NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman spoke with the players and coach of Wantagh Saturday afternoon. When high school football practice officially got underway, the players agreed that it felt good to be back on the gridiron. Credit: Gary Licker

When high school football practice officially got underway Saturday afternoon, Wantagh teammates agreed that it felt good to be back on the gridiron.

“We’ve been waiting for this day since February,” running back Jake Martini said. “I was here an hour early just because I was so excited. I couldn’t stop pacing this morning.”

“It’s like Christmas,” receiver and outside linebacker T.J. Carlo said. “We’ve been talking about being out here since the season ended. I still have a knot in my stomach from excitement.”

The energy was palpable on the field as players began chanting, running conditioning drills and learning plays, but the work for this upcoming season started months earlier.

“We held weight room sessions three days a week in the spring at 6 in the morning since most of these players play a spring sport, too,” coach Keith Sachs said. “In June we visited West Point for a 7-on-7, and we’ve done beach workouts and team bonding competitions every week since. In all my 30 years of coaching, we’ve had the best attendance this year. Their dedication has been outstanding.”

Wantagh went 9-2 last season with two losses to Plainedge, including a 38-13 defeat in the Nassau III final.

“That loss has stuck with us all. I remember crying on the field,” Martini said. “I’ve given it my all this offseason, so even if we can’t win it this year, I know I can say I’ve given everything trying to do so.”

While Wantagh graduated its entire offensive line last year, Sachs said it will make no difference in his team’s abilities.

“While we might not be returning players with a lot of experience, they have a lot of commitment to filling in those roles and doing not just what the players before them did but doing it better,” he said. “The athleticism with this group is very solid. We will concentrate on being the best team we can be and let the winning take care of itself.”

Not all schools held their official first day on Saturday. Defending Long Island Class III champion Sayville will begin practice Sunday. Other schools, including East Islip, which returns starting lineman and state wrestling champion Sebastian Regis, will start Monday.

“We did a walk-through of what the stretch lines would look like the other day,’’ Regis said, “and it just added more hype and excitement for the start of practice.”

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