd say probably not," Flatley said. "Last year was certainly one of the best teams we've seen here. This year is to be determined."

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