YOUR pre-preseason team previews (3,350 WORDS)
YOU were promised a more extensive blog about a month ago.
Well, it took a little longer than anticipated. Sorry. It wasn't our fault. Really.
So-oooo, an entry-level Polecat employee was contracted during the spring to provide a preseason Top 10. Said employee put it together after talking to a lot of coaches, reporters and fans.
A lot of intel was gathered during those conversations, the bulk of which didn't make print due to space limitations.
It would be wasteful to let all those unused notes end up in digital purgatory, so a decision was made to share as much of it as possible with you, dear reader.
Here then are thumbnails on many, many teams to get you started on the upcoming season. Not every coach of every team listed was contacted. Some were done from memory and/or Innerwebs research. Some thumbnails are more thorough than others.
Please note that some of this information could change. Players could move, transfer, or, heaven forbid, get injured.
Another disclaimer — if you don't see your team listed below, don't take it personally. It just means you get to surprise us later.
The season kicks offs Sept. 11 when Law of Milford travels to Harding of Bridgeport (funny how that happened), which gives you ample time to digest all of these words.
Ansonia (14-0, Class S champ): Meet the top-ranked team in the first 2013 Day state coaches' poll. You thought the Chargers were loaded during their past two state championship seasons? Wait until you see this crew. The trio of Arkeel Newsome (tailback), Saiheed Sanders (fullback), and Jai'Quan McKnight (quarterback) comprise arguably the state's most lethal backfield. The offensive line has four starters back, and should be better with the return of Ryan Hovan (he missed his entire junior year to a broken leg). The defense has six starters back, including three d-backs. We're so sorry, Naugatuck Valley League and Class S.
Barlow (8-2): The Falcons were the state's most pleasant surprise last season as they had their first winning season since 2006. Senior quarterback Jack Shaban steered the triple option last season and ran for a team-high 1,125 yards despite missing the last game to injury. Steve Miller should be busier than last season at fullback and linebacker.
Berlin (12-2, Class M runner-up): The Redcoats started 19 seniors in the Class M final. Quarterback Mitch Williams (1,477 yards passing, 18 TDs) was not among them. He'll be a senior and is a two-year starter. Dante Vasi (guard) and center Anthony Duong are the other two returning starters.
Brookfield (5-5): The Bobcats might be a year away. Senior Brad Westmark threw for 2,427 yards with 18 TDs and six INT last season. The sophomore class is uber-promising — they won the 2011 Pop Warner Midget national title as eighth graders.
Capital Prep/Classical/First Achievement (10-1, Class S quarterfinalist): The Trailblazers listed a meager 27 players on its playoff roster last season. Twenty one of said players weren't seniors. And you must find this season's roster just to see the sizes listed of its linemen (think "XXXXL"). Smart folks know about running back-linebacker Mike Jones (6-foot-1, 235). Bennie Fulse ran for 1,126 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. On just 69 carries.
Farmington (8-2): The Indians won eight games last season and still finished third in the CCC D-II West. That's what happens when you're banging heads with divisional foes Windsor and Middletown. RB-S Ivan Guadalupe (1,302 yards rushing, 19 TDs), WR-DB Anthony Carpenter (32 catches, 638 yards, 6 TDs), and QB-DB Kenny Jones (632 yards rushing, 7 TDs) were all-division picks last season.
Foran (6-4): Hillhouse and North Haven have ruled the SCC D-II the last few seasons. Foran and Guilford have the talent to topple the establishment. Foran started A LOT of sophomores and juniors last season and had a winning record. It even beat Notre Dame-West Haven (50-35), which we're pretty sure never, ever happened before. Junior Jake Kasuba completed 70 percent of his passes for an average of 255 yards a game. Classmate Nicholas Weissauer (86 catches, 999 yards, 7 TDs) was his top receiver. About 18 players saw significant time last season. It seems reasonable to think the Lions have a shot to qualify for Class M with all that that talent back. Ah, but they'll have to get through a schedule that features Shelton and West Haven (two SCC D-I teams), D-2 foes Guilford, Hillhouse and North Haven, and a non-league game vs. Class S quarterfinalist Trinity Catholic.
Glastonbury (10-2, Class LL semifinalist): Half of the 48 players on its playoff roster were seniors. Yeah, so? It graduated over 20 players the past few seasons and still has a five-year Class LL playoff streak going. It'll have seven starters back, including All-CCC D-I East picks Andy Kavana (nose guard, State Open rasslin' champ at 215 pounds), Justin Kretzmer (middle linebacker and a two-year starter), and Kyran McKinney-Crudden (outside linebacker). Jalen Ollie was part of a quarterback rotation last fall. The job is all his this season.
