I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had a major wardrobe malfunction when I showed up Friday at North Babylon’s morning practice session. I had dared to wear a red shirt.
I got a few odd glances from players and coaches as I made the long walk from the parking lot to the practice field, but figured it was just curiosity. You know, “It’s hot out here, so who’s that guy with the camera and notepad?”
But when I walked to the middle of the field to greet Bulldogs coach Terry Manning, the growling began. “What size shirt do you wear? Get this guy a shirt,” Manning yelled, pointing at me.
This was my clever response: “Huh!”
The growling was, of course, for effect, but Manning was serious when he told me, “We don’t allow red on this field.” Others on his staff later confirmed to me that Manning, indeed, tells all his players about the “no-red” rule. That’s because the Bulldogs’ traditional rivals in tough Suffolk Division II have red as a primary school color: East Islip and Bellport. That’s also the case for Half Hollow Hills West, another contender who moves up from Division III this season.
I’ll remember that dress code the next time I’m at North Babylon, which may be fairly often this year. The Bulldogs are the top-seeded team in Division II and hope to return to the Long Island Championship game, where they lost to Garden City, 9-6, last year in a classic defensive battle that matched two unbeaten teams.
The vaunted ground-and-pound offense — Manning proudly refers to it as “the anti-spread” — once again features running back Preshod McCoy, a first-team Newsday All-Long Island selection in 2009 who rarely takes a breather. McCoy is the team’s best rusher, best cornerback and is a dangerous kick returner. “I don’t get tired during games. I don’t like coming off the field,” said McCoy, at 5-10, 180 perhaps a little under-sized for Division I colleges despite totaling 1,535 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2009.
“If he was 6-1, 195, he’d definitely be a Division I kid,” Manning said. “He’s a great athlete and he’s in great shape. When we run drills, he doesn’t stop after 10 yards, he goes 25 yards. He knows that I’ll feed him the ball 30 or 35 times a game.”
On most of those carries, McCoy has the luxury of running behind 375-pound Golden Ukonu, a second team Newsday All-Long Island selection last year. “He’s the best lineman on Long Island,” Manning said.
Both players could be candidates for Newsday’s Hansen Award, given to Suffolk’s most outstanding player. But McCoy, a four-year starter, has another goal in mind for 2010. “It’s my last chance to play for Coach Manning,” he said. “We’ve been to the big game and now we want to win it. We came back tougher and ready to go.”
Red zone, here they come.