By Gavin Keefe
Publication: The Day
Waterford - Standing on the bright turf at the new Waterford High School athletic complex, senior Chris Jones talked about the excitement building for the first home football game of the regular season.
The Lancers will officially christen their turf field on Sept. 28 against Plainfield.
Considering they played on the road all last season with the exception of a "home" game at Coast Guard Academy, they don't mind waiting until week three of the high school season to be at home for the first time since 2010.
"It's going to be exciting," Jones said. "I know we're going to have all our fans on Friday night. All my friends are asking me, 'when is our first home game?' It should be nice."
The new athletic complex has generated a buzz around the school and community. The finishing touches are nearly complete. Lights will be installed within the week and power will soon be turned on for the scoreboard and press box.
Waterford coach Mike Ellis, who's in his 10th year, has been here for every step of the project, from the initial plans to the installation of the turf complete with a shiny blue "W" with red trim in the middle of the field.
"It's not just us, the whole school is looking forward to it," Ellis said of the first home game. "The community is very interested in coming here and seeing what people from outside are going to see when Waterford has an event, whether it's football, soccer, field hockey or lacrosse, here on this field.
"It's going to be one of the nicest stadiums in the state and the town will be proud of that."
And Ellis won't have to worry about rainy weather turning the field into a mud pit like the old stadium. Practices also will be regularly held on the turf.
The Lancers will have fewer trips this season trekking from the locker room to the practice field located on the other side of the construction zone.
But at least one Lancer will miss the grass surface.
"The facility is great," senior David Willox said. "I love it. But I do prefer grass."
Despite being the Eastern Connecticut Conference's road kings, the Lancers thrived last season, reaching the Class M state quarterfinals. They lost at Ledyard, 26-0.
"Those guys last year really did a heck of a job because they had a lot of things going against them in terms of facilities and travel and they were able to overcome it all and make the playoffs," Ellis said.
So guess where Waterford opens the 2012 season?
On the road, again, Sept. 13 at Ledyard.
The Lancers also went there during the regular season.
"It will be a little bit of a payback," Jones said. "We lost to them twice last year? This year, we hope it's different."
Waterford will certainly be different after losing 19 seniors, including All-ECC lineman Ivar Wirta, quarterback Brian Gencarelli, two-way standout Y-Kim Sheppard and linebackers Kobey Coburn and Dakota Jones. The Lancers suffered heavy losses on both sides of the line.
They will be anchored by 16 seniors that form the heart of the program.
Depth will be an issue, as the Lancers are down about 15 players from last season.
After opening at Ledyard, they'll visit Griswold on Sept. 21 before finally holding their home opener.
Ellis only wishes that the graduated players could have experienced playing on the new field.
"It's too bad that crew last year didn't get a home game," Ellis said.
Waterford already is getting a good feel for their new turf with two scrimmages. The Lancers hosted Daniel Hand on Wednesday and Westborough, Mass., on Friday. Ellis' brother, Mark, coaches Westborough.