H.S. football / 2017 preview capsules

New London junior running back Jacob Commander was a first team ECC Division I all-star last season as the Whalers went 9-2 with a Class L playoff berth. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
New London junior running back Jacob Commander was a first team ECC Division I all-star last season as the Whalers went 9-2 with a Class L playoff berth. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

ECC Division I

East Lyme

Coach: Rudy Bagos (5th year)

Key returnees: Sr. FB-LB Isaac Tomblin, Sr. TE-DE Sam Highman, Sr. WR-FS Dylan Hatajik, Sr. RB-OLB Blake Bragaw, Sr. OT-DT Travis Clement, Sr. G-DT Tom Bartok, Sr. G-DT Mike Quick, Sr. RB-CB Tyler Valdez, Sr. WR-CB Elijah Brilus, Sr. RB-CB Todd Robbins, Sr. WR-CB Mike Esposito, Jr. TE-LB Dalton Franco, Jr. WR-FS Will Flaherty, Jr. QB Chris Salemme, JR. WR-OLB Spencer Duthrie, Jr. FB-CB Andrew Haase, Jr. RB-LB Tom Mason, Jr. OT-DT Liam Whaley, So. WR-OLB T.J. Horner.

Top newcomers: Sr. C-DT Sam Angiolelli, Sr. RB-FS Matt Malcom, Sr. WR Pat Dowd, Sr. RB-CB Nour Hashem, So. G-DT Joe Reitmeyer, So. QB Noah Perry, So. RB-CB Blane Hart, So. TE-LB Cameron Hart.

Outlook: After struggling a year ago (1-9), Bagos returns the most experienced team during his tenure and expects the Vikings to be competitive in a difficult division. Tomblin is a returning ECC all-star at linebacker and Hatajik, an elite track and field sprinter, is a dangerous two-way performer. East Lyme opens its season Friday night at Killingly.

Fitch

Coach: Mike Ellis (3rd year)

Key returnees: Jr. OT-DT Austin Beebe, Sr. OB-DE Dean Faulise, Sr. WR-DB Zach Letellier, Sr. WR-DB Julius Brown, Sr. WR-DB Tony Figueroa, Jr. QB-DB Tyler Nelli, Jr. QB-RB-DB Hamear Stephens, Sr. RB-OLB Tyler Andrews, Sr. FB-LB Hollis Scott, Jr. FB-LB Pedro Mojica, Jr. WR-DB Sal Aiello.

Top newcomers: Sr. WR-DB Justice Farris, So. RB-DB Lonnie Howard, Sr. OL-DT Alex Perry, Fr. OT-DT Devyn Jordan, Jr. OB-NG Nick Helbig, Jr. OT-DT Daniel Mojica, Jr. RB-DB Kennard Tate, Jr. WR-DB Kazmire Pray, Jr. RB-LB Daniel Braithwaite, JR. OG-NG William Macer, Jr. FB-LB Alex Butler, Jr. FB-LB Josiah Robinson, Jr. RB-OLB Kiev Lucas, Sr. WR-DB Kye Carper, Sr. OG-DT Christian McGugan, Jr. OL-DE Brandon Hamilton.

Outlook: The Falcons return nine starters, including the majority of their skill players, from a team that went 4-6 in 2016. Nelli gained tremendous experience at QB while there is talent, depth and experience at running back and wide receiver. Fitch was hurt by graduation on the offensive line, but Ellis said there are capable replacements. "We were 4-6 last year with a few close losses that hopefully the varsity experience will turn into wins and they can learn to finish games," said Ellis, whose team opens Friday night at Westerly.

Ledyard

Coach: Jonathan Hernandez (1st year)

Key returnees: Sr. QB Max Ebdon, Sr. LB-RB Dennis Charles, Sr. LB-RB Collin Wiltshire, Sr. OL-DL Nick Whipple, Jr. OL-DL Jacob Hobbs, So. OL-DL Benjamin Berlin, Jr. DL-OL Timothy Dorr, Sr. OL-DL Richard Mullaney, Sr. OL-DL Gary St. Vil.

Top newcomer: Sr. LB Elijah Brown-Young.

