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LI linebacking corps has sights set on stopping NYC's Augustus Edwards in Empire Challenge

Long Island middle linebacker Ryan Feiner sets during

Long Island middle linebacker Ryan Feiner sets during practice for the United Healthcare Empire Challenge high school all-star football game. (June 16, 2013) Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

They've heard all about Augustus Edwards. They've seen the footage of a man-child consistently shouldering through tackles, essentially bullying defenders with a stiff arm and breaking long runs.

That, potentially, is what awaits the Long Island defense Tuesday night in the Empire Challenge football game. And to that they say . . .

"There's big boys playing in the city and big boys playing over here," Farmingdale linebacker Ryan Feiner said. "This is the best of the best. I'm confident we'll hold our own, shed the blocks and make a lot of tackles."

The Long Island defense has dominated this game in recent years, not having allowed more than 15 points to New York City since 2009. But the NYC offense poses an interesting challenge this time with its stable of standout running backs, featuring Edwards of Tottenville.

The 6-2, 225-pound bruiser is regarded as the best back in the region and is committed to the University of Miami. The key to slowing him, Long Island players said, is containment and sound tackling. That task falls largely on this star-studded crew of linebackers.

"It's probably going to be a high-scoring game because of all the talent on both offenses," Sachem East linebacker Steven Casali said. "On defense, we're looking to force a few turnovers and take momentum."

Getting "a few" takeaways seems a lofty goal, but considering Casali had 104 tackles and 10 pass deflections last fall, him being around the ball is a near certainty. Casali, headed to the University of Massachusetts, earned four awards, including the Rob Burnett as Suffolk's defensive player of the year.

He will start at middle linebacker, flanked by Floyd's athletic outside linebacker Miguel Brennin and Maine-bound Vassili Grigorakos of Oceanside. That group is bolstered by All-Long Islanders Feiner, Garden City's Scott D'Antonio and Brian Dunne of Chaminade, each of whom led his team to a championship last season.

"It's a group that's certainly distinguished itself," said Farmingdale coach Buddy Krumenacker, who will serve as LI's defensive coordinator. "They've all got good feet and run very well."

In front of them is a stout defensive line that includes tackles Ousmane Camara (Bay Shore) and James Manginelli (Newfield).

The linebackers will rotate as part of a base 4-3 defense, as required by the Empire Challenge rules. The scheme differs from the 4-4 alignment the Dalers used last season, Feiner said, but the players have adjusted.

"Communication is key and we're still getting to know each other, but these are all good guys and great players," Casali said. "The biggest thing this linebacker group has in common is we're all intense and love to hit. We're gonna get after it."


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