Automotive, a small 831-student school on Bedford Avenue in Greenpoint, didn't even have a football team seven years ago. It wasn't until the school's English teacher, Haz Khawaja, approached the principal about starting the program.
"I just looked around and said: 'Our school is 96 percent boys,'" Khawaja said. "Why don't we have a football team?"
Khawaja's idea was approved, a football team was founded and Khawaja himself became head coach. The Automotive football team began play in the 2003-04 season as a developmental team with 36 players. The team went junior varsity the following year, and played their first varsity season five years ago.
As you can imagine, things didn't go well. Under the guidance of a English teacher-turned-football coach, the Pistons went 0-10 and scored one touchdown.
But things changed quickly; the team turned a 2-8 record in 2008 into a 6-3 record in 2009.
Then, in 2009-10, the breakthrough happened: The team posted a 10-0 record, blowing out opponents and advancing to the Cup Division Championship Game, where they lost to South Bronx 15-14 on a field goal.
The team was poised to enter the 2010-2011 season stronger, more experienced. With 20 seniors, they were a veteran team, and with their talent, the Pistons should easily have won the Cup Division Championship.
Only they never got the chance. Khawaja knew that it was in the best interests of the football program for the Pistons to make the jump from Division 1 (the Cup Division) to Division 3 (The Bowl Division). With the jump would come a much higher level of competition, and the championship that the players came so close to winning the previous year would almost certainly allude them
And yet, when the Khawaja approached his players, they all accepted the idea enthusiastically.
"I told them 'If we stay in Division 1 we win the championship by 50 points.'" Khawaja said. "But I also told them it was in the best interest of the program to make the move to the Bowl division. And to a man they all said 'Let's do it.' These kids would rather move up a division than win an easy championship."
The players agreed. Senior wide receiver Gregory Dominick spoke about the switch, saying: "It's sort of like repeating a grade or moving up. We needed to up the competition."
So the team moved up, and, as stated above, didn't come close to winning the championship. And yet they all feel good about their season.
"We were all playing on talent," said quarterback Miguel Flores. "After the switch we had to prepare a lot and think through games. We became smarter players."
For his part, Khawaja is immensely proud of this team.
"I'm as proud of this team," he said, "as I am of the 10-0 team."
And so the stage was set for Saturday's luncheon. With the move up in competition came a move up in venues; previous luncheons were held in the school cafeteria. For the seniors, it was a time to reflect.
"I'm going to miss this so much," Dominick said. "But at the same time, this will always be my family."
And for Khawaja, it was also a time to look ahead to the future.
"We have a 16-year plan to be in the Championship Division, and with the program we have, we'll be there in two years," he said.