A record-breaking selection number came with some added hype for three Westhampton Beach football players.
Liam McIntyre, Jonathan Mendoza, and Edon Popi were chosen to compete in the Empire Challenge at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium June 14, where Long Island blew away New York City’s All-Star team 44-20.
“I had always hoped since I was a freshman that I would play in this game senior year,” McIntyre said. “It was a lot of fun having three of us from Westhampton Beach all on the team. It just shows the hard work our coaches and teammates are putting in at Westhampton. We are finally on the map.”
McIntyre, a 6’, 200-pound linebacker/fullback, was a “no-brainer” to be selected, according to Hurricanes head coachBryan Schaumloffel, especially because the senior was the winner of the Hansen Award, given to Suffolk County’s best player. Finishing the season covering 876 yards on 149 attempts with 15 touchdowns, McIntyre’s also a two-time first team All-State and two-time first team All-Long Island selection.
“Running out on to the field in front of all those fans was awesome,” said McIntyre, a Long Island University-commit. “It made me feel like I was back in football season, and made me realize I’m ready to do this for four more years.”
The boys received first-class treatment, which included new gear inside a decked-out locker room, and recognition during pre- and post-game ceremonies. Fans ran up asking for autographs, and came out in the hundreds to cheer on their favorite players. The game, in its 24th season, benefits the Boomer Esiason Foundation and cystic fibrosis research.
“It was one of the best two weeks I’ve ever been involved with in football,” said St. Anthony’s coach Rich Reichert, who took part in the final game of his career after 41 seasons in football. “These kids, they did everything right. They showed up for practice, they were respectful, and then they finished the deal.”
By the end of the first half, it was hardly a question whether Long Island would win. It was a matter of by how much. Long Island’s offense rolled along, accruing 450 yards on 63 plays and scoring 30 points against New York City’s defense in the first half. Long Island set the tone by scoring on each of its five first-half drives.
Mendoza, a 6’8”, 330-pound offensive tackle, was involved in multiple plays across the game to protect his teammates as they made moves toward touchdowns, including a few pancakes in the first half.
“That’s about the best play you can make as an offensive tackle,” the second-team All-Long Island and third team All-State selection said before pointing to his favorite play of the game. “On a counter to the left I had to bounce outside the gap and met the outside backer. I ended up taking him to the ground with so much momentum that we rolled once or twice before we stopped.”
“He had a great senior year and opened people’s eyes this year to who he can be as a player,” Schaumloffel said of Mendoza. “During the game he shined.”
Popi, a 5’10”, 225-pound guard, has been an integral piece of the offensive and defensive lines for the Hurricanes for the past three years, according to Schaumloffel. He’s a two-time All-County player who made second-team All-Long Island, and helped Long Island’s defense hold New York City to 122 yards on 24 plays. Playing defensive tackle, Popi grabbed a loose ball on a fumble for an extra Long Island possession.
“We’re definitely going to miss him for years to come,” the coach said. “To say that Edon has been an unsung hero for us these past two years would be an understatement.”
The three players from one team is a first for Westhampton. Most teams are lucky if one athlete is chosen to compete.
“It’s a great honor for our kids and great recognition for our program,” Schaumloffel said. “This year we had a great season and great athletes. All three of those guys have worked hard on the field and in the classroom. It was a special night for me, and I know it was a special night for them.”
Westhampton finished 8-0 in Division III and 10-1 overall, falling in the Suffolk County final to Half Hollow Hills West, 21-10. The loss snapped a 22-game win streak started in the 2017 season, where the Hurricanes won the county crown and their first Long Island championship title. According to Schaumloffel, his seniors are 33-3 in their careers.
Mendoza said the bond he’s created with his teammates have kept him coming back season after season, and what led him to decide to commit to Yale University.
“There is nothing like ending a season knowing that you will always remember the people you played with,” he said. “What I love most about the sport is the dedication it requires. Not many people can simply step onto the field and perform well — it takes hours upon hours in the weight room as well as on the turf for you to execute on game day.”
Schaumloffel said the program-first also does wonders for the in and outside of the high school. There were a number of younger kids at the game — from seventh grade on up.
“I think that provides a lot of motivation to continue the tradition and work hard and possibly compete in the game themselves,” he said.
“I was happy being supported from teammates from this season and seasons past, and I hope that we did motivate players on future teams because we showed that hard work always leads to success,” Popi added. “Playing for Westhampton has meant the world to me.”
Mendoza said he’s hoping for the same, highlighting the opportunities the program has brought his way.
“Being able to play for Westhampton has been a blessing. Wearing the Hurricane green and black is a huge beacon of pride for me,” Mendoza said. “The program has done so much for me, and I will be forever thankful for it. There is no better feeling than watching those who played with you for so many years competing alongside you one last time. And hearing the crowd cheer and seeing everyone in the stands was a breathtaking way to end my high school football career.”