There isn’t a lot of mystery surrounding the Hampton Bays football team.
For the past half decade, the Baymen have been a playoff team in Division IV, and should be once again. But they’ve yet to prove they’re a serious contender for a division title, failing to make it past the first round in those postseason trips.
The goal for this year’s team, as it has been in the past few years, is to change that narrative and demonstrate that it belongs in the conversation with the powerhouse schools—Babylon, Mount Sinai, Shoreham/Wading River and Elwood/John Glenn.
Hampton Bays head coach Mike Oestreicher, in his 10th year at the helm, is fully confident his team can make that leap this season. While the Baymen did lose several key players to graduation—All County lineman Lukasz Sokol and All County fullback/defensive end Alex Lane (both of whom are playing in college), as well as All Division picks Justin Carbone (quarterback), Tracey Kennedy (running back/safety) and Eddie Perez (lineman)—plenty of talented players have returned.
The Baymen will have a legitimate triple threat on offense with Taylor Catz, Cody Nolan and Ryan Cavanaugh. Catz, a senior running back, was an All Division player last year, and someone who Oestreicher said had the talent of an All County player. Catz returned three punts for touchdowns last year, and scored 12 touchdowns for the team in his first year on varsity.
Oestreicher doesn’t mince words when talking about Catz; he’s expecting a lot from the senior, who has his sights on playing in college.
“He’s clearly one of the most talented athletes we’ve had here in Hampton Bays,” Oestreicher said. “He’s one of those special kids. In our system, where our tailback is the guy who makes us go, he’ll be the feature of that.”
Catz won’t have to shoulder the offensive load alone. Hampton Bays returns an All-County fullback in senior Cody Nolan, who will also lead the charge on defense as a middle linebacker.
“He’s right there with Taylor as far as leadership goes,” Oestreicher said. “He’s an integral part of what we do on both sides of the ball.”
Cavanaugh will be crucial as well. The three-year varsity player will start at tight end and play strong side linebacker. Oestreicher has high hopes for Cavanaugh as well.
“He’s had a good two years, but we’re looking for something special out of him,” Oestreicher said. “This should be the year where he really blossoms.”
Oestreicher said the combination of Catz, Nolan and Cavanaugh should give opposing defenses fits.
“Taylor is the center of what we do, but Taylor doesn’t do anything if Cody’s not blocking for him,” the coach said. “Ryan is a vertical threat down field; he’s one of the bigger kids on the field. And Taylor can do everything. Cody blocks well and runs between the tackles very well. They do different things that will help us be successful.”
Taking over for Carbone under center will be senior Ryan Palazzolo. While this will be his first year starting, it is his third year on varsity and he got plenty of snaps last year.
“He’ll help us get first downs,” Oestreicher said. “He’s got a lot of playing experience, and with three years in our system, he’s familiar with what we do. We expect him to be able to run the offense pretty efficiently.”
Senior Darrell Galicia is another key returnee. He’ll anchor the offensive line as the left tackle, moving there after playing center last year, and will also start at defensive end. Senior Joe Veeck will play offensive guard and linebacker, getting converted from the fullback position. Junior Josue Monroy will play back-up tailback and be key on defense as well.
On defense, Oestreicher expects Nolan to be the leader, and said Catz will be a “lockdown” corner.
Oestreicher said that while he lost a lot of leadership when Sokol and Lane exited, he expects his veteran players to pick up the slack.
“I have three guys now who have tons of playoff experience,” he said. “This group of seniors, every year they’ve played they’ve been in the playoffs. So, they’ve only really tasted success, which I’d like to think will breed more success.”
Success is certainly the expectation, not only in the Baymen locker room but around the division. Hampton Bays was seeded fifth in the preseason, the highest seeding the team has received since 2005. With the high seeding comes a tough schedule; the Baymen will take on Elwood/John Glenn, Babylon, Mount Sinai and Shoreham. Oestreicher said he expects Babylon, the top seed, to be head and shoulders above the rest of the squads, and he expects Mount Sinai, the second seed, to be tough as well. The teams ranked third through seventh—Shoreham, Glenn, Hampton Bays, Mercy and Bayport/Blue Point—should be evenly matched, he said. Mercy upset Hampton Bays in the first round of the playoffs last year.
Oestreicher projected that his team should have a relatively easy time going 4-4 this year. But he added that if the Baymen want to earn a home playoff game, and face an opponent they have a good chance of beating in the first round of the playoffs, they need to be better than a .500 team.
“If we go 4-4, we’d probably be a five or six seed in the playoffs,” he said. “If you want to get back to the championship level, you’ve got to find a way to win some of those other four games.”
Hampton Bays will open the season at Glenn on Thursday, September 12, at 4:30 p.m. and will host Port Jefferson under the lights on its new turf field for its home opener on Friday, September 20, at 7 p.m. Thanks to the new permanent lights, which were added this year along with the turf field, Hampton Bays will play all of its home games on Friday nights.