The National Football League draft starts tonight and runs through the weekend. Here’s what the first-round of the draft would look like if we entered the land of make believe, in which NFL teams had to select out of the pool of talented athletes who played at the six local schools this past football season.
Welcome to the 2nd Annual Bizarro Draft…
#1: Los Angeles Rams: Richard Williams- LB-Wethersfield: Most experts agreed that the new-look Rams traded up to select a quarterback, but Williams is a once in a generation talent that will instantly become the face of the recently relocated franchise. He led the entire state in tackles and has a knack for coming up with big plays, also adding value as a versatile halfback on offense.
#2: Philadelphia Eagles: Kevin Lawrence- OL-Xavier: The Eagles also trade up and many speculated they would draft a signal caller, but the new regime wants to protect their fragile quarterback and Lawrence is the perfect guy for the job. He can dominate both sides of the ball and excels as a road-grading guard, where he will add power to an offensive unit who has notoriously struggled in short-yardage situations.
#3: San Diego Chargers: Devon Smith- S-Wethersfield: San Diego lost their defensive leader, Eric Weddle, this offseason and Smith is the ideal replacement. His athleticism is off the charts, allowing him to play man coverage or in the box. The natural born leader can help in all three phases of the game, also having played quarterback, wide receiver and punted during his time at Wethersfield.
#4: Dallas Cowboys: Justice Taylor- DL- Cromwell: Taylor may be the final piece of the puzzle for a Dallas team that has done a nice job rebuilding their offensive and defensive lines over the past couple of drafts. He wreaks havoc in opposing team’s backfields and his size allows him to dominate the line of scrimmage.
#5: Jacksonville Jaguars: James Lavery- OL- Newington: Jacksonville seems to be on the cusp of something special and Lavery could, literally, help push them over the hump. He dominated as a guard and his athletic frame allows him to play multiple positions along the offensive line. He’s a safe bet and the type of player that head coach Gus Bradley will love.
#6: Baltimore Ravens: Kyle Klavins- WR-Wethersfield: For the second straight season the Ravens will select a wide receiver in the first round of the draft to replenish the talent they’ve lost on the outside. Klavins’ playmaking ability and sure hands are second to none. He found the end zone once every three catches in 2015 and will quickly become Joe Flacco’s best friend in the red zone.
#7: San Francisco 49ers: Ricky Montalvo- MLB-Rocky Hill: Montalvo can start immediately and become the leader of a defense in transition. Despite his lack of size, no one in the draft can get to ball carriers with more efficiency and his passion for the game is unmatched.
#8: Cleveland Browns: John Sadak- S-Xavier: The Browns traded down and got a quarterback---for their defense. Sadak is a heady safety with a nose for the ball (four interceptions and two fumble recoveries in 2015) and he’s not afraid to mix it up in the run game. He can also return kicks for the new coaching staff in Cleveland.
#9: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Laurenzo Thompkins- LB- Middletown: Thompkins is the thumper that Tampa has been missing since the departure of Derrick Brooks. He’s explosive off the snap and is disruptive behind the line of scrimmage, making him a steal at this point in the draft.
#10: New York Giants: Patrick Sullivan- LB-Rocky Hill: Sullivan is an old school player that loves contact. The Giants spent a lot of money this offseason on the defensive side of the ball and Sullivan will make the G-Men stouter against the run.
#11: Chicago Bears: Kristian Sapp: RB-Cromwell: Sapp fills a need for the Bears, who moved from long-time back Matt Forte this offseason. He’ll add an explosive nature to an offense that desperately needs it and he’s deceptively tough to bring down between the tackles. His soft hands give him an added dimension out of the backfield.
#12: New Orleans Saints: Jamal Bagley- LB-Wethersfield: The Saints defense has been awful the past couple of seasons and Bagley could be the one that changes that. His passion and playmaking ability are always on full display, especially when he’s punishing quarterbacks.
#13: Miami Dolphins: Grant Nieves- RB-Rocky Hill: It’s amazing that Nieves fell into the Dolphins’ lap. The breakaway threat is an immediate upgrade at running back, thanks to his smooth running style, and his punt returning ability makes him a duel threat. This is a match made in heaven.
