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St. Joseph missed Mufasa Abdul-Bashir when he cost himself a spot on the team late last season.
Abdul-Bashir missed St. Joseph even more.
Grades cost Abdul-Bashir the opportunity to be a Cadet last season, and he later transferred to Stratford.
Part of growing up is being able to admit making a mistake ... and then fixing it. Abdul-Bashir did both, and he played a large role in St. Joseph's 28-14 win over then-No. 7 Darien last Saturday. He ran 25 times for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
"I felt a big hole in my heart when I was at Stratford that couldn't be filled," Abdul-Bashir, a junior, said. "Even being around old friends couldn't really do it. I felt like coming back to St. Joes, being back around coach Del (Joe DellaVecchia), and being back with a bunch of people that really loved me, really made me feel proud.
"I'm really proud to be wearing maroon and gold."
Abdul-Bashir played seven games with St. Joseph last season. He gave it an invaluable running threat to go along with its successful passing game. He averaged 7.67 yards a carry and ran for five touchdowns.
Neither Abdul-Bashir or the Cadets were the same following his departure. Abdul-Bashir needed structure. St. Joseph needed a running back. It had a team capable of winning a state title, but lost to eventual Class M champ Hillhouse in the quarterfinals.
Abdul-Bashir realized over the summer that he needed to get back to St. Joseph.
"I had a conversation with my mother," he said. "We felt that coming back was the better solution.
"(I needed) structure, discipline, and a lot of people who really care. The St. Joseph community is one of the best communities in the state."
St. Joseph was willing to take Abdul-Bashir back, providing he met certain conditions.
"When he left, he wasn't doing the right things that he should've been doing," DellaVecchia said. "He admitted some mistakes that he made, not that he was doing bad things. He was being a clown, so to speak. He matured a lot. He knew this was the best place for him to develop as a young man.
"We're excited to have him back. The kids on the team are excited to have him back. There were certain rules that he had to abide by and the kids set them. It was their decision. I said, 'He wants to come back, to be part of you guys, and what do you think?' They all said to a man, 'Yeah. He's going to do it our way.' They sat down with him. They talked to him. They've really been helpful to the kid. He's had a tough life. His foster mother is really supportive of him. She's a wonderful person."
St. Joseph had passed its way to its first three wins. Senior Jordan Vazzano, starting his third season, had averaged 304 yards and thrown 12 touchdowns.
The Blue Wave defended the pass well on Saturday and led 14-7 at halftime. DellaVecchia decided it was time to unleash Abdul-Bashir and the offensive line.
Wise decision. Abdul-Bashir rushed 16 times for 161 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
"He makes that offense hum," Darien coach Rob Trifone told Sean Patrick Bowley of GameTimeCT.com. "We took away the pass early and we tried to take away the run, but we couldn't stop him."
Abdul-Bashir ran for a 2-yard touchdown on the Cadets' first drive of the second half to tie the game.
Darien turned the ball over on downs at the St. Joseph 6-yard line to start the fourth quarter.
Abdul-Bashir got the ball on first down and broke several tackles for a 45-yard run. It was an impressive display of power given that he's built more like a whippet back (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) than, say, Adrian Peterson.
"I might not be that big, but I have a lot of heart for a little guy," Abdul Bashir said. "It's going to be hard to take me down."
Abdul Bashir concluded the drive with a 19-yard touchdown run.
It helps that Abdul-Bashir is operating behind a brawny and veteran offensive line — center Tom Adzima (6-1, 243), guards Peter Mestre (6-6, 295) and Troy Vazzano (6-2, 252), and tackles Steve Hashemi (6-6, 265) and Chris Taylor (6-2, 298).
Adzima, Hashemi and Mestre are all seniors and three-year starters.
"When it comes to run blocking, they know exactly what they're doing," Abdul-Bashir said of the offensive line. "(Right guard) Mestre is one of the best guys in the state that can run a trap. He can put someone on their butt."
As Abdul-Bashir discussed how beneficial it was for his life to be back at St. Joseph, a reporter mentioned that playing behind such a huge line was pretty beneficial, too.
"Yeah, it's not that bad," Abdul-Bashir smiled.
(Thanks to Dave Ruden of The Ruden Report for stats — traffic and tardiness kept a Polecat entry level employee from arriving on time.)
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You should watch Mike Arman's wacky touchdown catch if you haven't already.
Arman caught a ball that was deflected once, twice, thrice times and scored a game-winning 66-yard touchdown for Fairfield Ludlowe in Saturday's 35-31 win over Harding.
YouTube user RickVolk21 posted it, and it went viral thanks to Sean Patrick Starfish. Deadspin and ESPN picked it up, too.
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Norwich Free Academy was one of three teams to fall out of The Day's Top 10 state coaches' poll this week.
NFA, which was ranked fourth, lost to Glastonbury last Friday, 6-0. The Wildcats will be tested again this week when they play host to unbeaten Ledyard on Friday night.
North Haven and Darien, which were ranked fifth and seventh last week, respectively, also dropped out of the Top 10. Hand beat North Haven last Friday, 21-6.
Unbeaten Shelton (seventh) and Masuk (ninth) have moved into the Top 10. Glastonbury (3-1) was also voted 10th.
Ansonia received seven of 13 first-place votes to maintain its hold on No. 1. Second-ranked New Canaan received five firsts. St. Joseph earned the other first-place vote.
Look to your right — THERE'S THE TOP 10.
