By Joseph Wolkin
Ward Melville’s football team lost four key members during the offseason, each departing for collegiate play at a Division II or Division III school.
The Patriots will be without quarterback Matt O’Hea, linebacker Patrick Morelli, defensive end Tom Lorusso and running back Nick Cervone in 2016, leaving major holes in the team’s roster.
However, for head coach Chris Boltrek, who enters his third year at the helm of the Patriots, improving on last year’s 5-3 record is the goal.
“Our expectations are pretty high,” Boltrek said. “We received the No. 3 seed out of 14 teams in the division. That shows everybody that the coaches in our league see us as being a pretty good team. Our expectations are to live up to those standards.”
Despite losing four seniors, 22 seniors return to the Patriots this year, making them a title contender after finishing 2015 tied for third in the division with Northport and Connetquot.
With O’Hea’s departure, Ward Melville looks to replace the young man who threw for 1,933 yards last year, good enough for 11th in New York.
“We return a lot of out skill players — key players from last year’s team after getting a year of experience under their belt,” the coach said. “I think this is a team with a lot of potential.”
Senior Wesley Manning will receive the majority of playing time at quarterback, with junior Peyton Capizzi beginning to show off his skills in preparation for his senior year. Manning enters this season with six pass attempts on his resume, featuring four completions for 79 yards, including a 19-yard pass for a touchdown against Northport.
In addition to a new quarterback, Boltrek is prepared to evaluate the team’s surplus of returning players.
“Our biggest strength, really, is we’re returning real football kids, even though they might play other sports,” he said. “They just love football, and when you have that mentality, coupled with their skill and athleticism, that’s a real strength and asset.”
The team’s wide receiver core remains largely unchanged for 2016.
Senior Eddie Munoz, an All-State honorable mention, is coming off a year that featured eight touchdown catches along with a total of 516 receiving yards. He will also continue to be a safety for the team after intercepting three passes last year in addition to piling up 41 tackles.
Fellow senior John Corpac is back as a wideout for the Patriots. After catching seven touchdown passes last year, the first-time All-Division receiver looks to lead the team’s offense.
As the Patriots look to move from being a solid playoff contender to one that’s in the title hunt, Boltrek said he believes there is still work that needs to be done to bring Ward Melville to the next level.
“I think the biggest thing is we need our offensive line to gel at the beginning of the season,” Boltrek said. “Last year, our offensive line was young. We had a junior playing center and two other linemen who were sophomores. The two other guys were seniors, but they were both first-year starters. This year, we’re sort of lucky that we get our center back to have a senior at the middle of the line. Stability and continuity is what we’re doing up front. It’ll be huge for us during the season.”