Greenwich (8-2, Class LL quarterfinalist): The Class LL quarterfinalist returns four on offense and five on defense. Jose Melo quarterbacked the first five games last season when starter Liam O'Neil was injured. Austin Longi (5-8, 140) started on defense last season and could be a special talent on offense. UMass would like defensive tackle Jack Wynne (6-5, 220) to relocate to Amherst in 2014.
Gilbert/Northwestern Regional (7-3): The Yellowjackets have the state's most magnificently gaudy unis (YOU MUST LOOK). They finished 7-3 last season and may improve on that this fall. John Lippincott threw for 1,245 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. Tony Ortiz ran for 1,280 yards and 13 TDs. That's a pretty good start right there.
Guilford (5-5): Here's another SCC D-2 team that could have a breakthrough season. QB Joe Nault and running backs Eric Zergiebel, K.C. Horton and David Knapp were all juniors last season. Several of their top tacklers were juniors or sophs. Hillhouse can attest to the Indians' talent — they outplayed it during a 20-18 loss. The schedule is a grind — it'll play all the teams mentioned in Foran's bio, and it plays host to Thanksgiving rival Hand. If it qualifies for the L playoffs, then it'll have done so the hard way. The really, really hard way.
Hand (13-0, two-time, two-time Class L champ): Speaking of the Tigers. .... they return just one starter on offense and four on defense. Ouch. If that wasn't enough, its first two games are against New Canaan and Hillhouse. There's also dates against North Haven, Xavier, West Haven, etc. It all makes for a tougher strength of schedule than anyone in the American Athletic Conference will face this fall.
Harding (0-10): That Cochran chap has taken over the perpetually downtrodden program. Eight of the Presidents' 11 games are against teams that had losing records last season. Get ready this fall for Harding, football power.
Hillhouse (11-2, Class M champ): Most of the starters graduated, but there are still reasons to be optimistic. Tailback Harold Cooper has averaged 10.2 yards a carry over three seasons and is the State Open indoor 55-meter champ. The offensive line has promise, too. The Acs will learn early just how good they are as three of their first four games are against Darien, Hand and Xavier. And, as noted before, the SCC D-II looks much stronger than usual.
Ledyard (7-3): The story has changed greatly in one season for the Colonels. Last season, they returned all of their offensive linemen and needed to find new scorers. This season, they have scorers and need to replace the entire offensive line (as well as a bunch of defensive linemen). Expect Ledyard to start passing more to make use of all their athletes. Josiah Shumaker and Darnay Gray were two of the Colonels best backs last season. Receiver Joe Carter was one of the state's fastest sprinters this winter. Sophomore QB Ty Ebdon started the majority of the Thanksgrabbing game v. Fitch. NFA and New London will get the most attention headed into the year, giving Ledyard a chance to play spoiler.
Masuk (10-2, Class L semifinalist): New coach Dave Brennan inherits a pretty good roster. QB Malik Cummings completed 69 percent of his passes last season for 2,158 yards with 19 touchdowns and three INTs. Cummings will have four good receivers, and linebacker is one of the team's strengths, too.
Middletown (8-3, Class L quarterfinalist): SET THE HYPE MACHINE TO STUN. The Blue Dragons went 8-3 in their third season under coach Sal Morello last season. Those losses were to a state champion (Xavier), a state runner-up (Windsor), and a state semifinalist (Masuk). Only Xavier blew them out. They'll have 14 starters back, including eight on offense. They'll run as much as possible with Dario Highsmith starting his second season at QB. They're deep at running back and return all their starters on the offensive line (including 6-foot-7 twins Anthony and David Bednarz), defensive line and linebacker. The defensive backfield is a concern as everyone graduated, but the schedule doesn't get rigid until later in the season. A legit Class L contender.
Morgan (5-5): A wise person said that the Huskies may surprise because they started many, many, many sophomores and juniors last season. Stash that knowledge in the back of your brain just to be safe.
Naugatuck (6-4): Hey, NVL — your league is about to get crazier. Craig Bruno has taken over the program after coaching Bunnell to its two-and-only state titles, and he's bringing his NO FEAR approach to Rubber Avenue. You'll likely to see the Greyhounds squib kickoffs. Or go with an empty backfield from their own 1-yard line. Name the play and Bruno will try it once. He's going to like his new players, such as QB Jason Bradley. He threw for 1,492 yards and 26 TDs as a soph.
