NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- All summer, Lou DiRienzo tweaked his practices and workouts to foster more competition. There were one-on-one drills and they all came with a carrot: The winner skipped pushups or running laps and got to delight in watching a teammate sweat.
With so much talent back and so much success within his team's reach, DiRienzo wanted the players to know that winning won't be easy.
He'll be the one to make sure of it.
"We need to learn how to compete," the New Rochelle coach said. "I don't think we knew how to compete last year."
That's a scary proposition for Section 1's Class AA teams. Not only did the Huguenots run through the section unbeaten, only Carmel came within three touchdowns of them.
New Rochelle returns four all-state players from that team in Romeo Holden, Jared Baron, Lloyd King and Jonathan Saddler. That group is in addition to several other high-impact starters, including seniors Myles Taylor, Jaylin McGhee and Aidan Lilly and juniors Khairi Manns and Jordan Forrest
"We're pretty confident this year," said Holden, who was a first-team all-state running back in Class AA. "We know what we're doing. We know what we're going against this year. I think we're ready."
The Huguenots won't say what they're ready for, exactly, but their aspirations clearly go beyond winning a third straight sectional title.
Part of DiRienzo's plan to create more competition began in June when the team hosted a camp with New Jersey power Paramus Catholic. They also went to camp at defending Class A state champ Somers two weeks ago and have scheduled a preseason scrimmage against another Jersey power, DePaul, on Aug. 26.
"We know Somers was where we wanted to be last year," said Baron, an all-state running back/linebacker. "Paramus Catholic is a powerhouse in Jersey. We want to get to that point. We're trying to work with everybody we can and get the best competition possible to get better."
That might not come from within Section 1. In its first 10 games last season, New Rochelle outscored its opponents 340-60. DiRienzo believed the relative ease of their run to the state semifinals caused the team to falter early against Troy. It was ultimately the Huguenots' undoing when their comeback fell short, 20-14.
DiRienzo is not ready to discuss returning to that point or even getting to the Carrier Dome for the first time in five years. He's too worried about getting his players better for all the challenges ahead, both big and small.
"I'm not smart enough to look down the road," he said. "It's one practice at a time for me. It's one scrimmage at a time for me. It's one game at a time. Hopefully, the next game or the next practice, we're better than we were the day before. You starting thinking about what's happening down the road, you're not going to get down the road."