New conference, no problem.
Two years after leaving Conference I due to injury concerns and a lack of players, the Port Washington football team is back and with a vengeance: the Vikings are 2-0 to start the season, including a 19-0 shutout of Hempstead in their first game back.
“It felt good for the kids, I was happy for them,” said head coach Kevin Cloghessy. “They put in a lot of work throughout camp and they wanted to prove they can compete in Conference I.”
Cloghessy is quick to point out that the team is just two weeks in and that the players are taking the season one game at a time. Still, the team’s undefeated start is encouraging.
“We were ready to go back, and [this start to the season] is a validation of that,” said Port Washington Athletic Director Stephanie Joannon.
Three years ago Joannon was mulling the possibility of canceling the football program. After spending two years in a developmental league, Port returned to Conference I in 2014, where the Vikings went 2-6 and were outscored 225-108. In 2015, the Vikings went 1-7 and were outscored 282-46.
Other teams had bigger, faster players, and more of them. The team wasn’t just getting crushed on the scoreboard but on the field: several student athletes were believed to have suffered concussions and a few had to be taken to the emergency room. As the losses and injuries piled up, participation dropped.
After the 2015 season, Joannon laid out the options: switch leagues, cut the program down to just junior varsity, or eliminate it entirely. She said the parents and students were “unanimous” in their desire to keep the program.
The Vikings played a cobbled-together schedule in 2016 and joined the Hudson Valley League in 2017, playing teams in Westchester County. Port went a perfect 9-0.
“When I first got here, the tone on varsity was, ‘We’re a good football team,'” said Cloghessy, who joined the program as an assistant coach in 2017. “We said it didn’t really matter where and who we were playing. We are a talented team.”
Cloghessy said that last year’s success carried over to 2018.
“There’s a handful of guys who had success last year and they expected to have success this year,” he said.
One of them is senior quarterback Elliot Avidane, who has played a big part in the Vikings’ hot start. On Saturday, he threw for 77 yards and rushed for 94 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown dash that gave Port the lead over Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK with just over a minute to play. The Vikings won 13-10.
“He’s a talented kid … and he wants to keep working and get better,” Cloghessy said. “He’s been buying into what we were doing, and he has a real lead-by-example mentality.”
Avidane joined the team as a sophomore, the year after the disastrous 2015 season. He said the first year was difficult, and he said he was frustrated that other schools would look down on Port even after the Vikings went undefeated in 2017.
“People would talk down on Port because we weren’t Conference I, that the reason we played well was because we were playing these small schools in the Hudson Valley,” he said. “But we saw how we were practicing and working together … we realized we could play, and that carried over to this season.”
Avidane, who plans to play football in college, said he expects the Vikings to keep on rolling.
“We go into every game expecting to win,” he said. “We don’t care what their name is or their prestige.”
Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.