New Canaan (9-3, Class L semifinalist): The Rams have made it as far as the state semis for eight straight seasons. Here comes the ninth. They have 11 starters back from a pretty inexperienced team that found a way to win nine games. Expect New Canaan to move away from last year's QB platoon and name either Nick Cascione or Teddy Bossidy the starter. Cole Harris was an All-State linebacker, and middle guard Connor Buck (6-5, 244) has gotten an offer from UMass. Buck is also a sprinter. You read that right. The schedule is stronger than usual with games against Greenwich, Hand and Staples, as well as divisional games against Darien and St. Joseph.
New London (7-3): The Whalers are in good shape as they return 14 starters. They also benefit from a full offseason with head coach Duane Maranda, who took over the program late last summer. New London is both deep, and blessed, at running back and receiver. Orrin Parke (123 carries, 777 yards, 8 TD) was the team's leading rusher last season, and sophomore-to-be A.J. Dillon should rip it up the next three seasons. Jose Garcia (33 catches, 639 yards, 10 TD) and Nico Ramos head up the receiving corps. Dan Maranda takes over at quarterback. The offensive line will be much more experienced and stable — New London didn't start the same five players in any game last season, and some of those who started were underclassmen. Linebacker Leo Clinton was one of the leading tacklers. Junior defensive lineman Hunter Roman (6-4, 210) has gotten the attention of college recrutiers. Credit the Whalers for scheduling two tough non-league games — at Capital Prep/Classical/Achievement (Week 2), and Middletown (Nov. 8). The annual Thanksgrabbing Day extravaganza against NFA could be a doozy.
New Milford (2-8): John Murphy transformed Masuk into a state superpower during his time there. Now he's moved northwest to fix the Green Wave. His old team won a state title in his second season. Let's see how soon New Milford becomes a winner. Bet on "quickly".
Newtown (10-1, Class LL quarterfinalist): A coach was starting to be asked about the 2013 SWC favorites when he blurted out, "Newtown," before the question was finished. The defending conference champs have nine starters back on offense. That includes QB Andrew Tarantino (two-year starter), running back Cooper Gold, leading receiver Julian Dunn (who was 6-2, 205 pounds as a soph last season), tackle Peter Manfredonia (6-3, 275 as a soph last season), and three other linemen. The defense has five starters back, including linebacker Tim Krapf. The Nighthawks also get to spend all offseason stewing about the 63-21 beating they took at home from NFA in last season's LL quarterfinals. The biggest question about Newtown will be how many times it'll be challenged before states.
North Branford (12-1, Class S runner-up): Graduated a 3,000-yard passer (Brandan Basil) and 84 percent of last season's rushing game. Jose Melaccio (50 carries, 382 yards, 3 TD) is the top returning scorer and tackler (7.6). It'll be tough for the Thunderbirds to rip up the Pequot like they did last year.
Norwich Free Academy (12-1, Class LL runner-up): It has Boston College-bound Marcus Outlow. You need more? Okay. Khaleed Exum-Strong is a fine back, too, boosting the Wildcats' democratic run-based offense. The defensive line will be frightening with end Tuzar Skipper and nose guard J'Von Brown (6-1, 270 pounds). Calvin Greene (linebacker) and Aric Ricks (defensive back) are back, too. NFA must replace about a dozen starters, including quarterback Joey Paparelli, who ran the offense like a champ. Alex Beaudreault, who started at QB for Windham last season, has transferred to NFA and will get a shot at the gig. The Wildcats' schedule is favorable as Glastonbury and New London may be the only two teams that can scare them.
Platt (8-3, Class L quarterfinalist): Justin Potts accounted for 66 percent of the team's rushing yardage last season and 64 percent of the offense's touchdowns. Well, he graduated. QB Andrew McBride was the second-leading rusher and quite elusive. The Panthers started three juniors on the offensive line, too — Erlin Colon (left tackle), Toledo Sharp (right guard), Michael Bennett (right tackle).
Rocky Hill (9-2, Class S quarterfinalist): You know all about Cooper and Newsome and Outlow, but what about the Terriers' Chris Young? He averaged 12.29 yards last season and ran for 1,842 yards and 27 touchdowns. He's one of several offensive players who started as juniors last season. Its toughest games look to be v. Bloomfield (Oct. 4), at Platt (Oct. 11), v. Berlin (Nov.8) and Northwest Catholic of West Hartford (Thanksgrabbing). In the interest of transparency, everyone here at Polecat HQ has a soft spot for Rocky Hill because it runs GOD'S OFFENSE.
St. Joseph (8-3, Class M quarterfinalist): The Cadets will be one of the Class M favorites. Senior Jordan Vazzano started at quarterback late during his sophomore year and is a horse. He's got a trio of vets protecting him up front, but he'll need a new go-to receiver as Jake Pelletier graduated. The defense has five starters back, too. The first four games are interesting — v. Notre Dame of West Haven (Sept. 14), at Fairfield Prep (Sept. 20), v. Ridgefield (Sept. 28), and v. Darien (Oct. 5). The division should get decided at New Canaan (Nov. 1).
