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Long Island’s elite linemen prepare for Empire Challenge

Spencer Matthaei of Locust Valley participates in Team

Spencer Matthaei of Locust Valley participates in Team Long Island practice at Hofstra University on Saturday, June 18, 2016. The best Long Island seniors will face their New York City counterparts in the 21st annual Empire Challenge at Hofstra on Tuesday, June 21. Credit: James Escher

Though the Empire Challenge is not until Tuesday, a different star-studded showdown has already taken place this week.

Long Island’s top senior football players will face an all-star team from New York City in the Challenge itself, but practices leading up to the game have featured some of the best linemen in Nassau and Suffolk battling in the trenches.

“The whole experience, playing football with an elite group of guys, who are not only talented on the field, but a great group of guys to be around, has been a ton of fun,” said Locust Valley offensive tackle Spencer Matthaei, who will play for Yale next season.

“It’s great because it’s not like any usual team,” said Lawrence center Nick Ramirez, who is headed to Monroe. “Everyone’s great. There’s not really a weak point.”

Ramirez is joined on the interior line by Newfield center Nick Favalaro and guards Matt Mascia (East Meadow), Javier Hernandez (Farmingdale), Dalton Stalzer (Shoreham-Wading River), and Kieran Glynn (Miller Place). Anthony Catapano (Carey), Dareus Smith (Glenn) and Austin Baiardi (Smithtown West) are the other tackles.

Matthaei said it took some time for the offense to find chemistry, but said it is now “in sync” and ready for Tuesday. He added the offensive line has benefited from the challenge of facing a stacked defensive line.

“It’s great going against really good guys,” he said. “Iron sharpens iron. As we practice with a more talented group, we also get better ourselves. It helps everybody and it’s a lot of fun when we do it.”

In addition to keeping the offensive line sharp, the defensive line’s play has caught the eyes of the coaching staff, including co-defensive line coaches Matt Millheiser (Shoreham-Wading River) and Ralph Carusillo (St. John the Baptist).

“The work ethic has been really phenomenal,” Carusillo said. “When you get one or two kids on your team that have this ability, it’s fun. When you get eight of them in the same group, it’s something special.”

Said Millheiser: “We did this last year, and we had, obviously, a different group. We had one or two really high level kids and everything worked out. This year, across the board we’re better on the whole than we were last year.”

Farmingdale defensive end Chris Tomassetti was a disruptive force at practice at Hofstra on Saturday, deflecting a series of passes during 11-on-11 drills. He will be joined on the edge by Dylan Ferrari (Newfield), Marc Arboleda (MacArthur), and Mike Leach (Sayville).

Longwood teammates Matt Weiss and Anthony Lavio, Joe Saladino (Newfield) and Mike Curiel (Hewlett) are the defensive tackles.

“They’re excited about Tuesday night,” Carusillo said, “and I think they’re going to put on a show.”

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