Long before Hempstead finished its 2014 season winless — a 40-0 loss to Massapequa sending the Tigers into the offseason — Saybien Barrons felt dejected.
That year, he was a sophomore, hoping to develop the tools to be a successful varsity quarterback. Only it seemed as if there was nowhere to turn for guidance as the Tigers sputtered through bouts of individualism and in-fighting that derailed the season before it began.
“I just lost all hope for football,” he said.
But a coaching change and a culture overhaul, beginning with accountability, have restored hope. In 2015, their first year under Sylas Pratt, the Tigers went 4-4. They lost to Nassau I powers Oceanside and Farmingdale by 35 points in each of the season’s first two weeks, but opposing coaches took notice and named Hempstead the county’s most improved team, Pratt said.
“After we won that trophy for the most improved team, I just thought that we could take it all and do better year by year,” said Barrons, now a 6-2, 205-pound starting quarterback. “I feel like now we’re 50 times better than last year and last year we were a great team.”
Hempstead returns nearly every key player from last year.
Junior running backs Dashawn Meadors and Javon Andrews combined for 23 touchdowns, with the former leading the team with 898 rushing yards and the latter recording 726 receiving yards. Jaylin Evans had eight interceptions last year, and Marlon Gregg had as many sacks. Austin Bernard made 59 tackles.
“We’re just coming back stronger, more focused on the season and our first game,” Meadors said. “To make it to playoffs is our first goal.”
Yet coaches in Nassau I voted Hempstead as the No. 9 seed in the preseason. That projection, if accurate, would leave the Tigers out of the playoffs.
“It doesn’t matter where we’re seeded,” Meadors said. “We’re just coming out to work every day, looking to improve each and every day starting with day one.”
That’s a goal that would have been unachievable two years ago.
“We couldn’t work together,” said Andrews, who made varsity as a freshman. “Since there was no discipline with the coaches, we would all start arguing with each other and then there goes the game.”
But with one season under Pratt and the core returning, the Tigers are confident enough to write “Make it to the turf” on the board in their locker room. In other words, advance to the county semifinals on Hofstra’s turf field.
“That’s definitely the goal, to make it to the second round of the playoffs and be at Hofstra on a nice November night and hopefully make a run towards the championship,” Pratt said. “Why not go for the whole thing if we get that far?”