No one can ever say that Ben Avakook has chosen the easy route when it comes to football.
Great Neck North coach Anton Berzins planned to give his team a fitness test during their four-day trials ahead of this season. Avakook asked him and his teammates to do more.
“He asked me if we could do [a different fitness test] every day, ”recalls Berzins. “He said when we are physically exhausted we get stronger mentally. ”
Avakook recalled his team’s playoff run last season that led them to a double overtime tie at 2 in the Nassau Class A final with Garden City. Both teams were named co-champions.
“Our theme this season is to defend our title: back to back,” said Avakook. “I don’t care about individual awards. I just want to take our team to the next level and help us reach our goal.”
The senior forward scored a pair of hat tricks (6 goals overall) in the Blazers’ first two non-league games. (He scored six goals and five assists last spring.)
“It wasn’t just a person, it was also my team,” said Avakook, Newsday’s Athlete of the Week. “It was a whole team effort.”
But it was Avakook’s efforts on and off the field that made the summer such a productive offseason for North.
“I called it Ben Uber XL,” said Berzins. “Four days a week for almost three months, the kids would train from 6.30am to 8am, and Ben would wake up at 5.45am to pick up four or five kids, not just seniors.
“He understood the idea of the legacy of growing the program and its next generation.”
The 6-3 Avakook has a unique perspective on North’s soccer program. He moved with his family from Israel just before the start of the fifth year.
“I started playing football in Israel,” he said. “When I was 4 my grandfather showed me how to play and started to love the game.
“We had family here, but it was very difficult at the beginning … I didn’t know much English, but I quickly learned to like the people here and especially the guys from the team. soccer.”
Berzins said Avakook has completed 120 of North’s 125 workouts this offseason.
“He told me to break the team,” Berzins said. “He told me to make them cry, so they would be ready for the season, like we were in the spring in our playoff run.”
The usual powers in Nassau A are programs such as Garden City, Jericho, MacArthur, and Mepham. Thanks to players like Avakook, Great Neck North is hoping to place in Nassau’s top five.
“We always feel like we are the underdogs in every game,” he said. “This is our revenge tour. We are not happy with our tie [for the Nassau A crown]. We want to try to go further. ”
No easy path there.