As the old saying goes, every team starts the season with a clean slate. That mantra couldn't be more true for eight schools that hope a new experimental conference will help them get back on the winning track.
The new conference includes six Nassau public schools and two private schools -- Friends Academy, Great Neck North, Great Neck South, Jericho, Port Washington, Roslyn, Long Island Lutheran and St. Dominic, although St. Dom's games will not count in the standings.
Thursday night's game carries extra significance for Great Neck North, as it will be the first game since the unexpected passing of coach Chris Deeks. Defensive coordinator Chris Ceasar will coach the Blazers, athletic director Eamonn Flood said.
"We think it's the best thing for the kids and for the program," Flood said of the decision to play the opener. "I'm sure it's what coach Deeks would have wanted."
Section VIII created Conference V in January as a way to help football programs that have struggled in recent years. The conference, initially called the Relief Developmental League, is a two-year pilot program, according to Nassau football coordinator Pat Pizzarelli.
"Talent is cyclical," Pizzarelli said. "But we found that in the last few years that there were some schools that were not able to compete for whatever the reason."
The teams will be evaluated after the eight-game season, with stronger teams possibly returning to their initial conference and new teams entering the conference based on performance.
The current schools in Nassau V went a combined 12-44 last year, and Friends Academy forfeited its varsity season because it could not field a team. Those involved hope that the new conference will lead to more competitive games, which in turn would get more students interested in playing.
"Some of the kids that had played in the past were like, 'I don't want to play and just win two games,' " said Great Neck South coach Mark Greene, whose team went 2-7 last year. "At least now it's supposed to be a fair playing field for every game."
Under the structure of the new conference, there will not be a postseason, nor will individual and team records be recognized by the state. That allows teams such as Greene's Rebels to focus on one thing -- rebuilding confidence in the program.
"Everyone's thinking they have a chance to win, so they're going to work that much harder," Greene said. "We're all optimistic that things can get back on track."