A year ago at this time, Syosset wide receiver Mike Elardo was catching what he called "perfectly thrown balls" from a perfect stranger.
"Who is that kid?" Elardo recalled asking his teammates.
Turns out, it was Billy the Kid.
Will Hogan, who transferred in from Reno, Nevada last July, was the newcomer who opened eyes in practice with his passing, but was listed as the backup quarterback who was only expected to start on defense as a safety. He battled injuries until midway through the regular season, when he became a starter in Week 5 with Syosset struggling at 1-3.
The rest is history.
School history that is.
Hogan and Elardo sparked an incredible postseason run that included three wild comeback victories and culminated with a rout of Lindenhurst in the Long Island Class I title game. The Braves became the first four-loss team to win an LIC.
That feat, plus the return of Hogan and Elardo, earned Syosset a No. 1 seed in Nassau Conference I. And put a target on their backs.
"It's totally different this year," Hogan said during a break in Monday morning's practice. "We know we have to work hard to prepare for whatever they throw at us."
Elardo embraces the challenge. "I like that. Last year we came from behind a lot and people didn't know who we were," said the speedy, elusive receiver, whose 1,421 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2014 were single-season Long Island records. "We want to be respected. Being the top seed is making everyone work that much harder."
Hogan, who threw for 2,401 yards and 22 touchdowns and is also a running threat out of the spread, said he has assumed "a leadership role" on the 2015 Braves and has watched a lot of video "to improve my technique, my feet, my release and my timing with receivers."
He and Elardo hooked up for game-winning touchdowns in two of those comeback victories last November, and expect to be even better this year.
"With every practice, our chemistry gets that much better," Elardo said. "Last year, I didn't even know who he was."
By the end of the season, everyone on Long Island knew about the Hogan-to-Elardo connection and, more importantly, they knew about Syosset football. "We finally did it," Elardo said proudly of the school's first Long Island Championship and first county title since 1974. "It was a major achievement."
Hogan and Elardo are doing their best to turn in an encore performance.