When a football team starts 0-4, a coach is desperate to make a change -- and quick.
“I had never been 0-4 before. It was new ground for me,” Half Hollow Hills East coach Mike Maratto said. “We were at a crossroads last year. I felt like it was the Twilight Zone.”
So, on Oct. 5, 2015, Maratto brought his team into the film room and posed a simple question that his players still remember 10 months later.
“Coach said, ‘What’s the reason you play football?’” recalled senior running back/linebacker Josh Garvin.
Garvin and his teammates then started telling each other why they chose to play.
“I had played since the seventh grade,” Garvin said. “It’s a game I love.”
Something clicked after that emotional meeting. The Thunderbirds ended the season with four straight wins.
Hills East returns five starters on offense and three on defense and are seeded fifth in Suffolk II this season.
“Everything happens for a reason,” said senior quarterback/defensive back Kenny Chavez.
The challenge now for the Thunderbirds is to take the momentum from the final four weeks of 2015 and carry it through summer camp and into a new season.
“There’s an intensity now,” Chavez said. “We’ve started to practice harder and concentrate on every snap.”
Hills East runs the flexbone, triple-option offense, which relies heavily on Chavez and Garvin. The Thunderbirds also will count on seniors Donte Jarvis (OL/DL), Mike Gunther (OL/LB), D’Lunte Gordon (RB/DB), Tyler Parkinson (DL), as well as newcomers Jamar Jimenez (senior RB/LB) and Kendall Clark (junior WR/DB).
Maratto believes the culture is changing around his program.
“The kids have bought into the system and our philosophy,” Maratto said. “We’re not the Hills East of old. We expect to win now, and it’s never been like that.”
Maratto played for and later coached JV for St. Anthony’s head coach Rich Reichert. Maratto also has worked with Glenn’s Dave Shanahan as well as former Sachem coach Fred Fusaro in his time at Glenn, and Sachem North’s David Falco.
“I’ve taken what I’ve liked from each coach,” said the 36-year-old Maratto, who teaches physical education at St. Anthony’s. “I knew from a young age that I wanted to build my own program.”
Maratto’s T-Birds seem to be a team on the rise, and they won’t be sneaking up on anyone in Suffolk II this season.
“Don’t underestimate us,” Garvin said. “We are ready to play.”