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The New Haven Register media poll had the same 10 teams as The Day coaches' poll, albeit in a different order.
The Register Top 10 was: 1. Ansonia (23 first-place votes); 2. New Canaan (6); 3. Middletown; 4. St. Joseph; 5. Southington; 6. Newtown; 7. Shelton; 8. Masuk; 9. Windsor; and, 10. Glastonbury.
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Ned Freeman's cold, calculating computer rankings for CalPreps.com and MaxPreps.com: 1. Southington; 2. New Canaan; 3. St. Joseph; 4. Ansonia; 5. Xavier; 6. Shelton; 7. Glastonbury; 8. Hand (3-1); 9. North Haven (3-1); and, 10. Norwich Free Academy (2-1). Newtown was 12th, Middletown was 14th, Windsor was 15th, and Masuk was 17th.
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Gentleman Jim Bransfield, Middletown Press: Monday Musings.
Doug Bonjour, Hearst Inc.: Harding's Cochran remains out.
Sean Patrick Starfish, JRC Amalgamated: FCIAC beat.
Bryant Carpenter, Meriden Record Journal: His Tuesday's notes.
Ray Curran, JRC Amalgamated: Inside the SCC.
Pooch Diggity Dogg, JRC Amalgamated: Notre Dame vs. West Haven, Law vs. East Haven, more than games, NVL beat, and Tuesday Morning Quarterback.
Mark Jaffee, Waterbury Republican American: Sacred Heart senior stands out vs. Cross.
Dave Ruden, The Ruden Report: Offensive Line the Constant To St. Joseph's Success.
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That's all for now. Thanks for reading.
Vaya con dios ...
First-place votes in parentheses, record, points tabulated on a 30-28- 26-24-22-20-18-16-14-12-11-10-9-8-7 basis, and last week's ranking:
1. Ansonia (7) 4-0 370 1
KNOW THIS: The Chargers haven't lost to Division Street rival Derby since 2001 (14-13).
NEXT: vs. Derby, Friday, 7 p.m.
2. New Canaan (5) 4-0 364 2
KNOW THIS: Surprised the Rams haven't taken any first-place votes away from Ansonia after clubbering both Hand and Greenwich.
NEXT: vs. Danbury, Saturday, 2 p.m.
3. St. Joseph (1) 4-0 340 3
KNOW THIS: The Cadets are winning Class M. Yes, we're not going out on a limb there.
NEXT: at Wilton, Friday, 7 p.m.
4. Southington 3-0 259 6
KNOW THIS: The Blue Knights began the season with a very good win over Glastonbury (16-9). Said win looks even better after the Tomahawks knocked off NFA last Friday.
NEXT: vs. New Britain, Friday, 7 p.m.
5. Middletown 4-0 198 8
KNOW THIS: Dario Highsmith ran for three first-quarter touchdowns in a 43-8 win over Fermi.
NEXT: vs. Hartford Public, Friday, 7 p.m.
6. Newtown 4-0 189 T9
KNOW THIS: Drew Tarantino completed 21 of 32 passes for 406 yards and SIX touchdowns in the Nighthawks' madcap 49-36 win over Barlow.
NEXT: vs. New Milford, Friday, 7 p.m.
7. Shelton 4-0 182 NR
KNOW THIS: Ansonia vs. Derby is the better rivalry, but the game of the week will be played at nearby Shelton.
NEXT: vs. Fairfield Prep, Friday, 7 p.m.
8. Windsor 4-0 176 T9
KNOW THIS: Jedidiah Haynes threw a game-winning 25-yard touchdown to Westley Jackson on fourth-and-15 with five minutes left as the Warriors rallied to beat Hartford Public, 21-14.
NEXT: vs. RHAM, Friday, 7 p.m.
9. Masuk 4-0 148 NR
KNOW THIS: We can't wait for the Panthers to visit Ansonia next Thursday.
NEXT: at Pomperaug, Friday, 7 p.m.
10. Glastonbury 3-1 131 NR
KNOW THIS: The Tomahawks have played No. 4 Southington and NFA in the first four weeks. Their strength of schedule is pretty mighty.
NEXT: vs. Newington, Friday, 6:30 p.m.
Dropped out: Norwich Free Academy (4), North Haven (5), and Darien (7).
Also receiving votes: Xavier (3-1), 120 points; West Haven (3-1), 106; Norwich Free Academy (2-1), 96; Ledyard (4-0), 92; Fairfield Prep (3-1), 86; Darien (3-1); 61; North Haven (3-1), 58; Farmington (4-0), 56; Staples-Westport (3-1), 53; Hand (3-1), 49; Woodland (4-0), 44; Tie, Capital/Classical/Achievement-Hartford (4-0) and Platt (4-0), 38; Rocky Hill (4-0), 26; Valley Regional/Old Lyme (3-0), 18; Barlow (3-1), 17.
The following coaches voted: Tom Brockett, Ansonia; Jim Buonocore, Ledyard; Craig Bruno, Naugatuck; Scott Daniels, Glastonbury; Joe DellaVecchia, St. Joseph; Steve Filippone, Hand; Rob Fleeting, Windsor; Steve George, Newtown; Tanner Grove, Montville; Tim King, Valley Regional/Old Lyme; Sean Marinan, Xavier; John Murphy, New Milford; Marce Petroccio, Staples.
East Lyme returned just five players with any varsity experience and lost its first four games. It's made gradual improvement and downed Woodstock Academy last Friday, 42-7, its second-straight victory.