As one walks into the Smithtown East football locker room, a person can feel a positive energy.
There is music playing. Players are talking, joking, and smiling.
You would never know the Bulls — the 12th seed out of 13 teams in Suffolk Division II — went 0-8 last season. So what’s the change?
The players will tell you it is first-year head coach Jon Woods.
“His experience, character, and personality are amazing,” said senior quarterback Vincent Guarino about Woods. “He’s brought a mojo that wasn’t here last year. Even our practices from beginning to end are high tempo.”
Woods, an assistant coach at Stony Brook for nearly a decade and a line coach at William Floyd the past two seasons, wanted to lead his own program.
“I finally decided I want to be head coach and take on the challenge,” said Woods, who graduated from Smithtown High School in 2000. “We have great kids at Smithtown and this community gives us amazing support.”
That support includes Woods’ coaching staff.
“We have excellent coaches and teachers,” said the 33-year-old Woods. “This is by no means about me and what I have done. It’s about every member of our staff doing their job.”
That vibe channels through to the Bulls’ players.
“Coach Woods brings something special here,” said senior center and linebacker Peter Forgione. “We believe in him and what he’s doing.”
The Bulls’ success this season is very much tied to Guarino. The senior quarterback transferred from St. Anthony’s a year ago. As a sophomore, he threw for 1,250 yards and 13 touchdowns on St. Anthony’s junior varsity team. He added 260 yards rushing and five scores. Last season, he played for the Bulls beginning in week three.
“[Guarino] does a great job,” said Forgione, who has a 4.28 GPA. “He takes on any challenge you throw at him.”
The challenge this season is changing from a spread offense to a pro-style offense.
Smithtown East will look to running backs Andrew Durland and Lauden Hendricks, as well as receivers Ryan Catizone and Michael Latini. All of those players will play defense, too. Newcomers Jackson McFadyen (DE/RB/PK/P) and Matt Cohen (RB/DB) should also contribute and help erase the memories of 2015.
“It was tough last year, but we’re so much more athletic now,” said Guarino, who has received an offer from Union College. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be a good team.”
Forgione acknowledged that the Bulls weren’t tough enough last season, hence the 0-8 record. But that was then, and this is now.
“We’re not the same team,” Forgione said. “I know one thing, we’re not going to lose eight games. That’s not going to happen.”
The Bulls have adopted a motto -- Get on the bus -- which means get on the proverbial bus of doing things well, or get out of the way.
“To have success you have to do the little things right,” Woods said. “If you build the program, teach fundamentals, and play the game hard, everything else takes care of itself.”
Again, positive energy.