A team ranked 12th out of 14 teams in a preseason poll usually doesn’t garner much attention. But the Southampton football team could very well be the dark horse in Division IV this year.
Last season, the Mariners finished with a 3-5 record, mediocre by most standards, but a vast improvement over the winless season the program suffered in 2011. Head coach Edgar “Hikey” Franklin saw plenty of positives in last season, however, saying he wasn’t measuring success by wins and losses. Numbers were up, allowing the program to field a junior varsity after having to go without one in 2011. And even though the team only won three games, it was competitive in several of the losses. Injuries to key players, most notably fullback Lyle Smith, hampered Southampton as well. With Smith on the field, Franklin said, his team may have won another game or two.
This fall, not only is Smith returning to the field, but so is most of the team, as only two key starters from last year’s squad have graduated—All Division fullback/inside linebacker Elijah Hutchings and second-team All Division outside linebacker/halfback Alex Halaka. This season, Southampton will feature plenty of athleticism and a few standout threats on offense. Add to that the fact that Southampton will only face one team ranked in the top six this season—Elwood/John Glenn—and it could spell a lot of success for the team this year.
Smith, a second-team All Division pick last year, is the most notable returnee. The senior broke his hand in the first game of the season last year against Wyandanch and didn’t return until the last three games of the season. According to Franklin, Smith has added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason and will be a punishing presence up the middle for the Mariners.
“We expect him to be our pound and ground running back,” Franklin said. “He’s gotten faster and he’s really dedicated himself in the offseason to the weight room. If he stays healthy, he should be a 1,000-yard rusher, easy. He will be the focal point of our team, and he’s our captain, the guy who gets on everyone and gets everyone fired up.”
Senior Shaundell Fishburne is another talented returning player who will be the perfect complement to Smith. While Smith represents brute force up the middle and in between the tackles, Fishburne, a halfback/cornerback is more of a finesse player who can get to the outside and also run up into the slot and catch the ball.
“We expect a lot of big runs out of Shaundell,” Franklin said. “Offensively, he’s a dual threat. He has tremendous athletic ability and he can use his ability to make plays.”
Distributing the ball to Smith and Fishburne is another veteran player for Southampton, quarterback Taylor Sanders. The senior will return to his starting role under center and should be even more of a threat with a year of experience under his belt.
“He’s just a great athlete,” Franklin said of Sanders. “He possesses things we can’t teach. He can throw the ball and he can run.”
While Smith and Fishburne will do much of the work on offense, Southampton also possesses a talented receiver in Nitauke Williams, who made some big catches last year. Isaiah Johnson, up from the junior varsity, is also a threat at the receiver position and has the ability to play almost anywhere on the field.
The offensive line will be anchored by three-year starter Chris Bautista, a senior, along with Tyler Sanders, Taylor Sanders’s twin brother. Returning senior Devon Cuffee will be a key player on the line, and sophomore Nick Petty will take over center duties.
The Mariner defense will be led by Smith, who will start at middle linebacker. Franklin said that Smith is the type of defensive player who can “save a touchdown or two” in each game. Fishburne and Taylor Sanders will lead the defensive effort in the backfield, with Sanders at safety and Fishburne at a corner position. Nitauke Williams will be a key player at the safety position as well, while sophomore Matt Wooley, up from the JV, and junior Matt Roughan will provide muscle at the linebacker positions, along with Smith. Ian Saw-Burke, a first-year player who is a varsity wrestler, has impressed Franklin as well and could be a nice player.
Southampton will open the season on the road at Port Jefferson on September 7 at 2 p.m. The Mariners will host Greenport on Friday, September 21, at 7 p.m. for their home opener and homecoming game, and will visit East Hampton for the Hamptons Cup rivalry game on October 12 at 7:15 p.m.
Franklin did not want to make any bold predictions about which games he expects his team to win, or even what record his squad will need to make the playoffs. But he said fans of Mariner football can expect to be entertained this year.
“Every game will be competitive,” he said. “It will be a lot of fun.”