Being left out in the cold is never easy.
The disbandment of its conference returned Long Island Lutheran to a nomadic football existence, an independent scrambling late to fill a schedule of out-of-town teams.
Conference V, Nassau's developmental league, after two years is no more. But while the public school teams were absorbed into other conferences, Lutheran was left on its own. No league, no postseason, and its game results affecting little more than self-esteem.
That letdown prompted coach Chris Reno to ask his players this: "Why should we even bother?" He got the answers he hoped for.
"I was a bit puzzled when I heard the news," tight end Anthony McCoy said, "but you know what? We're still playing football, something we love. You shouldn't need any extra motivation."
But it comes anyway, in the form of Shamar Stephen. The former LuHi standout was selected by the Vikings in last May's NFL draft, and the defensive tackle made Minnesota's roster. Stephen, 23, played for the Crusaders when they were without a league, but he excelled -- as did his team -- and earned a scholarship to UConn.
Stephen visits LuHi regularly and worked out with some of the players this summer, Reno said.
"It inspires you," senior center Steven Benz said. "Seeing him, it shows how far this game can take you if you do well, no matter what league you're in or not in."
Lutheran, which beat Nazareth, 32-30, yesterday, is trying to build off last year's 6-3 campaign and is doing so with a new offense. Gone is the Wing T, repalced by an up-tempo spread, installed by new offensive coordinator James Brady, who played at New Hampshire in the system established there by Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly.
The new scheme worked well in the season opener last week as LuHi beat Riverdale Country Day, 46-34, and Anthony Abbondanza threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns.
They also hope the addition of some of the school's basketball stars can take LuHi to new, um, heights. Devonte Green, this fall, is a running back; Chris Atkinson a wide receiver, and 6-7 forward Marvin Prochet now creates mismatches at wideout and defensive end. Atkinson had six receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown, and returned an interception for a score in his debut.
"They're great athletes so it's a big advantage, and all three played football when they were younger," said Benz, nicknamed "Google" for his smarts. He has helped ingratiate the newcomers and smooth the offensive transition.
Reno said Lutheran's schedule now is more challenging than it was in Conference V, with several difficult opponents, including Hackley and Hopkins (Conn.) upcoming.
"But the situation we're in kind of unifies us," Reno said. "We're not part of anything, so we're all we've got. But the goal is still to compete and win. It's still football."