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Wolves: a pack on a mission

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Every move Ed Gazzillo has made since starting the Grand Street Campus football program in 1999 was with one thing in mind: For the Wolves to be part of the PSAL’s Level 5 City Championship Division.

Nothing went according to plan in Grand Street’s first season as a 5. With an inexperienced team (they graduated 14 seniors the year before) the Wolves went 0-9, falling apart in one particular quarter every weekend. That did little to change Gazzillo’s feeling about where his program belonged.

“We wanted to be a 5, we’re a 5 program, we have 5 players,” he said. “It’s a different world, being a 5. I’m excited to be a part of it and I’m excited Grand Street is a part of it. There’s no turning back.”

The Wolves are convinced last year’s humbling season will only benefit them this fall. They grew used to the accelerated speed and intricate play calling, where quarterbacks called audibles and read defenses, and linebackers stayed at home on misdirection.

“We learned we got to work hard for what we want,” senior tailback Tyriese Defreitas said. “We can’t just go out there and expect to win.”

Defreitas noticed increased hunger in his teammates during the offseason. Everyone attended optional weightlifting sessions and the Big Apple Games. Training camp was more difficult; Gazzillo ran four practices per day.

“We had more of a sense of accountabi­lity,” senior linebacker Orlando Tulloch said. “We know what it takes to compete at that level.”

Tulloch feels there is enough talent on the defensive side of the ball to be dominant. The outside linebacker, who will be joined by Devon LaPierre and Lincoln Jacobs at his position, has noticed an edge to that side of the ball. The blitz-happy unit is tackling better, the communication has improved, and the extra offseason work has added to their team speed.

“I knew it was gonna be good, but I’m surprised at how good,” Tulloch said. “We’re not letting teams score a lot of points against us.”

Gazzillo recently named junior Joseph Otero as his starting quarterback over sophomore Cristian Pena. The coach said Otero, the better thrower of the two, had an advanced grasp of the offense.

Much of the unit’s success will be based on how much room the offensive line, led by bookend tackles LaPierre and Rhakim Carmichael, can free up for Defreitas, the senior who ran for 394 yards and two touchdowns last year.

“We feel he’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with,” Gazzillo said of Defreitas.

If history is the judge, Grand Street should be in for a vast improvement. Since officially becoming a varsity program, the Wolves have alternated between standout seasons and disappointments. They went undefeated as a 1 in 2002, struggled the next year, made the citywide playoffs in 2007, and failed to record a victory last season.

“We usually rebound well,” Gazzillo said.

For the 16 seniors, it is a make-or-break season. Granted, they were the ones who broke into Level 5. But the group would like to be remembered for much more.

“Nobody wants to go 0-9 again,” Tulloch, the senior linebacker, said. “We have no more chances. This is our last shot. If we don’t win now, we won’t ever win in high school.”

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