St. Paul (2-7): Listing the Falcons for a few reasons. The first is UConn-bound quarterback Logan Marchi. He averaged 276 yards with 31 TD and nine INTs (that doesn't include his stats vs. prep school Hamden Hall as it wasn't a game recognized by the CIAC). Three other reasons to pay attention to the Falcons are Daija Fitzpatrick, Reid Morin, Brendan Carroll, Marchi's top receivers. There's one big problem, though — St. Paul accumulated lots of offense last season when opponents backed off during games to keep from breaking the 51-point rule. The defense needs to bear down.
Southington (10-1, Class LL quarterfinalist): Another potential Class LL contender as they return six starters on offense and five on defense. Yale-bound QB Stephen Barmore has started over two seasons. Tailback Jarrid Grimmett, last year's leading rusher, is back, too.
Staples (10-1, Class LL semifinalist): The Wreckers were built to level all comers last season and have to fill a lot of spots. The offense will go through QB Jack Massie again. Running back Patrick Lesch had just 46 carries last season, but averaged 15.6 yards a carry with nine touchdowns. Staples won't have much experience and brawn up front, so it may have to spread teams out more to compensate. It opens at Xavier, which is not the way one wants to begin a new season with so many new starters. The Wreckers;' conference schedule only features two perennial toughies, and they get both at home — New Canaan (Oct. 25) and Greenwich (Thanksgrabbing).
Stonington (8-2): The Bears could qualify for states on talent alone. Senior Divante White, a former tight end, did so well at quarterback last season that Stonington began throwing a bit more despite its traditional run-heavy identity (it, of course, employs GOD'S OFFENSE). Running backs Harry Calmar and Zach Poirier are veterans, too. The schedule may be the Bears' biggest obstacle as it looks more daunting than usual. It opens with two road games (at Fitch and Montville) and plays old ECC Small rival Griswold. It also plays back-to-back games against Ledyard and at NFA (Nov. 8 and 16). The annual Westerly game is always a scrum, too.
Valley Regional/Old Lyme (7-3): The Warriors started only one senior last season and finished 7-3. All those sophomores and juniors got a lot of on-the-job training and should be one of the scourges of the Pequot.
West Haven (8-3, Class LL quarterfinalist): Folks are already talking about the Blue Devils. It returns half of its starting lineup, and only Hand, Staples and Xavier were able to beat them last season. Shoot — it gave Hand its toughest game and had a chance to win late, but failed on a two-point conversion and lost, 21-20. Tailback Ervin Philips has gotten offers from Syracuse and Temple, and there's more than enough ogres up front to give him lots of space to roam. Head coach Ed McCarthy should also become the state's winningest coach. He has 316 wins and needs six more to pass Colonel Ledyard himself, Bill Mignault. Should the Westies win their first four games, McCarthy could tie Mignault if his team beats bitter rival Notre Dame of West Haven. And West Haven's opponent the following week? Xavier. The schedule also features Greenwich (Sept. 12), Hand (Oct. 8), Shelton (Nov. 15) and Fairfield Prep (Thanksgrabbing).
Windsor (11-1, Class L runner-up): It returns about half of last year's starting lineup, including defensive tackle Keith Benjamin, who nearly mauled Hand quarterback Brendan Bilcheck during last season's L title game. The Warriors will have ample time to get the newbies acclimated as the schedule doesn't get rocky until Oct. 4 (v. HPHS). Their playoff hopes could hinge on their final two games — Glastonbury (Nov. 15) and Middletown (Thanksgrabbing Eve). Quite a way to end the regular season.
Woodland (8-4, Class S quarterfinalist): Tanner Kingsley completed 70 percent of his passes last season for 3,227 yards and a state-record 51 touchdowns. A lot of his fellow starters graduated, though.
Xavier (12-1, three-time, three-time Class LL champion): On one hand, it'll be rated too high after graduating eight on both offense and defense. On the other hand, it's earned the benefit of the doubt after winning 38 of its last 39 games and a state-record three straight CIAC Class LL titles. The offensive line won't be loaded with behemoths, either. That written, one coach said he's more leery of new quarterback Joe Carbone than he was of UConn-bound Tim Boyle because the former is much more mobile. Andrew Meoli looks to be the Falcons' next All-State tailback. DB Nate Gonzalez had 76 tackles last season and linebacker Will Garrity had 64.
Yeah. That should hold you over for a while.
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