They catch, pass and launch the ball in a sequence of three’s, egging each other on as loudly and as loosely as possible, enjoying the 75-degree November weather, calm winds, and the fact that they’re undefeated.
But when Erasmus Hall football head coach Danny Landberg blows the whistle, signaling for his boys to put their war pads on, it’s time for work and everyone knows it.
The fun doesn’t stop. The demeanor just transforms from frolicsome to focused; focused on the task at hand, the final practice before their regular season-ending game against Grand Street Campus.
Two days later, the Dutchmen subsequently beat GSC, 48-2. The victory capped E-Hall’s 2017 fall regular season at a perfect 9-0 in the PSAL, leaving them with a first-round bye in the city playoffs, which begins on November 10. Erasmus will begin its championship quest on November 18.
In the meantime, the Dutchmen, who outscored their opponents 370-69 this season, will be at Dave & Buster’s in a continued quest to build team-bonding. On their minds will be food, arcade games, and their 24-21 loss to Curtis High School in last year’s PSAL Championship, which still stings them,.
“I think losing a championship bonded them to a degree,” said Landberg. “We felt like we lost the game, we gave it away. We were winning with two minutes and 18 seconds left, and in this day and age of social media, our team took a lot of crap from other people about losing.
“That really made them very angry and motivated,” he continued. “People calling them losers or Buffalo Bills and things like that. Today’s kids are very sensitive, we try to make sure our kids don’t do that stuff and are humble.”
Aron Cruickshank, a dynamic four-star senior set to attend the University of Wisconsin next fall, lent voice to the lingering effects of last year’s title loss in their current journey.
“To this day I still have it in the back of my mind, I was playing quarterback that game,” said the versatile Cruickshank. “I was taking a lot for stuff. We lost in two minutes and that kind of hurt.”
Landberg has had rallying cries in many forms since then.
Erasmus Hall regularly bring in motivational speakers to discuss accountability, the value in work ethic, doing the right thing, patience, not cheating yourself and togetherness.
This past May, the team visited the Escape Room in Manhattan, which is an interactive and challenging mystery puzzle meant to be solved by a group. In this case, the virtual scenarios were attacked by talented teenagers who play football.
E-Hall is also working with the United States Army, which emphasizes being your brother’s keeper. Football is no different.
Prior to their first playoff game, the trip to D & B’s and another visit from a speaker will serve as the latest examples in attempts at team building, while also preparing for a chance at redemption in the form of a championship.
“The unspoken message is to enjoy being there, to enjoy the camaraderie,” said Landberg. “Therefore they’ll work harder and push each other.”
On the field, the results have translated into results, but the team feels that in spite of their year-long dominance, the room for improvement is actually quite large.
“After we win games we get too complacent,” said Cruickshank. “We’ve just got to work on taking every game one at a time and not getting big-headed. We play against the best, which is each other, in practice every day. It could be harder for us, but we know we could do better.”
Sean Ryan, 6-foot-3 standout receiver who has a commitment to Temple University for 2018, spoke to the team’s expectations, which was made evident when he described their 7-3 regular season in 2016 as a disappointment.
While that record would serve as a high for many teams across the city, it tied E-Hall’s most regular season losses this decade, hence the universal displeasure.
“Those were really dark times,” said Ryan. “We didn’t know if we had a chance at making the playoffs. We overcame and coach Landberg always showed faith and kept pushing us to our maximum potential.
“He definitely built this from the ground up,” he added. “He always speaks about when he was here and the program didn’t win a game. He expects us to be a top team every year.”
And while it would be nice to go undefeated, Landberg says that the team understands that it’s in vain without a trophy, which they haven’t brought home since 2013 despite several consecutive trips to the Yankee Stadium finale.
“They fully understand that going undefeated means nothing without winning it all,” he said. “I don’t have to motivate them to understand that. I have really good character kids that care about each other and are successful in school, but we all have the same goal. It’s 12 and 0 or bust.”