When Phil Coppola points beyond the trees and houses that line Uniondale’s practice football field and tells his players, “That’s our goal,” nothing gets lost in translation. The meaning is blatantly — even painfully — obvious.
Uniondale is 1 1/2 miles from Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium, a distance so short the Knights could run there and hardly break a sweat. But since 2000, they’ve dropped pounds and pounds of collective water weight trying to get back there.
Returning to Hofstra, host of the county semifinals and final, is the goal.
“We see these other teams keep going into our house,” senior lineman Magin Saravia said. “It’s, like, down the block. We just get mad, like, how come I’m not there, how come we’re not there, how come we’re not good enough?”
But the belief around the program this year is that the Knights are good enough. Nassau Conference I coaches tabbed them sixth in the preseason, but Coppola’s group returns a handful of starters from the 2015 playoff team and adds juniors and sophomores who went undefeated on JV.
“We gave Oceanside everything they could handle right up until the end [in the first round of the playoffs],” Coppola said. “After that game, those kids, they felt it. They wanted more than a taste, so we want to take the next step.”
With inexperienced quarterbacks Victor Torres and Rolando Meyers-Turner filling the position by committee, the Knights’ offense will rely on Saravia, Jahmel Hinton, Terrell Cyrus and a deep line opening holes for the versatile backfield of Zach Knighton-Ward, Kendell Glynn and Roquise Bryant.
“We are going to be ground and pound, no doubt about it,” Coppola said.
Defensively, Knighton-Ward and Glynn run the show at linebacker, but newcomers Danny Ashley and Jared Hardy have the potential to be shutdown corners on opposite sides of the field.
“We have a ton of talent in the secondary with Danny Ashley and Jared Hardy,” Coppola said.
Those two were key players for last year’s 8-0 JV squad. The infusion of young talent has given the Knights a boost.
“There’s better energy within the team,” Knighton-Ward said. “I can see that it’s more disciplined. We’re setting higher goals for ourselves, and we’re working harder. We’re persistent with what we’re trying to do.”
And that, of course, is reaching the semifinals.
“Hofstra’s right down the block,” Coppola said. “That’s why I keep pointing and saying that’s our goal, that’s our goal. Honestly, if we don’t get there, it’s going to be a disappointment because we have the talent to do it.”