Beach Channel/Channel View High School football coach Victor Nazario gathered his team after practice and talked about the most overused, most effective word in all of sports -- Redemption.
“You know what that is?” he asked his players.
“To get even,” a voice shot out from the crowd.
Nazario and his players are thirsting for revenge when they visit John Adams Sunday. John Adams prevented Beach Channel from making the playoffs by defeating them, 22-20, in last year’s season finale. What’s worse is that after a five-game win streak to improve to 5-1, Beach Channel lost three straight to end the season, capped by the loss to John Adams.
“For returning players, it’s not fresh in your memory,” Nazario said. “This team knocked us out of the playoffs. In life, when you mess up, there are very few times to redeem yourself.”
Beating Adams (6-2) would simply be an exclamation point. Beach Channel is undefeated (8-0) and in first place in the Public Schools Athletic League’s Bowl Division, outscoring opponents 226-24. But the players and the coach consider Sunday’s contest a rivalry game. One that can bring last year’s failures full circle.
“It’s just a game,” senior center Daniel Bleau said. “I want to say that I’m taking it one game at a time, but when we looked at the schedule, I looked at this game.”
It’s not just proximity or history that makes the game important. It’s one step closer to an undefeated season for a team that admitted it underachieved last year. This, however, is a different team.
Take the example of senior running back Mahamed Sidibe. He rode the bench three years and was the third-string back when the squad met for two-a-days in August. Sidibe saw three senior running backs ready to graduate and saw his opportunity. Sidibe started working with a trainer. He spent the summer running along the broadwalk on Rockaway Beach with a backpack full of weights. He would run 20 laps around the track then hit the bleacher stairs. This season, as the lead back, Sidibe has rushed for 569 yards and 6 touchdowns.
“I knew I had an opportunity and I knew I had to put the work in,” Sidibe said. “I really didn’t know it would be like this.”
That seemed to be the mantra of the team -- they didn’t know it would be like this. Sidibe’s rise was a shot in the arm, but Beach Channel added another weapon in the backfield with freshman running back/defensive back Diequan Underwood. Underwood has been a football player since he was a toddler and started playing with the local Rockaway Ravens at age 8.
“[Underwood] came and I thought it really would be a waste of time to play this kid in JV,” Nazario said. “This kid basically fell in my lap. He’s got great football instincts and he’s good very good speed. When he gets in the open [field] you’re not catching him.”
Underwood logged four games with over 100 rushing yards this season, including a 120-yard effort on just four carries two weeks ago in a 26-6 win over Springfield Gardens. He leads the team in rushing with 603 yards.
“The young man is a true freshman starting on both sides of the ball,” Nazario said. “And I’m not doing him any favors. He’s probably doing me a favor.”
And as any football coach would say, none of this happens without the offensive line, which includes virtually a brand new group of players. Only Bleau started the last two games of last season at center. It also helps to have a 6-3, 265-pound sophomore at left tackle.
“Everyone is doing their part,” said Folorunso Fatukasi, who also plays defensive end. “I think we’re still a little shaky but we’re doing better staying focused. After we starting hitting at camp, we started to see that we could do something.”
Recently, Nazario sat with his coaches to go over the team’s assets. They talked about the emergence of the offensive line, the success running the football and even patted themselves on the back a bit. Then he realized something.
“How could I forget Pat?” he said.
Pat, as in senior Patrick Barillo, or the engine behind the offense as Nazario calls him.
“We’re talking about all the players that have made a significant impact on the team and we didn’t mention the quarterback,” the coach said. “We thought we take him for granted. He’s Pat.”
Barillo is ranked second in the Bowl Division with 933 passing yards. Both coach and player agree on the terms of their working relationship.
“Every week I tell Pat we have to manage the game,” Nazario said. “I don’t call any stupid plays and you don’t do anything stupid.”
Barillo said one of the key components to this team’s success is that they genuinely get along. Egos were replaced by commonality and currently the common goal is pay back against John Adams.
“We know those guys,” Barillo said. “We see them. We want to do to them what they did to us last year.”