Ten wins in the first 10 games of last season put Lindenhurst in a confident position heading into the Suffolk Division I championship game. Things quickly shifted.
After scoring first, Longwood defeated the Bulldogs, 44-14, to win the championship. Now Lindenhurst, losing many three-year starters and in search of a new quarterback, seek redemption.
“It definitely leaves a bitter feeling in your stomach looking back at it,” said senior linebacker and tight end Mike Newman. “It’s a long way from when you finish until you get back at it. It definitely creates a drive for the guys … that’s been the main fuel for us so far.”
But with all the graduated players, Lindenhurst returns stud junior Jeremy Ruckert, who has received offers to play tight end at schools such as Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Ohio State and Penn State, to name a few.
“A lot of kids – if they get the opportunities I have – would just be satisfied and just sit home, relax, be all happy about it,” said Ruckert, who will play wide receiver and linebacker for Lindenhurst. “My dad’s been real good, keeping me level headed. Coach [Nick] Lombardo, my teammates, they really keep me going to the gym every day. I’ve really been working out more since everything happened. I’m really just focused on winning. That will come later.”
Lindenhurst expects wide receiver/defensive backs Ricky Conway, John Palmeri and Steven Ramirez to play key roles this year. Joe Bozza and Malik Grant will anchor the line. The Bulldogs enter this season ranked No. 2 in the division. Lombardo enters his 22nd year at the school and eighth as head coach.
Last season’s lone loss has been on the players’ minds since for nearly a year. After defeating Longwood, 26-7, in the regular season, the Lions were blindsided with how their season ended. And now, it’s their motivation.
“Little bit of [surprise and disappointment],” Ruckert said. … “We thought we had it again. I guess we took our foot off the pedal. They came ready to play that game so it was more that we were shocked and disappointed at the end.”
Lindenhurst, which won the 2014 Suffolk Division I championship, is looking to return to the top spot. And this offseason has proved it.
“Two years in a row where you’ve had a lot of success, I don’t think many of these players really needed much motivation, especially with the way that championship game went down,” Lombardo said. “Didn’t go down very well so I think the kids in the offseason certainly came out and gave us 100 percent effort.”