By Bill Landon
With five key starters returning, Northport’s varsity football team looks to mix experience with a young rookie quarterback with the hope of making a deeper playoff run this season.
Head coach Kip Lukralle is entering his 31st season with the Tigers, and will lean on key seniors to set the example and to provide the leadership it takes to make another run at the postseason. Last year, the team made it to the semifinal round of the Suffolk County championship.
Returning starter Frankie Stola, a wide receiver, is an All-Division player who will threaten deep down the field. Ryan Elliott, also an All-Division returnee, will handle the running back duties and follow the holes opened by returning lineman Johnny Milanesi.
The trio of seniors will set the tone for the Tigers this season.
“We have strength from the quarterback position and in our skill positions — we’re set [there],” Elliott said. “But we’ll have to work on discipline — staying on sides and our offensive line will be our strength.”
Returning starter Sam Gozelski, a junior, along with senior center and defensive tackle Dylan Keller-Adelman will add balance on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Junior Ryan Walsh will have big shoes to fill in his first year on varsity at the starting quarterback position, but Lukralle likes what he’s seen so far.
“Ryan Walsh has the potential to be very, very good,” he coach. “You’ve got to see this kid throw the ball.”
The 6-foot, 2-inch the 180-pound rookie will be put to the test when the team hits the road to take on Ward Melville in the season opener on Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m.
“We’re a senior-dominated team so we have the leadership and this team has been to the playoffs,” Walsh said. “I’ve been working with these guys in the offseason to build chemistry and get the timing down, and I feel very comfortable.”
Lukralle said he’s concerned about the rash of injuries in the last three or four practices, as he pointed to half a dozen wounded players watching practice from the sidelines, some of whom were on crutches, but said he was hopeful they’d be ready for the opener.
“We’re returning five starters from last year,” the head coach said. “We lost some key people [to graduation], but we have kids who have stepped up. We have decent depth [if we’re healthy].”
Stola said he is also confident in the retuning Tigers.
“Our team has really come together in the last week — you can see it,” he said. “On offense and defense we have a lot of guys coming back so we have experience. We were in the county semifinals last year so we know how to win, and we know what to do in the playoffs.”
Milanesi said he’s happy with the progress made this early in the season, but was most excited about his team’s offensive weapons.
“I’m happy with our quarterback,” he said. “He’s young and he’s gotta cannon.”