When asked about his team’s expectations for the season, senior quarterback and co-captain Alen Makhmudov said, “championship or bust”—a lofty goal for a team that finished last season with a mediocre 5-4 record. Makhmudov even went on to say that he didn’t feel the team had any weaknesses (albeit with the qualifier that some could show up in a later scrimmage).
Yet, in defense of his questionable predictions, Makhmudov is no stranger to success. In 2010, he led the junior varsity to an undefeated season and he believes that he can apply those same leadership skills to the varsity team now that he is entrenched as the starter. While Makhmudov was highly inconsistent last season—finishing the year with 6 touchdowns and 12 interceptions—Head Coach Mark Strasser is confident that his quarterback can carry the Peglegs this fall. Strasser singled out Makhmudov as one of the four most impressive players during summer practice. He said, “Alen has done an amazing job he’s improved a lot from last year.”
Makhmudov’s improvements aside, the primary reason for optimism seems to be the team’s new spread offense. Strasser sounded ecstatic when discussing the spread, describing it as “a hurry-up offense.”
“We are trying to rush to the line and we are calling and adjusting plays on the line, rather then huddling up, to keep people honest and on their heels,” he said.
Strasser was also amazed by the speed at which his team picked up the new offense. He said, “[The staff] put in the spread in 7 days, and it’s like we’ve been running it for two years.”
The keys to successfully running hurry-up spread offense are superior conditioning and talented skill position players (quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers). The Peglegs appear to be set on both counts. Makhmudov stated that the team went above and beyond to get into excellent shape this offseason. Many of the players went to non-mandatory PSAL run workouts known as the Big Apple Games to improve their conditioning over the summer. He also said that out of his three trips to what’s known as “Hell Week” at Camp Scatico over his years at Stuyvesant, this year’s was by far the toughest. If the team is able to maintain their fitness level, they’re going to be able to win games by simply wearing down the opposition.
Strasser believes that his skill position players are one of his team’s greatest strengths, and the statistics seem to back up this claim. Senior wide out and co-captain Nathaniel Biggs (who also plays linebacker) finished last season with over 300 yards receiving and two touchdowns—earning the trust of Makhmudov, who said he would target Biggs any time he had single coverage. Makhmudov also went on record that wide receiver Mike Mazzeo has been the most impressive junior in camp.
A football team’s greatest asset is its experience and the Peglegs have an abundance of it. They return 15 starters from last season and according to Strasser, only lost three to four significant contributors. Not only are the players experienced, but they’ve also adjusted to the new offense and are keeping the same base 4-3 defense.
Despite the excitement over the new offense, Strasser described the defense as the “strongest part of the team.” This is due in part to the aforementioned consistency of the scheme, but also because of the play of star linebackers Biggs and senior and co-captain Jack Haggerty. Both players were praised by Strasser for their leadership and by Makhmudov for their tackling abilities.
Strasser believes that the 2012 team is better than the 2011 team, and stated that the current version is “most definitely” a playoff team. The core of this team is primarily the same group of players that made up the undefeated 2010 JV team. The bottom line is that these athletes have played together for four years and they know how to win. While they may not fulfill Makhmudov’s “championship or bust” proclamation, there are plenty of reasons for optimism around Pier 40 this year.