By NED X. GRIFFEN
Steven Makowicki weighed 190 pounds two years ago.
Makowicki now weighs 240 pounds thanks to Norwich Free Academy's weight training program. It has helped make the senior into a beastly linebacker.
"He's a different player at 240," Wildcats coach Jemal Davis said. "You get that size, you get that confidence and that (level of) play."
Davis and his staff have put an emphasis on hitting the iron. Six platforms were purchased before this season so that 45 players could work out at a time. The staff also put up boards listing record lifts to motivate the players.
"(Those were) some of the things that I was part of when I played football at UConn," Davis said. "One of our mottos is, 'proper preparation prevents poor performance.' We utilize that not only for them in football but in terms of life.
That's why we are here (in the finals) because they have committed to being prepared, and that's obviously demonstrated through their commitment in the weight room. … The growth in our players in size it's just so visible. It's just mind-boggling."
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Marc Allard, Norwich Bulletin: NFA seniors have unbreakable bond, Loss is just what Xavier needed, and, NFA v. Xavier breakdown.
Sean Bowley, Hearst Inc.: Previews of Class LL, Class L, Class M, and Class S.
Gentleman Jim Bransfield, Middletown Press: NFA stands between Xavier and title trifecta, and, Will David beat Goliath? Probably not.
Gentleman Jim Bransfield AND Pooch Diggity Dogg, JRC Amalgamated: Xavier vs. NFA preview (it took TWO great men to write one capsule).
Kyle Brennan, Waterbury Republican-American: Gimme 5: Final five for finals (that's six words, not five).
Kyle and Mark, Waterbury Republican-American: Championship picks.
Brian Girasoli, Norwich Bulletin: 1945 NFA team reunites.
Mark Jaffee, Waterbury Republican-American: Newsome is Ansonia's unassuming running star, North Branford's explosive offense will test Ansonia, and, Xavier star set to join Addazio's BC program.
Carl Josephson, New Britain Herald: Ultimate moment for Berlin football seniors Saturday in title game, and, Redcoats players have strong bond on and off football field.
"Gorgeous" Chip Malafronte, JRC Amalgamated: NFA followed Xavier's winning blueprint to Class LL final.
Colin McDonough, Hartford Courant: Banged-up Berlin hobbles towards state final.
Tom Yantz, Hartford Courant: Running Back DeAngelo Berry Maintains Xavier Tradition.
Arthur Figgis, TEAM DAY: NFA meets Xavier for the Class LL football title.
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You will have to make a concerted effort to ignore this weekend's finals. Something along the lines of locking yourself in a crypt, then having said crypt encased in carbonite and dropped in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
The finals have become such a big-time attraction that they'll be broadcast on espn3.com thanks to its partnership with PlayOnSports, which has a partnership with the CIAC. Circle of friends.
We recommend (for one last time this season) that you follow all the games in these simple ways:
■ Follow the Class LL final at theday.com.
■ Follow on Twitter at #dayfb and #cthsfb.
■ Tune in to CPTV (SUPPORT OSCAR THE GROUCH), ESPN3.com (yes), or CIAC.tv.
■ Listen to the fatherly George DeMaio at WELI-960 AM.
■ Follow in RealTime at CIACSports.com: Class LL, Class L, Class M, and, Class S.
■ GO TO RENTSCHLER FIELD. Spare us your sniveling that, "it's too far". You live in Connecticut, the second-smallest state in The Union. One employee at Polecat Enterprises has relatives that drive two hours to get to the movies in the great Republic of Texas.
Tickets are $10 per day. Yes, one $10 ticket Saturday gets you three games. BARGAIN.
(No whining, either, about ticket prices. You blew that and more and that to see that awful "Red Dawn" reboot. You fool. You should've saved the $$$$ and rented the original. Sure, it made no sense that the Ruskies, Cubans. and Nicaraguans could invade MIDDLE AMERICA, but, hey, fear and loathing the Soviets was big in those days, so we suspended our disbelief. Kids, you can read more about the Cold War at your local library. Or look it up on you iPad.)
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Here's the quick and easy on today's finals.
NO. 3 XAVIER (11-1) v. NO. 5 NORWICH FREE ACADEMY (12-0)
WHEN: Today, 7 p.m.
CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD: Xavier 3-2; NFA 0-1.
DAY COACHES POLL RANKING: Xavier No. 5; NFA No. 8.
