Automotive’s first varsity season could have easily been its last. Four years ago, the Pistons went 0-10 in their debut and scored a total of one touchdown the entire season. Coach Haseeb Khawaja, the program’s architect, had more than a few doubts.
“Doubts? Every practice was a doubt,” he said. “We realized that we had a great bunch of kids, but we didn’t have too many football players. It quickly became about keeping everybody together. The biggest achievement that year was not the one touchdown, [it] was that we started with 36 kids and ended with 36 kids.”
The following year, Automotive went 2-8 and was far more competitive. Then, the Pistons went 6-3 and made the Cup division playoffs. Before last season, Khawaja wanted to move up to the Bowl division.
“We knew at that point we were ready for the next challenge,” he said. “But we said let’s take a shot at winning the championship.”
Automotive ended up going 10-0 during the regular season before falling to South Bronx, 15-14, in the Cup championship game. Now, the Pistons are officially a Level 3 team, a step closer to the goal of playing in the City Championship division.
Personnel numbers are excellent after last season’s success and the JV program has lost one game in the last three years. Automotive has come a long way.
“It’s something that we never forget, because that’s where we came from,” Khawaja said. “But in many ways it seems like a lifetime ago.”
The coach is cautiously optimistic about his team’s first foray in the Bowl division. Automotive won’t have a true quarterback after two potential signal callers left the school unexpectedly. As a result, Giovanni Flores, Ashaad Thornton and Dwon Williams are competing for the job.
What the Pistons will have is speed and athleticism, their bread and butter. The secondary is going to be quick, led by safety Gregory Dominick, who Khawaja expects to play college football somewhere. Kareem Flatts, another speed merchant, will be Automotive’s top corner and play a little Wildcat on offense.
“QB is not our strongest position, so we’re making every option that’s available to us ready,” Khawaja said.
Middle linebacker/offensive lineman Raheem Barnes, described as the ideal student-athlete by the coach, will be an anchor on offense and an impact player on defense. More than anything, though, Automotive is a team that should be greater than the sum of its parts.
“If my 11 guys play as a unit, they’re better than any other 11 guys,” Khawaja said. “It’s just individuals performing to the best of their abilities in a team framework. I believe if our 11 want it more than the other 11, we’ll have a successful year.”
That means a record greater than .500 and a possible playoff berth. When he started the program from scratch seven years ago, the coach had a 10-year plan for breaking into the City Championship division. Khawaja is trying to follow the framework of his alma mater St. Peter’s Prep (N.J.) and legendary coach Rich Hansen. This far, he said Automotive is ahead of schedule in its development.
“We’re gonna represent our school extremely well in the Bowl division,” he said. “We’re gonna represent Brooklyn well. I’m confident that we’re gonna play our kind of football. We’re not gonna win all our games like we did last year, but we’re gonna win our fair share.”