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Syosset: Playing with the big boys

Syosset football

Syosset football Credit: Newsday / Chris Mascaro

Either Farmingdale or Freeport has won the last three Nassau Conference I titles and nine since 1999, but could Syosset, which last won a title in 1974 (the last time it even advanced that far), crash the party this season?

The coaches seem to think so, as the Braves were given the No. 2 seed, ahead of defending Long Island champion Freeport. Can they win the county title? Who better to ask than Evan Kappatos, their star middle linebacker who became the first sophomore to win the Piner Award (given to the county's best linebacker) last year.

"We've been working real hard to prove to everyone and prove to ourselves what we're capable of," said Kappatos, who made 103 tackles last season, after Friday's practice. "We have high hopes for this season."

Not exactly a definitive answer.

Forgive Kappatos for hedging his bets. After all, last season's 6-4 record and a trip to the county semifinals was Syosset's best season in years. The Braves even beat Farmingdale in the second week of the regular season before losing a 29-8 decision to the Dalers in the playoffs.

"There's always been a perennial top of the conference," said head coach Paul Rorke. "And we've been scratching and clawing to get there and to stay there and to belong there. They have high aspirations and expectations. Is the athlete hungry enough to win a championship?"

Syosset may not have the size of the Freeports and Farmingdales of the world, but the strength of this team is still up front. Kappatos is an All County wrestler, so he's used to grappling with blockers. Center and defensive end Jake Lebowitz is a bruiser at 6-2, 240, and left guard and nose tackle Tom Koziatek may be short, but he's got a solid frame that doesn't appear easily moveable. 

"Our coaches prepare us for any kind of competition, big or small," Koziatek said. "We're ready."

They better be. Syosset will play host to eighth-seeded Uniondale at 11 a.m. on Labor Day in the first Long Island game of the season. The game will benefit the Wounded Warriors Foundation.

"A lot of the kids we didn't expect to step up, have stepped up to the plate in practice," Lebowitz said. "They can move around and catch the ball."

Though a Conference I team, Syosset doesn't have much strength in numbers, with about 38 guys on the roster, according to Rorke, who is in his 17th season with the program. 

As such, the Braves rely heavily on a small number of skill players, including starting quarterback Alex Contino and his favorite target in the team's spread attack, junior wideout Chris Park.

Contino was converted from receiver to quarterback the second week of last season because of an injury. It was his first time ever playing the position, and Rorke believes that with a year under his belt he'll be ready to make some big plays. Plays that will be necessary later this fall.

"In those critical games, you have to make plays to win the game," Rorke said. "I think they're hungry enough to realize what it's about."

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