East Lyme football, looking to turn things around, hits the field on opening day

East Lyme — The first signs of high school football were plentiful in places like East Lyme, Ledyard, Stonington and Waterford on Monday. Wind sprints across the field. Gassed players with their hands clasped behind their heads. Some poor soul heaving into a garbage can.

East Lyme senior Travis Franco enjoys every minute of it.

“(I have) a love for the game,” Franco said. “The feeling you get before the game, the tingling in your legs, the tingling in your hands, that full energy that just gets you ready, it brings you back out every day. Even on a day like this. Even more on a day like this.”

Monday was the first day of what is commonly called “Hell Week” as teams must endure three days of conditioning before they can put on the helmets and pads. Teams that didn’t have spring football are allowed to start four days earlier in the summer.

East Lyme, Ledyard, Stonington, Waterford, the new Thames River co-op (St. Bernard, Norwich Tech and Grasso Tech), and Class S-Large champion Valley Regional/Old Lyme all began conditioning Monday.

Fitch, Montville, New London and Norwich Free Academy will begin conditioning Friday.

The regular season starts Sept. 11.

The Vikings are in their third season under head coach Rudy Bagos after a disappointing 2014. They lost their first three games and finished 4-7, ending with a Thanksgiving Day loss to rival Waterford.

Bagos is looking for better leadership from his seniors, in particular two-way lineman Andrew Brown and Franco, an outside linebacker-receiver.

“This senior group seems pretty driven to turn it around,” Bagos said. “We hit a bump last year.”

Franco has started since his sophomore year and was a first team linebacker on the Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division all-star team. He's preferred to lead by example.

“I can’t get too much into the younger kids' faces (or) discourage them," Franco said. "You’ve got to keep them up, keep them going and keep them working hard. … I’m going to have to step up my vocal part for sure.”

Bagos said, “The freshmen, sophomores and juniors, they know who Travis is and they look up to him. He has that quality to him.”

Brown is in his third year with the team after moving from Wisconsin. He’s penciled in at right tackle and defensive tackle, although he moved to center last season and earned ECC Large honorable mention.

“You tell him any position and he’ll do it,” Bagos said. “We threw him at center (last year) because we thought he could play it even though he never had before. He’s just one of those kids who’s hard working and will do whatever the team needs. He puts the teams needs before his. He’s just that type of guy. I’ll take 100 of him any day.”

Brown said, “We’re looking as a senior class to incorporate the whole team. Last year, it was the senior class and everyone else. This year, we’re going to be one team. Our underclassmen are going to have to step up just like the rest of us.”

East Lyme looks to have one of the toughest starts to the season amongst ECC teams. It's first four games are at New London (Sept. 11), home against Fitch (Sept. 18) and Class LL finalist Norwich Free Academy (Sept. 25) and at Montville (Oct. 2).

“I see a lot of success,” Franco said. “(We’re going to) come out a lot stronger. I feel like people are looking down on us right now. We’re going to try to surprise people. I know we’re going to do well.

“We’ve had a ton of kids in the weight room and a ton of kids running on their own, trying to stay in shape (this offseason). I see a lot of drive. The look in people’s eyes, they really want it. It feels good.”

n.griffen@theday.com

Twitter: @MetalNED

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