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Herricks sets sights on ending football playoff drought

Herricks Highlander's Billy Gounaris, 17, of New Hyde

Herricks Highlander's Billy Gounaris, 17, of New Hyde Park, stands on the football field before playing the Kennedy Cougars football team at Herricks High School, New Hyde Park, Oct. 17, 2014. Credit: Heather Walsh

The Herricks football team last reached the playoffs 21 seasons ago, long before any current players were born.

Ace of Base’s “The Sign” was the No. 1 song on the Billboard Top 100 in 1994, the last time Herricks made it to the postseason. Steve Young was the NFL’s MVP, and the 49ers were Super Bowl XXIX champions. “Forrest Gump” won the Academy Award for best picture.

Much has changed since then, but the Highlanders have still struggled to reclaim their former glory. Now, their prolonged absence from the playoffs is fueling their preparation for the upcoming season.

“It’s actively spoken about,” said Nico Gounaris, who is poised to make contributions on both sides of the ball. “We all speak about getting to the playoffs and breaking that drought. Our goal is to change Herricks football.”

Nassau II is a solid conference, but there are plenty of reasons for coach Mike Yoo to be excited about his team. Gounaris and senior Mike Chase will pace the offense as running backs. Junior quarterback Michael Lee has a strong arm, and he’ll look to feed seniors Mike Saleme and Lou Mangia with a steady diet of targets.

Saleme and Mangia both trained with former NFL quarterback Jay Fiedler in the offseason, improving their route running and other intangibles. But the two receivers are very different. Saleme is 6-3, while Mangia is 5-7.

“Everyone has their own specific talents,” Saleme said. “My height gives me a pretty good advantage because most of the corners in our league are like 5-6, 5-7.”

A senior-laden defense brings much-needed experience. Senior linebacker Mike Scaldaferri is expected to lead the unit, with Mangia and Saleme helping in the secondary.

The core group of players on this team has Scaldaferri confident that Herricks will find its way back to the playoffs.

“I think you will be shocked at where we end up,” Scaldaferri said. “I don’t think you should be, but I think you will be.”

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