CALPREPS.COM COMPUTER RANKING: Xavier No. 2; NFA No. 3.
XAVIER PLAYMAKERS: Sr. RB DeAngelo Berry (1,759 yards, 36 TDs); Sr. QB Tim Boyle (2,254 yards, 23 TDs); Sr. G-NG Zack Creeron (6-foot, 287 pounds); Sr. DB Nate Gonzalez; Sr. WR-DB Kris Luster (72 catches, 1,261 yards, 12 TDs); Sr. C-DE Max Schumann (6-2, 269); Sr. LB Max Tylki (6-1, 207).
NFA PLAYMAKERS: Sr. WR-DB Ryer Caruso (18 catches, 501 yards, 9 TDs); Sr. LB Steven Makowicki (6-foot-2, 250 pounds); Sr. RB-DB Marcus Outlow (1,400 yards, 18 TDs); Sr. QB-DB Joey Paparelli (979 yards rushing, 10 TDs; 775 yards passing, 14 TDs); Sr. Tuzar Skipper (6-2, 205 pounds) Jr. RB Khaleed Exum-Strong (11 TDs).
WORDS: NFA has the speed advantage. The Falcons have more bulk (like almost 1,400 pounds worth of bulk on the offensive line). The Wildcats are strong at defensive back, which makes for a fun match-up against Boyle, Luster and the rest of Xavier's passing game. NFA can expect a healthy dose of Berry. Outlow needs to get more touches for the Wildcats. He'll be the best player on the field tonight, and he had only 12 carries — including just four in the second half — in Sunday's semifinal win over Staples. Xavier must keep the Wildcats from breaking through the first level as their quickness will give it fits. NFA has proven itself during the playoffs and made a lot of doubters look dumb. It's hard to pick against Xavier, though. It throws better should the need arise. It's destroyed four playoff teams in its last five games. And it also has more experience in this kind of environment.
COMPUTER PICK: Xavier 42, NFA 21.
POLECAT PICK: Xavier.
NO. 1 ANSONIA (13-0) v. NO. 3 NORTH BRANFORD (12-0)
WHEN: Saturday, 10:30 a.m.
CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD: Ansonia 17-8; North Branford 1-1.
DAY COACHES POLL RANKING: Ansonia No. 3; North Branford unranked.
CALPREPS.COM COMPUTER RANKING: Ansonia No. 5; North Branford No. 8.
ANSONIA PLAYMAKERS: Sr. LB Hezekiah Duncan; Sr. WR-DE Raeshaun Finney (9 catches, 229 yards, 4 TDs; 3 INTs); Sr. WR-LB Andrew Matos (38 catches, 975 yards, 13 TDs); So. QB-DB JaiQuan McKnight (1,300 yards passing, 23 TDs; 396 yards, 7 TDs; 3 INTs); Jr. RB Arkeel Newsome (2,008 yards, 35 TDs); Sr. RB-LB Saiheed Sanders (590 yards rushing, 6 TDs).
NORTH BRANFORD PLAYMAKERS: Sr. QB Brandan Basil (2,793 yards passing, 40 TDs; 390 yards rushing, 6 TDs); Sr. RB-LB Chris Caron (48 catches, 993 yards, 15 TDs); Sr. RB-DB Joe Delucia (42 catches, 702 yards, 13 TDs; 4 INTs); Sr. RB-LB Gary Falanga (101 tackles, 4 sacks); Sr. RB-LB Dale Hausman (1,311 yards, 13 TDs); Jr. RB-LB Josh Melaccio (91 tackles, 4 sacks).
WORDS: "Defense wins championships" is a cliche and also not exactly true given the number of high-scoring offenses that have blazed their team to titles. Defense will be huge in this game, though, as both teams average 49 points. Ansonia's offense isn't as balanced as the Thunderbirds'. It doesn't need to be with Newsome running behind a strong offensive line. It can throw when it wants and has an elite receiver in Matos. North Branford averages 234 yards passing and 227 rushing. The Chargers have the edge in experience having won Class M last season. Weaver set a state-record for most points in a final when it burned through Darien, 69-26, in the 1999 Class M final. Let's see if either Ansonia and/or North Branford can top that.
COMPUTER PICK: Ansonia 42, North Branford 27.
THE PICK: Ansonia.
