It wasn’t too long ago that Brandon Sobotker and Jared Zeigler started on the gridiron as members of the North Babylon Athletic Club football program.
“The high school, the field, everything looked so big,” said Sobotker recently before an early evening practice. “We looked up to the older kids and we were excited to be part of the program.”
These days, Sobotker and Zeigler are the older kids, now seniors for North Babylon, the fourth seed in Suffolk Division II this season.
“Most of us have played together since we were younger, and we’re a family,” Zeigler said. “The same offense we ran as kids, we run now. You learn it better everyday.”
The Bulldogs are looking to improve upon last year’s 7-3 season that ended with a 32-6 loss in the semifinals to eventual Long Island Class II champ and Rutgers Trophy winner Newfield.
“No excuses, we lost to a tough team,” Zeigler said. “This year, we’ve already learned that we have to be tough.”
Toughness, both physical and mental, long have been hallmarks for North Babylon and coach Terry Manning, now in his 26th season.
“They’ve called [Suffolk II] the black and blue division for years,” Manning said, “and there’s a reason for that.”
And there was a reason Manning had to move Zeigler from running back to quarterback early last season.
“He’s a great athlete,” Manning said, “and we wanted the ball in his hands as much as possible.”
Zeigler, who has been a linebacker most of his career, will move to the secondary. Manning believes Zeigler, whom he calls “hands down the best athlete on the team” can become a “lock-down cornerback.”
As the spread offense continues its rise, having an experienced player such as Zeigler at corner is a huge benefit to the Bulldogs.
“As a senior, the younger kids are looking up to us,” Sobotker said. “But we can handle it.”
There isn’t much the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder Sobotker can’t handle when it comes to football.
“He’s a very, very good back,” said Manning of Sobotker. “At his size, he’s a big and powerful running back. But he also has speed. You’re never going to catch him from the back.”
It seems the Bulldogs, who last won a Sufffolk II crown in 2009 and a Long Island title in 2004, have a luxury of riches in the backfield with Sobotker and Zeigler, as well as juniors David Estrella and newcomer Greg Pimentel.
“Every day we work hard,” Sobotker said, “and the pieces are starting to fall together.”
The big question for North Babylon is the line of scrimmage. Wils Lamonge, a 6-foot-2, 280-pound senior, is Manning’s lone returning starter from both lines.
“The line is looking pretty good,” Sobotker said, “and Wils is taking care of them.”
Seniors Max Deitch (TE/DE) and Sean Connors (OL/DL) will also help secure both lines for North Babylon, which last reached a county final in 2012.
“It was tough losing in the playoffs last year,” Zeigler said. “Now, we just want to work hard and go out and give everything we have to winning a championship.”