2007-08-31 / Sports

Optimistic Seahorses Search For Football Answers

By Elio Velez

Walter Wilkerson, the head coach of the Far Rockaway varsity football team, is feverishly preparing for the 2007 high school season.

One slight problem Wilkerson is having while conducting pre-season practices in the past week and a half.

Sometimes he doesn't have enough football players to execute the gameplan he has devised.

On occasion, there might be only 20 Seahorses players during practice, which is enough, but it doesn't leave much room for an error if an injury occurs to a player.

But the gameplan is not on focusing on the numbers. That might be an issue but what the second year head coach won't do is use the number of players on his roster as an excuse. Wilkerson has an important job this year to mold a young team which is trying to erase the remnants of a subpar 2-7 season in 2006.

"It can make it hard to run a practice. It's a bit challenging. I know that we'll get a 25-man roster," Wilkerson said. "But it was a problem last year with the declining numbers (in the school)."

On the field, Wilkerson says an infusion of talent from the JV team that 7-1 last year and featuring returning stars, running back Davonne Gittens and defensive lineman Earl Armstrong.

"We are more athletic in the backfield. We're a quicker team than last year. But we're a smaller team," Wilkerson said.

They'll remain in the city championship division as a #3 rated team but the only opponent that will be a 5 rated team on the schedule will be on Saturday, September 8 against Midwood. That happens to be the first game of the new campaign.

Far Rockaway will mainly focus on running the ball on offense, as they try to offset the losses of leading receivers Ednut Egberongbe and David Lawson. They also lost experience on the offensive and defensive line.

Gittens took over the starting spot last year, was effective in running for 947 yards and should get most of the carries this year.

For a change of pace at runningback, Craig Gulledge moves up from the junior varsity and Gregory Ibe should also see time.

Wilkerson says that his team must use their athleticism to remain competitive and hopes to avoid the injury bug.

On the issue of numbers, Wilkerson should get an influx of new arrivals once the academic school year begins on Tuesday. It might be a small influx though.

Far Rockaway's school attendance has declined in the past 10 years and the expected turnout of 900 students this fall is small, compared to the 1400 students, who typically enrolled in the mid-1990's.

A reorganization plan by the Department of Education three years ago now has Far Rockaway sharing space in the building with another high school, Frederick Douglass Academy VI and a middle school, KAPPA VI (Knowledge as Power Preparatory Academy).

Though the 400 students attending FDA VI are able to play on Far Rockaway's athletic sports programs, there is still a small pool of athletes available, which can be a major issue.

Wilkinson is stressing optimism, instead of focusing on the negative. While he prepares his team for the gridiron, the head coach cites a number of factors that could increase the talent pool in the next few years.

"Right now I don't know what the future holds, but I'm just hoping in the next few years, the school will keep growing, the neighborhood is growing and the kids will need a school to go to," Wilkinson said.

It should also give his team the chance to compete in the PSAL and win.

"I know that this school is not the only one that has these problems. I hope it's just a phase and one day we can have a team where we can have 30 or 35 players on the roster and 20-25 on the junior varsity."

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