HIGHLAND – They simply couldn’t do it well enough. They weren’t good enough; weren’t coordinated enough; hadn’t practiced enough.
Faced with an obstacle, the Highland High School football team struggled mightily, and the Huskies lacked the rhythm or consistency to maintain pace.
Before the fall season even begins, there is one thing of which we can be certain: This team won’t be winning a Double Dutch competition any time soon.
“Not many of us were good at it,” senior Michael Malheiro said of jumping rope. “We’d get to like six (skips) and the rope would hit our feet.”
During preseason practice, Highland had its football players compete in an obstacle course. There were sprints, a cone drill, flipping over a truck tire. All that stuff was fine — common feats of agility and strength the team often displays. But that jump rope?
“I would bet most of us haven’t jumped rope since middle school,” linebacker Jason Chlus said. “The last time I did it was for the ‘Jump Rope for Heart’ fundraiser in junior high.”
Lucky for them, the football season won’t require much of that. But, in order for the season to be a successful one, it will require more than they were able to put forth a year ago.
The Huskies, after having been title contenders for years, meandered in a 4-6 campaign. Then longtime head coach Carl Relyea retired, replaced by former assistant coach John McFarland.
Relyea now is an assistant football coach at Poughkeepsie High School, under his son, Matt Relyea.
“I think we’re gonna be good, in part because of how we did last year,” senior Isiah Daubon said. “We’re not used to losing like that and what happened then is definitely motivation for us now.”
Daubon’s role is among the key changes. A quarterback as a junior, he enters this season as a position-less Weapon X. His talents, McFarland said, will best be utilized as a jack-of-all-trades. Daubon will contribute at wide receiver, running back, kick returner, defensive back and, perhaps in some personnel packages or on trick plays, quarterback. Not that the Huskies would confirm that, of course.
(There is a competition for starting quarterback, but Highland also was mum about whom the frontrunner might be.)
Change isn’t foreign to Daubon, though. He was a running back as a sophomore. And in baseball — the sport for which he recently committed to play at Sacred Heart University — he is primarily an outfielder but has experience at all other positions.
“This isn’t that big an adjustment for me because with the injuries we had last season, in the last few games I was doing a lot of things and we had to improvise,” he said. “I’ll miss (playing quarterback), but I’ll still have an impact.”
The Huskies hope the fresh start, and the changes, rejuvenates them. It helps, too, that they return a strong senior core that includes talented linemen Frank Alfonso Jr. and Will Sickles, receiver Anthony Hegedus and linebacker Larry Oliver.
Malheiro will likely be another player in the “slash” role, as in running back/quarterback/cornerback.
As well, they said they have adjusted to having McFarland as coach and lauded his organizational skills— even Malheiro, who after practice on Friday had to drop and give the coach 20 for an infraction.
“It’s a new system with some different techniques,” said McFarland, who was an assistant under Relyea for eight seasons and is also the head coach of the wrestling team. “But the kids have been studious and absorbed everything.”
The Huskies will get their first chance to showcase what they’ve learned in a multi-team scrimmage on Saturday at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School. Dover and Millbrook will be among the teams involved.
“It’s gonna be exciting to finally get to go against some different uniforms,” Chlus said.
Highland opens the regular season on Sept. 2 on the road against Sullivan West, a game for which planning begins on Monday, McFarland said. The following week presents what could be an early litmus test against Red Hook.
“We’re here to work and win,” Malheiro said. “We don’t want to have another season like last year.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4