Outlook: Hernandez, a former quarterback and wide receiver at UConn, returns to the state to lead the Colonels, who had a rare losing season (3-7) in 2016. He returns a veteran quarterback in Ebdon and a pair of versatile athletes in Charles and Wiltshire. Wiltshire was an All-Area track and field athlete in the triple jump as a junior. "I am very pleased with the team's work ethic in the weight room and during training camp," said Hernandez, who makes his debut on Friday night at Windham. "We are focused on getting better one day at a time."

New London

Coach: Juan Roman (2nd year)

Key returnees: Jr. RB-LB Jacob Commander, Jr. OT-DT Sean Flynn, Jr. OG-DE Allan Ford, Sr. CB-RB Monty Johnson, Sr. WR-DB Giovanni Lopez, Sr. OLB-TE Elijah Parker.

Top newcomers: Sr. OG-DE Mikal Elahi, So. QB Owen George, Jr. C Demond Hastings, Jr. OT Joseph Lucas, Jr. RB-DE Jahri Marcus, Jr. WR-OLB Jahyde Marcus, Jr. OLB Noah Richardson, Sr. WR-DB Osyrus Vazquez, Sr. S Tajwan Yard-Moore.

Outlook: New London went 9-2 in Roman's head coaching debut a year ago and qualified for the Class L state playoffs. The Whalers must replace 20 seniors, but do return three offensive ECC all-stars in Commander, Lopez and Parker and an all-state cornerback in Johnson. "As usual expectations are high," said Roman, whose team opens at home Friday against Waterford. "Despite that uncertainty (20 graduating seniors), there is talent on the roster."

Norwich Free Academy

Coach: Jason Bakoulis (1st year)

Key returnees: Sr. QB Shea McManaway, Sr. WR-FS Caleb Parker, Sr. OL Brendan Green, Sr. OLB Malik Gibson, Sr. OLB Doug Moore, Sr. OL Jaylen Jarmon, Jr. SS Elijah Parker, Jr. SS Isaiah Price, Jr. DL Adelino Davegia.

Top newcomers: Jr. WR Jahiem Spruill, Jr. TE Cameron Belton, Jr. WR Kevin Pomroy, Jr. OL John Pierre, So. WR Nolan Molkenthin, Jr. LB Becker Bordeau.

Outlook: The Wildcats stayed in house to replace former coach Jemal Davis, so the transition to Bakoulis has been seamless. He takes over a team that went 8-3, won the Division I title and qualified for the Class LL playoffs, but must replace a couple of playmakers in Jawaun Johnson, The Day's Player of the Year, and two-way star R.J. Darby. McManaway blossomed in his first full season as NFA's starting QB. "We're a young team, but with great leadership," Bakoulis said. "We have playmakers on both sides of the ball who practice and play at a high level." They will need to play at a high level, too, with nonconference games against perennial playoff contenders Xavier (Friday night's opener), Cheshire, West Haven and Windsor.

ECC Division II

Montville

Coach: Tanner Grove (12th year)

Key returnees: Sr. RB-WR-LB-DE Nik Angel, Sr. WR-DB Gennaro Davis, Sr. WR-DB Greg Clark, Sr. LS-TE-FB-DE Nick Tibbetts, Sr. OL-DL-LB Dasani Vennett, Jr. WR-DB Marcus Velez, Jr. QB Luke Hall, Jr. RB-LB Zack Navarette, Jr. DE Tyrone Mack, Jr. RB-LB Emmanuel Mayfield, Jr. RB-LB Dominic Emmons.

Top newcomers: So. QB Ryan Douchette, So. OL-DL Timmy Leitzinger, So. OL-DL Kolt MacCracken, So. OL-DL Bryce Sullivan, Jr. OL-DL Cody Jones, Sr. WR-DB Austin Fargo.

Outlook: The Indians struggled through a 2-8 season in 2016, but Grove sees his team returning to its winning ways this fall with the return of 11 starters, including seven on defense. Montville has experience on both sides of the ball and plenty of weapons for QBs Hall and Douchette, particularly receivers Clark (an all-state sprinter in track), Angel, Davis and Tibbetts. Angel, Tibbetts and Vennett will lead the defense up front while the secondary returns Davis, Velez and Clark. The Indians open Saturday with a Division II game at Bacon Academy.

Stonington

Coach: A.J. Massengale (14th year)

Key returnees: Sr. RB-DB Hayden Parrilla, Sr. OL-LB Josh Georgetti, Sr. OL-DL Jack Corley, Sr. OL-DL John Humphrey, Sr. TE-LB Travis Pacheco, Jr. RB-DB Riley Burnside.

