Six months ago, Wantagh entered the delayed and condensed 2020 season with only two returning starters and an unfamiliar group of opponents after enrollment dropped it into Nassau Conference IV.
With no scrimmage and a one-week hiatus due to a Covid situation, the Warriors took a while to hit stride. When they finally did, avenging regular-season losses to Seaford and North Shore, the result was a county championship.
“We weren’t able to really sit back and enjoy the season until the school year ended because we went right from football to spring sports,” head coach Keith Sachs said. “We had a nice celebration in July. Now we’re back in Conference III and it’ll be fun to face our biggest rivals again.”
Wantagh, which went 5-2, is the No. 2 seed behind Plainedge and will kick off the campaign at home against Valley Stream North. The Warriors renew their highest-profile rivalry the following week at Bethpage and will also face defending Conference III champion Manhasset in Week 6. “I’m excited about what we’re returning,” Sachs said. “We had 40 kids in the weight room throughout the offseason and they’re ready to get back on the field. While it was harder to do last season, we always want to be at our best at the end.”
Wantagh’s biggest strengths, Sachs said, are in the offensive backfield and linebacker. Senior Tyler Martini, an All-County selection who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and scored 10 touchdowns, is part of both groups. So too could be senior Mark Maniet or junior Nick Cupelli. Martini ripped off 227 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-22 victory over Seaford in the semifinals and followed up with 151 yards and a score in a 26-13 win over North Shore in the county final.
Maniet, a fullback, bulldozed for 148 yards and a touchdown in the win over North Shore and had nine scores on the season. Cupelli, who had an interception in the game, was no stranger to the end zone and also started at cornerback. He could remain in the secondary over move to linebacker. Senior Sean Carlo is an explosive runner who had 105 yards and three touchdowns in the opener against Clarke before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
“Tyler and Mark are both big and strong,” Sachs said. “Nick is very talented and Sean is a home-run hitter. We’ve never had four great backs like this all at once.”
Taking over at quarterback is junior Joe Legovich, who had an outstanding JV campaign. “He runs well and has an excellent arm,” Sachs said. Juniors Anthony Reale and Tim Hennig top the depth chart at receiver and could also play in the secondary.
Up front, All-Long Island senior guard Liam Casey, a standout middle linebacker, senior center Drew Palladino and senior tackle Nicholas Aldino are returning starters. Senior Will Balitsos and junior Anthony Tsakos bring varsity experience, and Sachs is expecting some linemen from last season’s undefeated JV to step right in and contribute.
Casey serves as the face of the defense and is a second-year captain. He was second in the voting for the Piner Award, given to the top linebacker in Nassau after recording more than 100 tackles for a second straight season. Twenty one of those stops came in last season’s playoffs. “He’s strong, smart and dedicated,” Sachs said. “He attacks downhill and never guesses. He has incredible instincts.”
Senior defensive end Luke Janosko had two of his six sacks in the championship game and not only leads the pass rush but is a quality run stuffer. Aldino is another returning starter on the D-line.
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