2014 High School Football Preview
QB Jake Hedberg will lead Newington in 2014
School is back in session, the leaves are falling, and the temperatures have started to dip. This can only mean one thing—football season has arrived! Last season we saw some incredible individual accomplishments and team performances from our local schools. 2014 is shaping up to be just as compelling with two new head coaches and several budding stars ready to make a name on the gridiron. Here is a preview of what to expect.
Cromwell Eyes Turnaround
Cromwell is looking to rebound after a disappointing 2013 season. Coach Chris Eckert’s squad finished 4-7, losing their final six games. The team had several underclassmen starting last season and the experience the young Panthers gained should help them reverse their fortune this season.
The quarterback position is unsettled, but last season’s leading receiver Jarius Bailey returns for his junior season. He led the team with 856 combined yards and scored six total touchdowns in 2013. Bailey and running back Kristian Sapp will again be asked to carry a bulk of the offensive responsibilities. Sapp burst onto the scene as a freshman last season, leading the team with 609 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
Junior middle linebacker Mersad Zilkic will be one of Cromwell’s leaders on the defensive side of the ball. He led the team in tackles as a sophomore and is also the team’s center on offense.
The team is searching for a few good legs. Mike McNally, who excelled as a punter and placekicker, graduated and will be kicking it elsewhere in 2014.
New Era in Newington
Eric Hennessy enters his first season as the head coach at Newington High School. He was previously an assistant coach at Concordia University Chicago. The new coach will look to use his collegiate experience to help the team close out games better this season. The Indians finished with a record of 5-6 in 2013, but three of those losses came down to the final possession.
Hennessy takes over a team that is loaded with offensive weapons. Newington’s talented trio of quarterback Jake Hedberg and wide receivers Kyle Armour and Andrew Grenier are all entering their senior seasons. The aerial attack was the team’s strong suit last season. Hedberg threw 22 touchdowns, 17 of those scores had either Armour or Grenier on the receiving end.
Last season’s leading rusher Isaiah Young won’t be back, but senior Tony Orwa will assume the ground duties vacated by the graduate. Orwa also stars as an outside linebacker for the Indian’s defense.
Defensive stalwarts Marcus Gaudarramma and Christian Zotti also graduated. However, Christian’s younger brother, Brendan Zotti returns for his senior season, following a 104 tackle performance as a junior.
Middletown Looking to Make Next Step
Sal Morello is entering his fifth season as the head coach at Middletown High School. He took over a team that was coming off a dismal 1-9 campaign and has since accumulated a record of 32-12 in his four seasons at the helm. Last season, the team was on the cusp of a Class L finals appearance, but Darien upset the Blue Dragons in the semi-finals.
Electrifying quarterback Dario Highsmith returns for his senior season after capturing Connecticut’s Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior. He will again be flanked in the backfield by running back Isaiah Thompkins, who is also entering his senior season.
Junior strong safety Hunter Belzo will help lead a well-rounded defense. The vaunted Middletown defense registered two shutouts and held three other opponents to single digits in scoring last season.
New Regime at Rocky Hill
Rocky Hill is coming off of their best season in the school’s short history, finishing with a 10-2 regular season and winning their first ever playoff game before falling to Ansonia in Class S semi-finals. The loss to Ansonia was the last game in the illustrious career of Dave Coyne, who had been the first and only head coach for the Terriers. Coyne retired following the playoff defeat, opening a new era in Rocky Hill football.
Mark Fritz, who played for Coyne from 2002-2006 and was an assistant of his staff last season, takes over as the sideline leader for Rocky Hill. Fritz, who played collegiately at Central Connecticut State University, has big shoes to fill and also has to replace the bulk of the team’s production last season.
Andrew Jenkelunas, Chris Young, Greg Marzilli, Nick Carducci, and Tommy Seaver helped lead the team on and off the field during last season‘s playoff run. The five seniors combined to lead the team in passing, rushing, receiving, sacks, tackles, and handled the placekicking duties in 2013.
Senior Dave Sevigny, juniors Jason Carducci and Patrick Sullivan, and sophomores Grant Nieves and Ricky Montalvo will be ask to fill the voids left by the exiting graduates.
Wethersfield Riding Wave of Momentum
John Campanello’s team won the final seven games of 2013, finishing 8-3. The seven consecutive victories made the Eagles one of the hottest teams at the end of the regular season, but the team still missed the postseason in the ultra-competitive Class L.
Quarterback Matt Sanzaro returns for his senior season as one of the state’s best signal callers. He shook off an early-season shoulder injury in 2013, finishing with 28 touchdown and only 4 interceptions. The accurate righty will be asked to work with a new group of receivers after losing his top target from last season to graduation. The receivers currently on the roster only caught ten combined passes in 2013.
The team also lost all-conference offensive tackle Geoff Skowronek, who protected Sanzaro’s blindside. Fortunately the team has several offensive linemen returning, led by anchor Andrew Dowd, who is entering his senior season.
Linebacker Richard Williams will again be counted on to be the inspirational leader on defense. The junior led the team in sacks, tied for the team-lead with three interceptions, and finished second in tackles at a sophomore. The all-world athlete also handles the Eagle’s placekicking duties.
Xavier Looking to Get Back to Championship Form
Xavier missed the postseason in 2013, following three straight years as Class LL State Champions. A late-season loss to rival Fairfield Prep ruined the Falcons chances of competing for an unprecedented fourth straight title.
Coach Sean Marinan and his team are looking to get back to championship form, but they will have to replace a couple of key offensive weapons. Quarterback Joe Carbone and running back Andrew Meoli graduated, taking away a big chunk of their offensive production from last season.
Senior Michael Scherer will assume a bulk of the offensive responsibilities and should be the team’s starting quarterback. Fellow senior Chidi Broderick anchors a talented offensive line that will be protecting Scherer. Broderick also shines on the defensive line.
Edwin Luster is a ball hawking cornerback who will patrol the defensive secondary. Linebacker Cole Thorburn will also help lead a talented Falcons’ defense. Both players are entering their senior seasons and combined for five interceptions and nine pass breakups in 2013.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin