Midwood had just beaten James Madison handily and was in the throes of a wild celebration, thinking it had not only dispatched its bitter rival but made the playoffs in the process. Soon, exhilaration turned too demoralization when coach Steve Basile gave his team the bad news – it had fallen five power points short of the postseason, snapping a four-year run of reaching the Public School Athletic League’s top-level playoffs.
“We thought we were in the playoffs, but Sheepshead Bay took our spot,” senior Mohamed Bilal recalled. “We were very disappointed.”
Dejection didn’t last long — not for Bilal and not for his teammates. The offseason was spent in the weight room, preparing for this coming season. Bilal used the summer to showcase his abilities at various camps, going to Syracuse, Temple, Connecticut, Stony Brook, Maryland, Delaware, Wagner College and Pennsylvania, and now has interest from a handful of Division I-A and College Football Subdivision teams.
“Ever since that last game, we’ve said we need to get back into the playoffs,” said the senior two-way lineman with a B average who only started playing football when he got to Midwood.
His presence will go a long way to ensuring the Hornets’ success. When he sprained his ankle last year, the team struggled.
Basile thinks his team’s greatest strength is on the defense, particularly in his front four, which is spearheaded by the 6-foot-6, 290-pound Bilal and Vlasnim Huseinovic, another returning starter. Noel Gordon, eligible after a year away from the team, will join them up front at defensive end; Mack McGuinness, has impressed coaches at middle linebacker despite his lithe 5-foot-7 frame; and Marquise Pavrette will also be a factor at outside linebacker.
The offense is a work in progress, even though Bilal returns at tackle, Pavrette is back at guard and running back Matthew Ferere and fullback Nick Perpignan (229 yards, three touchdowns) fill out an experienced unit. Basile said it isn’t official yet, but sophomore Kamron Raja seems to have won the quarterback competition because of his big arm, accuracy and knowledge of the Hornets’ Delaware Wing-T system. Raja wasn’t in the program last year — he played Pop Warner instead — but he has shown to be wise beyond his years.
“The biggest thing that I like is his willingness to accept any criticism we give him, to work extra and he’s got great tools,” Basilde said. “His ability to grasp and run our offense after only some practices in the spring and the summer, that’s what I’m most impressed with.”
With size up front, familiar running backs and Gordon a deep threat, the offense could be dangerous, depending on Raja.
“If he pans out and we’re able to protect him, I think our offense can be pretty good,” Basile said. “A lot is going to come down to what he’s gonna be able to do.”
Bilal and the team’s other 16 seniors are determined to make Midwood a winner. Last year’s 3-6 campaign didn’t sit with well with them and though the Hornets made the playoffs the year before with a 4-5 mark, they are tired of seeing a larger number on the right side of the win-loss column.
Bilal doesn’t care much about individual accomplishments such as all-city honors.
“I just want to have a winning season,” he said.