Top newcomers: Sr. TE-DL Jared Rudzinsky, Sr. RB-DB Kevin Ferrer, Jr. OL-DL Lucas Falcone, Jr. OL-DL Ben Cook, Jr. RB-DB Jon Curtin, Jr. QB-LB Aaron Lahah, Jr. OL-DL Jaden LaPointe, Jr. TE-DB Wyatt Werling, So. QB-DB Marco Tedeschi, So RB-DB Josh Curtin, So. TE-LB Dave Rebich.

Outlook: The Bears went 6-4 a year ago, but three of those losses were to state playoff teams (Killingly, NFA and New London). Stonington had some major graduation losses, but there is still some good talent returning, especially up front with Georgetti, Corley and Humphrey. "We have many players that will be getting their first experience with varsity football," said Massengale, "so we are hoping for growth and learning to occur so we can improve week to week." The Bears visit Killingly in Week 2 after an opening week bye.

Waterford

Coach: John Strecker (3rd year)

Key returnees: Sr. LB-RB Luther Wade, Sr. QB-S Peter Turello, Jr. WR-S Dan Annibellini, Jr. G-LB Jake Romano.

Top newcomers: Sr. WR-S Max Mazzella, Sr. C-DE Ethan Lewis, Jr. G-DT Kumar Sharma.

Outlook: The Lancers just missed out on a Class M playoff berth a year ago, finishing 7-3. But Strecker graduated six players who earned ECC Division II all-star status, so he will he will bring a young, inexperienced team to New London for Friday night's season opener. Waterford had successful freshman and junior varsity seasons, however, so he's curious to see how some of those players transition to the varsity level.

Others

Thames River

Coach: Darin Jones (1st year)

Key returnees: Sr. QB Zack Jackson, Sr. OL Mike Jester, Sr. WR-DB Xavier Wright, Sr. RB-LB Trey Stimson, Jr.  OL-DL Wil Korineck, Jr. WR-DB Ismaeil Rivera, Jr. WR-DB Pedro Castill, So. OL-DL Roark Ryan, So. OL Nick Miller.

Top newcomers: Fr. OL Tyler Jicha, Fr. OL Robert Yuchniuk, Jr. WR-DB Eddie Cruz.

Outlook: The Crusaders, a cooperative program of Norwich Tech and Grasso Tech, have a new coach (Jones), a new league (Connecticut Technical Conference) and a new home field (NFA). They are coming off a solid 5-5 season, but must replace dynamic quarterback Jared Neal among 17 graduated seniors. "We have a young team with a lot of talent and players wanting to step up and play," said Jones, whose Crusaders open Saturday night at home against Cheney Tech.

Valley Regional/Old Lyme

Coach: Tim King (20th year)

Key returnees: Sr. OL-DL Ian Coughlin, Sr. QB-LB Mike Cullina, Sr. OL-DL Ben Falivene, Sr. OL-DL Cole Hamparian, Sr. WR-DB Ernest Jean-Pierre, Sr. RB-DB Jacob Kruszewski, Sr. OL-DL Ian Neviaser, Sr. WR-DB Jud O’Brien, Jr. WR-LB Jae’len Arnum, Jr. RB/DB Nick Braga, Jr. WR-RB Jason O'Brien, Jr. WR-DB Ryan Santos.

Outlook: The Warriors are in good shape when it comes to scorers and the back half of the defense, as they have enough experience returning from last season’s team which reached the Class M semifinals. It’s up front that’s going to make or break Valley/Old Lyme’s season. Neviaser is the only returning offensive lineman and the entire defensive line graduated. “It depends on how well we jell,” King said about his team’s chances. “Not many (of the new starting linemen) got a lot of playing time last season at the varsity level.” The Warriors have also dealt with a rash of early injuries, including a season-ending leg injury to senior running back Cole Ensinger.

NFA's Shea McManaway took over at the quarterback position last year and led the Wildcats to a Class LL playoff bid. The team will try to replicate that success this season under first-year head coach Jason Bakoulis. NFA opens Friday night at Xavier. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
NFA's Shea McManaway took over at the quarterback position last year and led the Wildcats to a Class LL playoff bid. The team will try to replicate that success this season under first-year head coach Jason Bakoulis. NFA opens Friday night at Xavier. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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