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West Islip hoping to bounce back after rough season

West Islip's Conor Smith picks up some yardage

West Islip's Conor Smith picks up some yardage on the quarterback keeper in the fourth quarter against East Islip on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Bob Sorensen

West Islip is a team with a football-sized chip on its shoulder.

The Lions finished a disappointing 1-7 last season, but 25 points were the difference between that record and a 6-2 mark. Four of those losses were decided in late-game situations.

If senior quarterback Conor Smith has his way this season, that failure to close games will be eliminated.

"I'm making sure everyone knows they can count on me," Smith said. "I'm going to give it my all to make sure we get that first down and put points on the board."

A known competitor - "Whether you're playing ping pong or chess, he doesn't like to lose," head coach Steve Mileti said - Smith is the rare quarterback who also is allowed to play defense.

"I hate coming off the field," said Smith, a cornerback and safety.

"Usually quarterbacks don't play defense, but he gets mad when he doesn't," Mileti chuckled.

Smith is the unquestioned leader of the team after a six-game stint last season in which he posted 1,028 all-purpose yards, and he carries himself as such. Smith stands tall - both on the sidelines and in the pocket - and never wavers from oncoming pressure.

His versatility as both a passer and runner help him avert danger in the backfield. In a spread offense that plays at a quick tempo, it's his understanding of the game that helps keep it moving.

"I try to take whatever's out there," Smith said. "But I consider myself a pass-first quarterback; I try to get my wide receivers involved. When I feel there's pressure in the pocket, I try to get out of there, but I try to keep my head downfield."

Mike Lombardi, a senior captain and good friend of Smith's, plays tight end for the Lions. To him, Smith is the one who makes the offense work.

"He can get the ball out there fast, right to your hands," Lombardi said. "We're just trying our best to make it easier for him."

Mileti said he plans on pounding the ball on the ground, even with Smith's passing ability. That's primarily because of junior Drew Cestaro, whose father and brothers also played for the Lions.

"We're going to run the ball," Mileti said. "We have a line. And Drew is a phenomenal runner."

Cestaro, a bruising tailback who keeps his head down and his feet moving, knows his job is simple.

"You just have to run behind your pads," he said. "That's what coach tells me every day."

Between Smith, Lombardi and Cestaro, this offense has plenty of talent to make noise in Suffolk Division II. Add in Dan Mottes, who is in for a career season, according to Smith, and junior Antonio Alicea, a wide receiver with explosive athletic ability.

When asked about what to expect from the Lions this season, Smith gave a simple answer.

"Every game is going to be a good game," Smith said. "That's all I have to say."


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