Headed in the right direction

The best way to gauge the progress of the Campus Magnet football program is by comparing their reaction after victories this season and last.
When they nearly blew a three-touchdown lead in a frantic win over Thomas Jefferson, a middling Brooklyn school, to improve to 2-0 last September, they jumped up and down as if they had just won the city championship. Players and coaches hugged.
On Saturday, after breezing to a 26-14 victory at previously undefeated August Martin, the scene was very different.
After improving to 3-0, Campus Magnet’s quickest start in quite some time, players nodded at one another in approval. There were no screams of joy, no high fives or fist pumps - just the team, one by one, lining up to shake hands with the opposition, displaying a quiet confidence.
“We expect to do well,” Campus Magnet Coach Eric Barnett said, later adding, “We got to get better. We’re not satisfied.”
Slowly, others are taking notice. The Bulldogs are the only team in the borough to have at least one player from each of the local Pop Warner programs such as the Bayside Raiders, Rosedale Jets, Lynvet Jets, Jamaica Bulldogs, and Springfield Rifles, where Barnett, now in his third season at the Cambria Heights school, was once the basketball director and a prominent football coach.
Their starting fullback, Martin Thomas, transferred in to Campus Magnet because of his association with Barnett through the Rifles. “The coaches are friendly, they work hard, the players work hard,” he said.
Not everybody is so high on Campus Magnet. New York City Sports News, a monthly newspaper and website that focuses on high school sports, predicted they would lose in two of the season’s first three weeks. Many players took notice.
“We just prove them wrong,” senior receiver Stephan Benjamin said. “They probably will say the next team will beat us anyway.”
“I thought it was an insult,” Barnett said. “A lot of people don’t believe we’re good. But you know what? We like that. … Does it bother us? Of course, it bothers us, but that’s all right. We got a chip on our shoulders.”
And for good reason. They are led by three-year starter Datalia Holness, their dynamic quarterback who threw a touchdown pass to Benjamin and returned an interception 65 yards for a score the final play of the first half. He has thrown four touchdown passes and run for another. The defense has yielded just 14 points in two games; their second win was a forfeit. They have yet to decide on a No. 1 running back, but have rotated several in the position with a high degree of success.
With all of that, there are many who still doubt the Bulldogs beyond the aforementioned publication. Queens doesn’t have a very good reputation on the gridiron anyhow. No team reached the 16-team playoffs last year. In addition, the two who made it to the second-tier Bowl Division playoffs - Campus Magnet and Jamaica - were blown out in the first round.
These Bulldogs, Barnett likes to point out, are different. When many of them played for him on the Pop Warner level, they won titles of all kinds.
“Everybody thinks Queens can’t play ball,” Barnett said. “With the Springfield Rifles, we dominated the city in youth league football. There’s no reason for that not to carry over.”

More from Around New York