So many toys, so little time. You can't blame Long Island quarterback John Kinder of Lawrence for thinking of tonight's 15th Empire Challenge as playtime. "It definitely feels great to be playing with this arsenal," the Syracuse-bound Kinder said of the chance to run a wide-open, spread-influenced offense with a buffet table of explosives at 7:30 p.m. at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.
From wide receivers Chris Jean-Pierre of Brentwood, Mike Gallo of Seaford and Nick Stover of Sayville to speedy runners Kenny Barnett of Lawrence and Davon Lawrence of Sachem North to inside bruisers Anthony Brunetti of Holy Trinity and Kevin Allen of Freeport, there's talent galore for Long Island in this clash with New York City.
"Kinder is one of the better quarterbacks to come out of the New York area," Long Island coach Kyle Madden of Half Hollow Hills West said. "He's taken command of the offense. He makes throws that only Division I quarterbacks can make. If we can protect him, the New York City team will be in trouble."
Madden, who guided Hills West to the Long Island Class III championship last fall, likes the versatility of his team. "Our quarterbacks can run and throw. Our receivers can run precise routes or break the long one. Our running backs can go inside or outside. Our linemen can hit and move," he said. "We want to give the city multiple threats."
That means Kinder or quarterback Gavin Kretz of Amityville might run or throw from the spread. Barnett can run deep routes or carry the ball from the slot. Allen can run from tailback or quarterback, taking a direct snap from center. "It will be fun to play with these guys," Kinder said. "They've made some great catches in practice."
There's versatility on defense, too. Two of Madden's star offensive players last fall, JeVahn Cruz and Damarr Aultman, will play in the defensive backfield. If they get an interception with room, look out. "We'll also use them both to return kicks," Madden said, "to take advantage of their speed and elusiveness."
Syracuse-bound linebacker Malcolm Cater of Riverhead will play defensive end. "This kid has played linebacker his whole life, but the rules of this game don't allow blitzing," Madden said. "So we want to take advantage of his ability to rush the passer."
One of the City's weapons is Syracuse-bound wideout Jeremiah Kobena. Soon he'll be one of Kinder's targets. Tonight, they'll be rooting against each other.