SMITHFIELD, R.I. – For 13 members of the Bryant University football team, Saturday's game at nationally-ranked Stony Brook will be somewhat of a homecoming.
Long Island has always been a hotbed for Bryant football players and this year's roster is littered with players from towns like Lindenhurst, Dix Hills, Farmingdale and Northport. So when the Black and Gold take the field at LaValle Stadium Saturday night, there will be plenty of Black and Gold-clad fans cheering them on.
"It's like a homecoming almost," senior long snapper Jordan Laube said. "It's something I've been dreaming about since I got to Bryant. The first Bryant football game I ever watched was at Stony Brook in 2014 when we won."
Laube grew up in Westhampton Beach, roughly an hour from Stony Brook's campus, and is one of eight seniors that calls Long Island home. He's also the furthest east of any Bulldog on Long Island. Laube was a two-time All-Suffolk County selection in high school.
"I think it's the coolest thing to be able to play so close to home as seniors," Laube said. "We're going to have all our buddies and family members there so it's going to be a great atmosphere."
Fellow classmate Anthony DiMatteo (Holbrook, N.Y.) attended Sachem North High School, helping his school win a Long Island championship as a junior. He went on to earn all-division, all-county, all-state and all-metro honors as a senior before making his way across the Long Island Sound to Smithfield. For DiMatteo, he sees Saturday's game as coming full circle.
"Everything began on Long Island and now we get to come back here early in the season," DiMatteo said. "A bunch of friends and family that haven't been able to watch you because you're in Rhode Island and now you can show them the fruits of labor over the last several years."
DiMatteo has certainly grown over the last four seasons, having appeared in 21 of the last 22 games for the Bulldogs. He started all 11 games on the defensive line in 2017 and was one of two starting defensive tackles in last Saturday's win over New Haven.
Dix Hills native Kodi Ojukwu couldn't believe it when he heard he was going to have the chance to play 18 miles from his hometown as a senior. Ojukwu has battled through injuries during his Bryant career but came on strong last fall, making nine starts and posting 3.5 sacks.
And while each of the 13 has their own story, the one thing, besides football, that connects Bryant's Long Islanders is their sense of community and their pride about being a Long Islander.
"You know, Long Island, Strong Island," DiMatteo said. "We all come together. There is a big sense of unity amongst the team as far as everyone from Long Island. We've all had similar experiences."
So when the lights turn on at LaValle Stadium on Saturday, eight seniors will get the chance to play at home for the first time since high school.
"This is where we grew up, where we've done everything, it's what we know. This our home basically," Ojukwu said. "Being able to play there finally is huge for us. All of us are very hungry for this game."
Long Islanders on Bryant roster
Kodi Ojukwu - Dix Hills
Josh Jefferson - Lindenhurst
Tom Kennedy - Farmingdale
Danny Hughes - Shoreham
Will Theodoropoulos - Manhasset
Nick Anzalone - Lindenhurst
Brenden Femiano - Northport
Peter Corbett - Wantagh
Jordan Laube - Westhampton Beach
Philip Platania - Miller Place
Anthony DiMatteo - Holbrook
C.J. Demers - Farmingdale
Connor Payne - Massapequa Park