#14: Oakland Raiders: Sean Grover- MBL- Newington: Things are trending upwards in Oakland and Grover will add another stabile piece to a young defensive unit. The passionate, sure-tackler will also love wearing his favorite colors, silver & black.
#15: Tennessee Titans: Nick Cusano- G-Wethersfield: The Titans received a king’s ransom trading down from the first overall pick and they get the best available offensive lineman remaining in the middle of the first round. Cusano is a solid anchor, who will solidify an offensive line in flux and help open up the Tennessee run game.
#16: Detroit Lions: Jordan Baker- CB-Middletown: The Lions face some gunslingers in the NFC North and they need someone with Baker’s talents to help control the airwaves. Baker also likes to mix it up in the run game and is well suited to blitz off the corner (three sacks in 2015).
#17: Atlanta Falcons: Jason Carducci- S-Rocky Hill: Carducci is the ultimate competitor and packs a punch in run support. The Falcons have lost veteran leadership at safety, but are getting a guy that leads by example and produces game-changing plays.
#18: Indianapolis Colts: Ethan Roy- DE-Cromwell: The Colts used to have a feared pass rush, but lately they’ve couldn’t scare a fly. Roy can change all that with his unique size and quickness off the snap. His production was tremendous this past season (12 sacks).
#19: Buffalo Bills: Anthony Caramanica- LB-Xavier: Caramanica is the type of player that Rex Ryan craves. He can solidify the heart of the defense and still be impactful behind the line of scrimmage, which will be a welcome site with the loss of long-time defensive stud Mario Williams. The multitalented athlete can also be the team’s emergency punter.
#20: New York Jets: Daniel DeWolf- OL-Newington: The Jets offense may look vastly different next season, but DeWolf has all the makings of a 10-year starter. He’s as solid as a rock, thriving in both pass protection and run blocking.
#21: Washington Redskin: Hunter Belzo- S-Middletown: Belzo is a team-first guy that will be a natural fit with the Redskins, who have revamped their secondary this offseason. He’s a physical safety that can also be a short-yardage tailback if needed.
#22: Houston Texans: Mayze James- LB-Cromwell: James is the jack-of-all-trades and will fit in nicely with a defensive unit ready to take the next step. The Texans, who always find a way to put talent on the field, can also use James’ various abilities on offense.
#23: Minnesota Vikings: Spencer McManus- LB- Xavier: Minnesota has a blossoming, young linebacking crew and McManus will fit right in. He’s a hard-nosed player that makes a living in the opponent’s backfield.
#24: Cincinnati Bengals: Elijah Young- CB-Wethersfield: Young was one-half of the incredible cornerback tandem in Wethersfield. Cincinnati’s defensive backfield isn’t getting any younger, so Young’s track speed and lockdown ability is much needed.
#25: Pittsburgh Steelers: Jae-quan Brown- CB-Wethersfield: Brown is the second half of the duo. The Steelers haven’t had a playmaking talent like this at cornerback since Rod Woodson was in town. Brown is also a dangerous returner.
#26: Seattle Seahawks: Jack Wilson- LB-Cromwell: The Seahawks simple reload on defense and Wilson is the type of player that gets coach Pete Carroll excited. He was highly productive (13 tackles per game in 2015) and is constantly around the ball, making him an instant favorite with the 12th man.
#27: Green Bay Packers: Dante Phillip- DE-Newington: Packers GM Ted Thompson loves to draft the best available player and size along the defensive line. Phillip fits on both accounts. His rare combination of length, speed, and power will allow him to plug into Green Bay’s deep rotation of pass rushers.
#28: Kansas City Chiefs: Trequan Weston- WR-Middletown: Weston has blazing speed and is the homerun hitter that the Chiefs offense is lacking. He’s also an underrated route runner, who will open up Andy Reid’s short passing game.
New England Patriots: Forfeited: The Patriots had their first-round selection taken away because they cheated, again. They originally accepted the penalty, but have since backtracked and blamed everybody else for their transgressions.
#29: Arizona Cardinals: Jovan Colon- OL/DL- Rocky Hill: Colon is a rock-solid lineman, who can exceed at the next level on either side of the ball. His underrated athleticism will be a great addition to the Cardinals attacking defense.
#30: Carolina Panthers: Mersad Zilkic- OL/DL-Cromwell: The defending conference champs are getting a player that can play any line position on either side of the ball. What Zilkic lacks in size, he makes up for in heart, evidence by his speedy return from a training camp arm injury this past season.
