Sachem East learned to turn the page quickly last fall. After an 0-4 start, the Flaming Arrows went on to win three of their final four Suffolk I games, not to mention their first-round playoff game against Connetquot and finished with a respectable 4-6 record.
Now, they’re back with high expectations.
“Last year, we came in with a totally new coaching staff,” said Phil Torregrosa, now in his second year as head coach. “Everybody was kind of new. That’s why we kind of got a late start. We lost our quarterback in the first week. It was a tough season, but we finished strong.
“This team, our goal is to win the county championship.”
Spearheading the effort as one of returning difference-makers on both sides of the ball is Ryan Paolella, whom Torregrosa called “a grinder.”
Paolella, a bruising 5-10, 180-pound running back, rushed for 547 yards last year as the thunder to Adriel Robinson’s lightning. That duo combined to lift Sachem East’s offense, which hopes to spread the ball around more with senior quarterback Nick Stelling.
The whole offensive game plan starts with Paolella’s ability to wear down a defense.
“He’s a throwback type of player,” Torregrosa said. “He doesn’t care who gets the accolades. Adriel Robinson, who came halfway through the year last year [because of an injury] is his best friend. He knows if Adriel wasn’t there, he’d be the feature back. But he doesn’t care. He knows we’re better off with Adriel.”
The senior-heavy team is expected to chase Floyd (the top seed) and Longwood (the No. 2 seed) for the division crown, with both teams returning key playmakers. Ward Melville (No. 4) and Commack (No. 5) have talented groups as well.
But Paolella thinks Sachem East has what it takes.
“We’re really locked in,” he said. “Everyone’s buying in. We really want to make it to the next step, which is the [county final].”