Two years ago, the Manhasset football team reached the heights every Long Island team strives for: county champs.
Manhasset rose up thanks to a veteran squad that battled through the 2020 COVID season and triumphed over all comers in its class to win its first county crown in a quarter-century.
That team had a ton of returning starters, a veteran head coach in Jay Iaquinta who’s now won more than 200 games in his career, and a promising young group ready to help out.
One thing that team did not have, though? County powerhouses Garden City and Mepham on the schedule.
After another solid 5-4 season in 2022, Manhasset has been moved up from Conference 3 to Conference 2, and Iaquinta knows that will be a big challenge.
“Top to bottom (Conference 3) was tough, but this new league is very, very good at the top,” Iaquinta said as he prepared for the official start of practice, which is Aug. 19 this year. “We know we’re going to be playing a lot of very tough teams, but I feel really good about our team.”
Those positive vibes stem from the fact that Manhasset has nine returning starters on offense. One of those two new faces is at quarterback, where junior Drew Schwartz, a starter on JV last season, takes over for the graduated star Matt Cargiulo.
Schwartz, who like his predecessor spent the winter working with ex-Oceanside and NFL standout Jay Fiedler, is a converted wide receiver who’ll have to master Manhasset’s triple-option attack.
“You’re involved in every single play and having to make a few decisions on every single play,” Schwartz said. “You’re reading the linemen, you’re reading their linebackers, you’re seeing where all your guys are as the play is developing. It’s a lot but I feel very ready to step up.”
Getting to work with Fiedler, a longtime friend of Iaquinta’s who has worked with Manhasset QBs in the past, was eye-opening for Schwartz.
“Just everything he was teaching me about footwork, mechanics, making reads, he’s done it at the highest level and knows exactly what he’s talking about,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz will be helped by a fleet of offensive weapons, led by senior fullbacks Jack Mulholland (a Dartmouth commit for lacrosse) and Kiante Blacknall.
Mulholland, also a linebacker on defense, is a bruising back who his teammates say is very tough to bring down.
“He’s a great leader and is a load trying to tackle him; it’s not fun trying to do it in practice,” said senior safety Brian Fleck.
Mulholland heaped praise on his offensive teammates and raved about Schwartz’s potential.
“He’s a very composed guy, doesn’t get rattled by much,” Mulholland said. “He’s got a great arm and is very smart with the ball. He’s going to be great for us.”
The Manhasset offensive line is led by three-year starters Tristan Chang and Tyler Giacobbe, while speedy wing backs/wide receivers Atif Heathington and Eddie Farkouh will be carrying the ball and making tacklers miss.
“I think we’re going to put up more points this year than last because everyone has a year of experience and our weapons are all better and faster,” Iaquinta said.
Defensively, Manhasset is led by Mulholland, who had 78 tackles in 2022, and Fleck; the latter is a second-year starter described by his coach as the “brains of our operation on defense.”
Fleck will be aided by fellow DBs Heathington and Cole Purcell, and Fleck said he’s seen big growth from the whole defense in the offseason.
“We’ve got so many guys who’ve been through the battles and are tougher because of it, and everybody has come back serious and ready to have a great season,” Fleck said. “We know that there are very tough teams in (our new conference), so we’re definitely going to have to play very well to win. But we’re confident we’re going to be a really good team.”
Manhasset starts the season earlier than some teams, with a home game on Sept. 1, meaning it’ll have only two full weeks of practice before getting going for real.
“It’s a challenge but having so many guys back makes that a little easier,” Mulholland said. “A lot of games last year, we were close but couldn’t quite finish. This year we’ve got all the pieces we need.”
Manhasset 2023 schedule:
9/1: vs. MacArthur, 7 p.m.
9/8: vs. Herricks, 7 p.m.
9/14: at Jericho, 5 p.m.
9/23: at Elmont, 2 p.m.
9/30: vs. Mepham, 2 p.m.
10/7: at Calhoun, 3 p.m.
10/13: vs. Garden City, 6 p.m.
10/26: at Carey, 6 p.m.