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Island Trees’ veterans trying to turn it around

Youth isn’t anything new to Island Trees, but a few older players are looking to change the tone ahead of the new football season.

The Bulldogs (2-6) have four juniors who started last season, a crop of seniors and many younger players looking to make an impact in Nassau Conference IV.

“Having them committed -- that’s the biggest part,” senior wide receiver Kevin Faughnan said. “I think we have to set a line that they can’t really fool around. There’s no goofing off this year.”

Faughnan is one of the top returners. He only had 67 receiving yards last year but played the majority of the season with a torn labrum. He’ll link up with senior quarterback Timmy Madden who threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns in 2015.

Defense is the key. The Bulldogs aren’t especially big, but they are athletic and tall. Aneeq Raja, a 6-foot-4 junior defensive end, started last season and had 13 tackles, 12 assists and two sacks.

“You shut the other teams down, you win,” Raja said.

Another 6-foot-4 player, Kevin Dixon, didn’t play last season but is expected to contribute at tight end and defensive end. Dixon and Raja know each other well from the basketball team.

“We’ve had chemistry together on the court, just now it’s going to be on the field,” Raja said.

Another top returner is senior running back John Craine, who ran for 218 yards on 50 carries last season. Junior running back/linebacker Precious Bolaji had some experience with five solo tackles and two assists.

One lesson Island Trees learned the hard way last year was the importance of finishing games. It lost close games against Carle Place and Oyster Bay in the fourth quarter.

“They’ve got to learn how to win,” said third-year head coach Tom McCormick. “When you have someone with their back against the wall they have to learn how to close a game out.”

Raja said he could help with that by bridging the learning gap for a lot of his friends who were still on junior varsity when he made the early leap to varsity.

“You have to prepare for every week,” Raja said. “We can’t beat teams just because we’re good. We have to train each week.”

Raja said he hopes that preparation turns into wins that help prove the doubters wrong.

“You’ve just got to watch out for us,” he said.

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