NO. 2 BERLIN (11-1) v. NO. 4 HILLHOUSE (10-2)
WHEN: Saturday, 2 p.m.
CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD: Berlin 1-5; Hillhouse 4-1.
DAY COACHES POLL RANKING: Both are unranked.
CALPREPS.COM COMPUTER RANKING: Berlin No. 28; Hillhouse No. 6.
BERLIN PLAYMAKERS: Sr. Tyler Bouchard (30 catches, 450 yards, 4 TDs); Sr. RB Justin Gombotz (1,159 yards, 16 TDs; 15 catches, 263 yards, 2 TDs; 3 INTs); Sr. DB-RB Kevin Main (330 yards rushing, 7 TDs; 91 tackles); Sr. RB Scott McLeod (954 yards rushing, 10 TDs; 20 catches, 345 yards, 6 TDs); Jr. LB Dante Vasi (68 tackles); Jr. QB Mitch Williams (1,400 yards passing, 16 TDs).
HILLHOUSE PLAYMAKERS: Sr. RB-DB Andre Anderson (1,270 yards, 14 TDs; 82 tackles); Jr. RB-LB Harold Cooper (1,550 yards, 21 TDs; 14 catches, 248 yards, 3 TDs); Sr. LB Terell Fairweather (111 tackles, 5.5 sacks); Sr. DL Teno Simpson (78 tackles, 5 sacks); Sr. QB-DB Je'Vaughn Moore (809 yards passing, 8 TDs; 850 yards rushing, 7 TDs; 4 INTs).
WORDS: Hillhouse's losses were to state finalists Hand and Xavier. The Redcoats only loss was to Platt (34-14). Platt ran on all but nine plays with quarterback Andrew McBride and Justin Potts combining to run 56 times for 388 yards and five touchdowns. Berlin is facing an even bigger rushing threat in the Academics. They lead the state in offensive yardage (5,620) and average 401 yards rushing. Cooper is also the state's fastest player. Anderson, Cooper and Moore all helped Hillhouse win the 2010 state title. Gombotz (ankle) didn't play in Sunday's semifinal win over Weston and will be a game-time decision. Berlin needs him. The Academics better not get overconfident, though. It took Guilford lightly in Week 6 and miraculously escaped with a 20-18 win (Cooper sat out that game to rest his injuries).
COMPUTER PICK: Hillhouse 35, Berlin 19.
POLECAT PICK: Hillhouse.
NO. 1 HAND (12-0) v. NO. 2 WINDSOR (11-0)
CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD: Hand 10-6; Windsor 0-1.
WHEN: Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
DAY COACHES POLL RANKING: Hand No. 1; Windsor No. 4.
CALPREPS.COM COMPUTER RANKING: Hand No. 1; Windsor No. 7.
HAND PLAYMAKERS: Sr. WR Kyle Anderson (33 catches, 504 yards, 4 TDs); Sr. QB Brendan Bilcheck (2,125 yards passing, 17 TDs; 696 yards, 10 TDs); Sr. WR Caleb Ewald (57 catches, 936 yards, 9 TDs); Sr. DE Peter Gerson (6-4, 230); Sr. RB Ian O'Toole (858 yards rushing, 15 TDs); Sr. FB-LB Matthew Walsh (10 rushing TDs).
WINDSOR PLAYMAKERS: Sr. RB-DB Devonte Dillon (674 yards rushing, 5 TDs); Sr. QB Robert Quinn Fleeting (2,555 yards passing; 32 TDs; 655 yards rushing, 10 TDs); Sr. WR-DB Ryhieme Moore (49 catches, 962 yards, 10 TDs); Sr. DE Cole Ormsby (6-4, 230); Sr. DE Lance Ormsby (6-2, 185).
WORDS: Windsor has a great offense. It's among the state leaders, averaging 464 yards, and Fleeting is a dynamic and dangerous force. The Tigers defense is scary, though. It's painful watching the way they paste opposing players. Given the choice of getting hit by Walsh, or shaving with a cheese grater and using tabasco as aftershave lotion. .... please pass the sauce. Hand is also, um, an old hand in big games. It won last season's state title. It's beaten Hillhouse, Xavier and West Haven this season. And it's taken every team's best shot since being ranked No. 1 after its midseason win over Xavier.
COMPUTER PICK: Hand 31, Windsor 21.
POLECAT PICK: Hand.
Vaya con dios….