Justin Taveras collected the toss going around the right side and suddenly turned up field. A linebacker giving chase, about to make the touch tackle, was left gasping for air. Taveras, seeing the potential of an oncoming collision, darted inside the pursuit, and the speedy back headed toward the end zone.
This is Justin Taveras, a senior halfback from East Islip, four years removed from his first varsity snap, and finally 100 percent healthy.
Camps opened Monday for Long Island’s high school football teams. Teams wore T-shirts and shorts for conditioning and non-contact practice, the order of the day.
“Justin looks fantastic,” East Islip head coach Sal J. Ciampi said. “He suffered a high ankle sprain last year in the second week of the season against Eastport-South Manor and he never fully recovered. This is a whole different Justin Taveras. He’s the best back I’ve ever had, a complete-package athlete that can do everything well.”
Ciampi marveled over Taveras’ vision and breakaway speed. He also said the elite back has sure hands and can block the biggest of blitzing linebackers.
“He does things you can’t coach,” Ciampi said. “He sees a seam develop and he hits the hole before it closes. We’re excited that he’s healthy.”
East Islip will compete in Suffolk’s Division III. Taveras, who rushed for 1,215 yards and 15 touchdowns, is one of three blue chip halfbacks in the division.
Westhampton senior Dylan Laube, a Hansen Award finalist, was one of Suffolk’s best players. He earned the Joe Cipp Jr. Award as the most outstanding halfback in Suffolk.
Laube’s electrifying style helped him set the Westhampton school record for yards rushing in a season with 2,152. He scored a school-record 40 touchdowns, including four kick returns for scores.
“Laube was great,” Ciampi said. “Stop him and beat Westhampton. Allow him to get in space, he’s going to score his touchdowns. They beat us up on a Friday in week three last year.”
Laube had 11 TD runs of more than 45 yards and became only the third player in Long Island history to score 40 times in a season.
Top-seeded Half Hollow Hills West has an outstanding game-changer of its own this season in junior Deyvon Wright. He was a threat to score every time he touched the football during his sophomore season.
Wright rushed for 1,493 yards and scored 19 touchdowns for a Colts team that had multiple weapons on offense.
Three backs, three contenders, all are healthy, which team emerges on top?