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LBs Santiago, Toney and Kappatos lead Long Island

Team Long Island linebacker Evan Kappatos (Syosset) is

Team Long Island linebacker Evan Kappatos (Syosset) is seen during an Empire Challenge football practice at Shuart Stadium. (June 15, 2012) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

One is playing out of position. One is anxious to showcase his skills after an injury-plagued senior year. Perhaps the best of the bunch will play a different position in college. They are the Long Island Linebackers, a unit that, even surrounded by other all-stars, has stood out for its agility, its mobility and -- presumably Tuesday night against New York City in the Empire Challenge -- its hostility.

"All three can really run and they can really hit," said linebackers coach Vinny Mascia of East Meadow, describing the talent of starting outside linebackers Julian Santiago (Newfield) and Trayvon Toney (Huntington) and middle linebacker Evan Kappatos (Syosset).

Santiago, who will play inside linebacker at LIU Post, the position he played for Long Island champion Newfield, said, "I'm used to playing inside but I'm adjusting on the field as best as I can. It's been fun. I've already made friends with the other guys. We want to go out there and compete, hit people and win the game."

Mascia called Santiago "lightning-quick and he really flies to the ball." Santiago's linebacker teammates at Newfield, Tom Diubaldo and Ron Denig, also are on the Long Island squad, but Denig was hurt last weekend in the Upstate-Downstate game and will not play Tuesday. The sixth linebacker is Chris Hercules of Lawrence. "They're a terrific group," Long Island head coach Rob Hoss of Sayville said.

Kappatos is the most decorated linebacker in Long Island history. He is the only three-time winner of the Piner Award, given to Nassau County's top linebacker, and twice was a Newsday All-Long Island first-team selection. "I saw enough of him," Mascia joked. "We played against him for three years. He's a special kid. You wouldn't think someone his size [6 feet, 240] would be so fast. But he flies. He's a smart player and a great talent."

Kappatos is a sideline-to-sideline player who made more than 100 tackles last season. "I have good vision, good instincts and a good first step," Kappatos said. "Everyone works well together and we want to win this game and represent the backer position."

And yet, despite his dominance on defense, Tuesday's game may well be Kappatos' last as a linebacker. He will attend Princeton, where he said he will be switched to fullback.

"Linebacker is my favorite position," Kappatos said, "but wherever they want me to play is fine. They say they need a fullback, so that gives me a chance to play right away. I had some carries in high school but I'll be more of a blocker in college. I'll still get to hit people. I'll just run right over them. This is pretty cool that this could be my last game as a linebacker."

For Toney, it could be just the beginning. Plagued by injuries for most of his senior season at Huntington, Toney still drew interest from Hobart, where he hopes to showcase his own athletic ability. "This game is a chance to redeem myself," Toney said. "I can get one of my senior games back that I missed because of injuries. It's different than high school. Everyone here is a star."

Toney has proven he belongs. "I think it was my speed," he said when asked how he impressed the coaches enough to earn a starting position. "And I love to hit. I love contact. That's why I'm a linebacker."

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