Westhampton Beach running back and linebacker Dom Sarno was excited to be back on the football field. And as a senior, he was even more thankful to be able to show what he’s got in front of dozens of college coaches at the seventh annual Suffolk County Football Coaches Association Long Island Football Showcase.
“To get that fall football feeling was nice,” said Sarno, who was among a dozen or so Hurricanes to attend the event. “I’ve talked to a bunch of the coaches beforehand, but I’ve never been able to see them face-to-face because of COVID-19. There were a lot of kids, so it was tough to distinguish yourself, but I made the most of my opportunities, saw a couple of coaches looking my way, did the best I could do and am hoping for the best.”
The Long Island football showcase was held at the PAL Complex in Holtsville on November 8. It gave high school football players from across the Suffolk County — including schools like Lindenhurst, West Islip, William Floyd and Longwood — a chance to display their skills in front of college coaches. The student-athletes took part in agility drills, position drills and one-one-one pass rushing, punting, holding and returning drills for team representatives from schools like SUNY Maritime, Fairleigh Dickinson University, the University of New Haven, Pace University and Springfield College.
For Sarno, personally, the pandemic-related shutdown was a “blessing in disguise.”
“While it’s affected us working as a team, for me personally, I’ve been able to work out every day to get to where I wanted to be. So I’m ever more prepared than I would’ve been,” said Sarno, who lost 25 pounds over quarantine to change position from nose tackle and guard. “It’s been frustrating that we’re not playing right now, but it’s for the safety of the players, so the safest option is the best option.”
Head coach Bryan Schaumloffel said his boys just returned to the field earlier this month, for an intramural program, but the Hurricanes have a rich tradition of working hard all year long.
“We’ve got great workers and they’ve been doing what they need to do on their own,” he said. “I know a lot of them worked with trainers and got some running in. We’ve got a great senior and junior class filled with high-character kids — they’ll stand out for sure. Whenever Westhampton Beach players show up and people get to see us live, they’re really impressed with us.”
First-year president of the coaches association, Steve Fasciani, said he knew the showcase needed to happen knowing student-athletes wouldn’t have film or interactions with college coaches like they normally would. The entire event was filmed for the first time to give each player some video and statistics, which will be posted on liblitz.com.
“I’m happy for the kids, because it’s all about them getting the opportunity to show their skills,” he said. “The college coaches show a tremendous amount of dedication and the kids are excited about that. We wanted to get them exposure during a year where it’s really not happening like it normally has.”
The showcase, which usually happens in the spring, saw its biggest turnout in the event’s history. Typically, 100 to 150 kids show up. This year, over 225 kids made it out. Special Projects Manager Dave Shanahan said the association wanted to keep the showcase accessible by making something that usually costs athletes hundreds of dollars available for just $40.
To ensure player and coach safety, the association decided to forgo using pads for the first time, all other equipment was sanitized beforehand, players and parents all had their temperatures checked at the entrance, hand sanitizing stations were available and there was less one-on-one and contact drills than in the past. Multiple breaks were also taken to give players a chance to rehydrate and sanitize before moving onto the next event.
“I’m real proud of the turnout,” said Shanahan, current Elwood-John Glenn High School head football coach, who is also the coaches association’s former vice president. “These kids are hungry to get out and compete. Football teaches you life lessons, and they wanted to build those relationships and work their craft. You can watch these guys on film, but if you see it live, it makes a world of difference.”
And many of the college coaches were liking what they were seeing. Joe Gerbino, the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for Utica College, said he’s always believed Long Island has some of the best football players, steeped in rich tradition.
“The quarterbacks were all very coachable — they wanted to learn today. It’s easy when the kids care as much as you do,” he said. “We know when we get a Long Island kid that we’re getting a really good football player that’s going to affect our program in a positive way. We’ve been recruiting in this area for a very long time.”
While the pandemic has limited colleges in their ability to recruit and their budgets, the coach said the exposure could open doors in many ways, by helping a player get a visit or a fee waiver for an application, or just learn about a place they didn’t know before.
“You’ve got to feel for these kids, because they have less opportunities,” Gerbino said. “But we tell the kids at our place you never know what you’re interviewing for, so your switch always has to be on.”
Senior quarterback Christian Capuano said prior to the event he was only able to work out and throw the ball around in small groups. Despite that, he felt comfortable entering the showcase.
“I feel good about my performance,” he said. “Since we weren’t able to play in the fall, having the opportunity to showcase our talent in front of college coaches is much-needed if you want to play at the next level. What the Suffolk football coaches association was able to do was amazing.”
Junior running back Deegan Laube was also working out in small groups, but what he thinks benefited him most was doing that at home with his older brother, University of New Hampshire sophomore running back and former Carl A. Hansen Award-winner Dylan Laube.
“We were working on my slide — route running from the running back standpoint, cuts and just overall strength,” the junior said. “I felt like I was killing them with speed, so hopefully I get some looks.”
Sarno agreed that with limited time left to commit to a college, the event was a crucial one.
“Not everyone has had a chance to get out there, and everyone is restricted in their own way, so to get these players together and get the opportunity to get that exposure in front of all these coaches and for the kids that want to take their talents to the next level — I can’t thank them enough,” Sarno said. “It’s tough being a senior, especially because our season will be cut short, but you want to get your name out to as many people as possible with the limited time we have.”