By Joseph Wolkin
The Newfield football squad cruised through the season in 2015, going undefeated for the first time in school history and winning the Long Island Class II football title.
Led by seniors Elijah Riley, Jelani Greene, Dylan Ferrari and Ryan Klemm, the Wolverines powered their way to a Long Island championship victory against MacArthur. The triumph, however, was just the start of a busy few months for the team’s leaders, who have all signed to battle on the gridiron at the next level. It’s a huge feat considering how far the team has come in the last several years, to get back to the championship form it first saw back in 2011, when the Wolverines brought home the first Long Island championship title in program history.
“They are right up there with the best players,” longtime head coach Joe Piccininni said of the 2011 team. “They were a ground-and-pound team. They would just keep coming after you and they wouldn’t stop. This year’s team was physical, but they didn’t need to be that physical because they had more finesse.”
Riley signed with the United States Military Academy, joining the Army West Point Black Knights football squad. The cornerback and wide receiver won the Hansen Award for most outstanding player from the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association after racking up 1,727 total yards in his senior year, including 1,012 rushing yards with 19 touchdowns. Being on the receiving end of an additional 11 touchdowns, he led the team in both categories, becoming the team’s most explosive offensive weapon, according to Piccininni.
“On the field, he is a football player,” the head coach said of Riley. “He understands the offense and defense. He can be electric at times and he can be physical at times — he does everything well. He understands the game of football; he knows his surroundings. He knows the different situations and knows what’s needed to move forward.”
During the championship game against MacArthur, Riley took a knee 6 yards from the end zone with 50 seconds remaining on the clock to limit the time MacArthur would have to tie the game. It was a heads-up play that exhibited his smarts, which went along nicely with his pair of touchdowns, that helped the Wolverines win 41-33.
In Piccininni’s mind, it wasn’t the touchdowns that stood out.
“He did the right thing, and it shows his character when he took a knee,” he said. “That shows what kind of person he is. What really helped was him staying calm week to week and focusing on each opponent. He was great because the team would follow his lead.”
For Riley, the performance in the championship game was just one of many that set the standard prior to his signing with Army. He caught at least one touchdown in nine of the team’s 12 matchups, in addition to rushing for multiple touchdowns in seven games.
On the defensive side of the ball, Riley led the team with 45 solo tackles, along with three interceptions, which resulted in him receiving the Tom Cassese Award, presented to Suffolk’s top defensive back.
Greene signed to play at the University of New Hampshire this fall. He will be playing wide receiver for head coach Sean McDonnell.
At Newfield, Greene was second to Riley with 685 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
“Jelani is one of the top receivers on Long Island,” Piccininni said of Greene, who earned the National Football Foundation Award as Suffolk’s top wide receiver. “His ability to go up and get the ball made him another one who put his team first. He’d be one of the first ones out there on the field, running his routes before practice and taking care of the little things.”
Greene was also a key member of the Newfield’s special teams unit. Serving as the punter, he averaged 36.4 yards on 11 tries. He chipped in five returns, with a long of 90 yards.
“It felt good to go into a system that didn’t have much success the previous year, so everyone was hungry, looking to step up, compete and win games,” Greene said. “They were looking at me for answers and it was a lot of pressure. I knew coming into the season that I was going to be one of the guys they were going to depend on, and I learned how to be a leader and be humble. I learned to be more appreciative of the success I had. It takes more than being just a good football player to succeed.”
Greene started his high school career playing for Longwood, but transferred to Newfield ahead of his senior year. The switch allowed him to play a more pivotal role than if he stayed at Longwood.
“It was a nightmare, but it was a blessing in disguise,” he said.
At New Hampshire, he’ll spend time as a slot receiver and on the outside, along with what he says he loves most — the return game.
Ferrari is heading to SUNY Cortland, where he will be competing for a starting defensive end job.
At Newfield, he led the team with 18 tackles for loss in his senior year; he had 71 total tackles including 32 solo.
“Dylan was a two-way starter for us at the line,” Piccininni said. “Defense is his better part of the game. He has a real ability to turn it on during a game. He has a lot of athleticism for a lineman … of his size. He utilizes his athleticism extremely well.”
Ferrari played through a broken left thumb during the semifinal game against North Babylon, showcasing his ability to push through the pain barrier during the final two games of the season.
With three multi-sack games on the year, Ferrari caught the attention of SUNY Cortland’s head coach, Dan MacNeill.
“He is really a terrific football player,” MacNeill said. “What we do is try to project the young men that can come in and try to make us better, and Dylan was one of those players we looked at on film. You take a look at his size at 6 feet, 2 inches, 240 pounds and he has a great ability to pass-rush, which really speaks to athleticism. You just can’t teach that kind of stuff.”
Ferrari was named the Rob Burnett Award winner this past season, which recognizes the top defensive player in Suffolk County. He had a team-high nine sacks on the year, racking up 14 total in his two seasons with the Wolverines.
Klemm will be playing quarterback at the University of Delaware come August.
Klemm was among the best quarterbacks in New York state, ranking fifth in total yards from scrimmage with over 2,400 and second in total touchdowns with 31. He threw just one interception all season. It came during the second game of the year against Half Hollow Hills West.
With a 68.1 percent completion rate his senior year, Klemm caught the attention of Blue Hens head coach Dave Brock. However, with three quarterbacks already on the team, he will have to work his way up the depth chart.
Each player knows they’ll have at least one supporter pulling for them — their head coach at Newfield High School.