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Horsemen Striving to Take Step in Right Direction on Gridiron

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August 30, 2023

By Tom Pedulla—

In his effort to revive a once-proud football program at Sleepy Hollow High School, third-year coach Jerry Flora is encouraging players to literally take a step in the right direction. If the Horsemen are to fare well, they must turn mental sharpness into physical execution.

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“We talked all (training) camp that we’re as good as anybody we play if we step in the right direction when the play is called,” said Flora. “If we step in the wrong direction, we can’t compete with anybody.”

Much of the responsibility for getting it right will fall on senior Justin Fink, an exceptional athlete but one who has not played quarterback before. Although he was at first hesitant about taking on the position, Fink appears to be meeting the challenge.

“He’s learned what we’re doing, he understands the concept of the plays, he’s calm, he registers everything, he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Flora said. “He’s managed the position well, and that’s all we need.”

Fink is encouraged by his progress and that of the team, which drops down to Class B but still faces a demanding schedule that includes five road games. “We’ve been practicing all summer,” Fink said. “I think we’re in a pretty good place right now and I’ve been doing pretty well.”

The offense will revolve around the considerable talent of Brayden Richardson, an All-League performer with a great upside. The Horsemen received a needed lift when Evan Bowen transferred in from Paramus Catholic. He represents a significant threat and can ease pressure on Richardson.

Left tackle Tyler Valenti and right guard Damon Fedor are senior captains as is Fink and Eric Vandervort. Valenti and Fedor, a four-year starter, are mainstays in a formidable offensive line. Vandervort can and probably will play multiple positions.

Fedor is optimistic that success can start at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. “We’ve been putting in the work in the weight room all offseason,” he said. “I feel our defensive line and offensive line is stacked.”

Giulian Federici is the other captain as a junior. He is a talented two-way player who will serve as a tight end and outside linebacker.

The Horsemen will employ a 3-4 defense that will feature Jerry Amay, a nose tackle who has a chance to be a force. Safety Jerry Mejia is another key figure defensively.

Flora inherited a program in great need of rebuilding. “The mindset around here – I hate to say this – it hasn’t been a positive one,” the coach said. “So, we’re trying to do everything we can to be positive with the kids so we get a positive outcome.”

Flora is intent on building a program with staying power, so that starts at the youth level. An encouraging development is that Sleepy Hollow now has enough student-athletes to also field a junior varsity. That element, which helps greatly in player development, was missing last season.

Nothing would boost the program more than success at the varsity level. The coaching staff is working to convince players that the playoffs are attainable.

“Our number one goal as a senior class is to show these young guys how to come together,” Valenti said. “Making the playoffs would be huge.”


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