#31: Denver Broncos: Nick Guadarrama- QB-Newington: The Super Bowl champs have had a strange offseason, leaving the team without a starting caliber quarterback. Guadarrama has the size, mobility and arm strength to flourish at the next level, especially in Gary Kubiak’s bootleg offense.
16 additional players that will come off the board during round/day two of the 2016 Draft!
Nelson Carlson- Cromwell: Versatile athlete that is solid on both sides of the ball and tough as nails. An instant contributor to whoever drafts him.
Austin Rambarose- Cromwell: Fierce pass rusher with ideal size for the next level. Quarterbacks beware.
Jarius Bailey- Cromwell: Played through an injury his final season at Cromwell and still performed at a high level. Dangerous athlete when healthy.
Tyshaun James- Middletown: May be a “Slash” player at the next level, but his quarterbacking skills cannot be denied. Big play waiting to happen.
DeAaron Lawrence- Middletown: Young prospect that is only going to get better with time. He’s already a sure-tackler for his size and has all the tools to be a starter in the defensive backfield.
Ben Maycock- Newington: A massive steal in day two. Maycock has the size and tools to be dominant at the next level, but his affinity and abilities for baseball may have scared some teams off.
Deven Perez- Newington: Great athlete and even better team player. His route running and sure hands will make him a quarterback’s best friend.
Isaac Ortiz Jr- Newington: Big play receiver that is capable of stretching a defense. He also makes the circus catch look routine.
Luke Pappalardo- Newington: Another young prospect with first-round abilities. The arrow is only pointing up for this sure-tackling, turnover-creating safety.
Damon Lonero- Rocky Hill: Solid lineman, who adds value in the kicking game as a punter and placekicker. Nicknamed Captain Clutch for his ability to drill crucial kicks.
William White- Rocky Hill: Budding prospect that came on strong during the second-half of last season. Solid between-the-tackles runner on offense and eraser in the defensive backfield.
Ian Gingrave- Wethersfield: Heart and soul of a terrific offensive line at Wethersfield. Good chance he becomes a Pro Bowl-caliber guard at the next level.
Ajani Sampson- Wethersfield: Ideal size and athleticism needed to thwart edge rusher at the next level. Played left tackle last season, which NFL teams covet.
Glenn Cunningham- Xavier: Cunningham flew under the radar, but has all the makings of a first-round talent. His size, power, and versatility allow him to succeed as a running back on offense or safety of defense.
Niko Kveitkus- Xavier: Athletic interior lineman with the size to create alleyways at the next level. He’s a safe pick in round two.
Ben Costello- Xavier: Instant leader on defense, who will be in on nearly every tackle. Team that selects him will not be disappointed.
Questions or comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @RareReminderJH
A team player is defined as a person who plays or works well as a member of a team or group.
Newington’s three-sport star Kaitlyn Bernacki fits that definition to a tee.
The senior has already left her mark on the volleyball and basketball courts at Newington High School and now enters her final softball season.
It’s no surprise that the quintessential team player enjoys playing a trio of sports known for their teamwork.
“I like being around a whole bunch of people,” Bernacki said about her affinity for team sports, “I get really close to almost every person on the team. I like the family aspect. It’s a really nice feeling”
Her unselfish nature has shaped her into a highly-productive player and an even better teammate. Her softball coach, Steve Markie, shared an example of her team-first approach.
“She was the third baseman last year and she decided to move to right field this season, possible to make us the best team we could be,” stated Markie, “She’s willing to put the team ahead of herself, which is phenomenal. You don’t see that with 17 or 18 year-old kids all that much.”
The selfless senior has played all three sports since grade school and has thrived because of her ability to adapt, her competitive nature, and her even demeanor. Regardless of the circumstances, she tries to remain even-keeled on the court or field, never getting too high or too low.
“I’ve been surrounded by boy neighbors,” said Bernacki, who started playing basketball and softball at a young age with those same neighbors, “They definitely taught me to be tough, but not to really show it on my face. Nothing negative comes off.”
While a lot of high school students are searching for an individual identity, Bernacki has found her identity through teamwork. She’s been working with others since the first day she stepped foot into the high school. Whether it’s volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter, or softball in the spring---she’s been part of an athletic unit during her entire tenure at Newington.
