Fort Hamilton rebounds from dismal season with strong 2-0 start
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
They were once the standard by which other budding Public School Athletic League programs were measured.
The Fort Hamilton Tigers captured three city championships in six years under two head coaches, including the first-ever title game played at the new Yankee Stadium under then first-year coach Daniel Perez, a former defensive assistant for legendary program founder Vincent Laino.
The Tigers produced several Division I players during their historic run, and even sent current Jets safety Jaiquan Jarrett to the NFL following a standout career at Temple University.
But something went amiss for “Tiger Football!” over the past several seasons as Perez's once-unbeatable team has taken a slow and steady fall in the PSAL rankings.
After going 13-0 and winning it all during Perez’s initial season at the helm, the Fort won seven games in 2011 as the Lincoln Railsplitters, whom the Tigers beat 8-6 in that memorable inaugural Yankee Stadium championship game, gripped the PSAL Trophy in the Bronx that winter.
In 2012, the Tigers fell on even harder times, managing just one win -- a 19-18 triumph over Grand Street that helped them avert a winless season -- and missed out on the PSAL playoffs all together as Erasmus rose to the top at "The House That George Built."
“It was a very big learning experience," Perez told the Eagle on Wednesday from his office at the Bay Ridge school. "I’ve never been part of a season like that at Fort Hamilton. We learned from it and we improved. We have a young team and we’re going through some growing pains.”
They're also starting to re-direct some of that pain toward their opponents.
Buoyed by the emergence of sophomore quarterback Sharif Harris, the Tigers (2-0) have already surpassed their 2012 win total with a perfect start to what they hope will be another championship-caliber campaign.
Harris completed 21-of-36 passes for 274 yards and two touchdowns in back-to-back victories over Brooklyn Tech (36-21) and John Adams (28-0) to kick off the season. He's also rushed the ball 15 times for 83 yards and another TD, as well as a two-point conversion.
“He’s a dynamic football player, with his legs and his arms," Perez said of Harris, who went 13-for-30 with 157 passing yards and 61 more on the ground in last Sunday's home-opening shutout of Adams. "If he continues playing great and improving, there’s no limit (to how far he can take us).”
Being a defensive assistant under Laino during the Tigers' back-to-back championship seasons in 2005 and 2006, Perez knows that his team's success will ultimately depend on stopping powerhouse offenses like the ones they will face in the weeks ahead.
Namely an Oct. 6 showdown with reigning city champion Erasmus at Sid Luckman Field.
“The defense is key. The defense keeps us in games," Perez said of the unit that has surrendered 21 points in the first eight quarters of the season while limiting Adams to 37 total yards on Sunday. "We’re just working to improve every day.”
Perez also admitted that winning a title in his first season after enjoying continual success as an assistant with the program he once suited up for left him a bit crestfallen after the Tigers sunk to the bottom of the City Championship Division last winter.
"After going through a season like that it really [brings] the focus back. The winning was kind of easy," he noted. "To go through a season like that really makes you step back.”
One big step back has resulted in two very important steps forward thus far this year as the Tigers appear poised to once again pose a challenge to the city's title contenders.
But Perez isn't getting ahead of himself just yet.
“Right now it’s still too early," Perez warned. "I have a good group of leaders. We’ll go as far as they take us. ... It’s one game at a time. We just went back to basics [this year]. We have Curtis coming up [Saturday at Fort Hamilton Field], which is going to be a big game for us. We’re very excited about the season."
That excitement would be heightened if the Tigers can get past the Warriors, who are doubtlessly looking to rebound from a season-opening 42-6 home pounding at the hands of the Railsplitters two weekends ago.
With the last two city champions -- Erasmus and Lincoln -- circled on their schedule, the Tigers have to be wary of slipping before they get a chance to knock off their long-time inter-borough adversaries.
“We played Lincoln in the championship (in 2010) and then they took it," Perez recalled. "I know we’re all going to play each other later on. There’s definitely a rivalry, but we have to focus on this week."
Whether they're ready to reclaim the PSAL Trophy in December or not, the Tigers have certainly gone a long way toward re-establishing themselves on the city's football landscape.
The “Eye of the Tiger” is back in Bay Ridge, and Perez and his young, blossoming unit hope to keep that eye focused week after week in pursuit of the program's former glory.
In other PSAL action from last weekend, the reigning champion Dutchmen (2-0) remained atop the rankings with a 20-0 blanking of upset-minded Boys and Girls.
Ohio State-bound running back Curtis Samuel rushed for a pair of scores and fellow senior Kahlil Lewin added a TD run as the dynamic duo combined for over 200 yards against the overmatched Kangaroos (1-1).
"We're happy with the win, we just feel like we could have done better in the first half and even in the second half," admitted Samuel.
"We could have put up more points and done way better. Our coach [Danny Landberg] knows that we're better than how we played. We can't play to the talent of the team we're facing, we have to play to our talent."
New Utrecht continued to pronounce itself as an early season contender with a 16-0 blanking of Canarsie in Bensonhurst last Friday.
The Utes (2-0), 24-12 winners over JFK in Week One, received a brilliant performance at the helm from junior quarterback Angelo Carrera, who completed all but one of his 11 pass attempts for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior tailback Jaleel Brown rumbled for 101 yards on 25 carries for New Utrecht, which went 5-3 last season before dropping a 22-20 nail-biter to Curtis in the opening round of the playoffs.
"Going into the season, we thought we had a pretty good team and needed to stay healthy," Utes coach Alan Balkan said. "Right now we're healthy. 2-0 is much better than 0-2. Next week we play Wagner [1-1] and we know they have a good football team."
Lincoln (2-0) resumed its quest for the conference's top spot with an impressive 44-8 thrashing of Sheepshead Bay (0-2) on Saturday.
Senior signal-caller Javon Moore enjoyed a near-perfect game, going 11-for-13 for 203 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions from the pocket while rushing for another score as the 'Splitters extended their season-opening point differential to a staggering 86-14.
Next up for Lincoln is Friday night's visit to 2012 PSAL runner-up Tottenville in Staten Island. That contest will be one of two featured as the Eagle's Game of the Week via Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Eagle Sports blog http://brooklyneaglesports.com/sports/2013/09/hs-game-of-the-week-no-2-l....
In other local high school sports news, the Brooklyn Friends girls' varsity soccer team began defense of its Independent School Athletic League title with a 3-0 victory over the French American School on Monday afternoon.
Freshman sensation Halima Matthews scored all three goals for the Panthers, who averted some early scares from the game French American squad before settling into dominant form in their first full contest without last year's senior star Janna Joassainte.
Junior Aoife Henchy had an assist for BFS, which earned some praise from coach Gary Lawson.
"We certainly rode our luck in the 1st half. French American could have been 2-0 up if it wasn't for the crossbar and post," Lawson noted. "Our defense played well and managed to block at least five shots too. The second half was much better in terms of retaining possession and making more intelligent decisions. French American are a good team and we were somewhat fortunate to not concede, but we succeeded in keeping a clean sheet so that is a positive. ... and in Halima we have one of the top strikers in the region."