Bernacki’s older sister, Krystin, was the driving force behind her joining volleyball. The older Bernacki, who is currently a senior and part of the rowing team at Bryant University, was a star-spiker for the Indians when Kaitlyn was in middle school.
Four years later, the younger Bernacki sister has carried on the legacy. This season she was one of six seniors on a team, led by first-year head coach Chris Wanner, who won 16 of 20 regular season games. It was a far cry from the varsity team that failed to win a game during Bernacki’s freshman season in 2012-2013.
“We worked together as a team really well. Our coach pushed us very hard. We had longer practices and we were more into it,” reflected Bernacki, who finished second on the team in digs, “With all six seniors being so close it was easy to be around each other, because we were so experienced. We’ve been playing together since freshman year, which made it easy and we all trusted each other.”
There was a natural transition to the basketball court where she provided instant offense and gave her hardwood team a competitive edge.
“We looked for her to give us some offense this past season. We always looked for her to make an outside shot when we needed it and early in the year she was probably our best scorer,” Newington’s head basketball coach Rick Bangs said, “Kaitlyn is quietly competitive. She just doesn’t like to lose. There would be times when we would be in games and you would see this nature come out in her. She made some plays for us that we really needed in big situations.”
The successes inside the gymnasium were the appetizers to her real true passion, the softball diamond.
“With softball being my favorite sport, I’m definitely taking this season more seriously. I really want to succeed this season. I want the best for all of us,” said Bernacki, who was named a team-captain for her senior season, “We’ve been playing together since we were in the sixth grade. It’s our last time to show what we’ve got.”
Like her coach said, Bernacki has volunteered to change roles this season, all in an effort to better the team.
“We have a very good freshman that is coming up and I know that she has to be in the infield. So I told coach that I can go out in the outfield,” Bernacki said of the position change, “I’ve played there a lot, so I know what to do.”
The hope is that her final high school sports season ends with another tournament run. It was during last season’s tournament that produced her most memorable sports moment thus far.
“We were down by two. I was up with two outs and I hit a triple,” she recalled, “To do that for my team and having the experience of getting that tying run made me very happy.”
Her postseason heroics helped propel Newington to an extra-innings 3-2 win over Ludlowe in the first-round of the Class LL tournament.
The clutch hit was reminiscent of Bernacki’s favorite athlete Derek Jeter, who routinely came up big in crucial moment during his 20-year career. She even wears #2 to pay homage to the recently retired Yankee legend.
The hit was an example of the years of hard work and improvements, especially from the plate, that she has made since she first stepped out on the softball field.
“Her freshman year she came in kind of raw. She was a good athlete, could catch the ball in the outfield and had a pretty strong arm. She was probably one of our better outfielders as a freshman, but her hitting was what you would except from most freshmen,” said Markie, “That’s probably the area that I’ve seen the biggest growth on the field. She’s become a much more confident player, in terms of her hitting and it’s showed. She’s got some power that she never displayed as a freshman or sophomore.”
“She’s very competitive, a great listener, a student of the game,” Markie continued, “She leads by example and has become a great leader for us. She was kind of a quite leader, but last year she stepped up and became much more vocal and outgoing. When I ask someone to do something, she’s always the first one to step up.”
The admiration is mutual. The four-year varsity player credits the coach with helping her blossom into the player she is now.
“Coach Markie has helped me so much in the past four years,” Bernacki stated, “Even in the offseason I can talk to him about absolutely anything. I’m never nervous or hesitant to go up to him.”
She also is thankful for her parents, Joe and Maureen, who have been supportive during her year-round approach to athletics.
“They’ve tried to be there for every single game and after the game my dad will tell me what I have to work on. So will my mom,” she stated, “It has helped having them there, because they are watching me and sometimes I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong or developing a bad habit.”
Over the years she has played with countless teammates, many of whom have become close friends, including Alyssa Bellizzi. The two have played all three sports together, developing chemistry during competition and also creating a unique handshake that can only be described as intricate. It involves shakes, taps, gyrations, and even jumping.
“We do that before every game,” Bernacki said with a smile, “We even do it before tests.”
She also routinely bends down to kiss her bat for good luck before stepping up to the plate. The hope is that these rituals, along with a cast of seven seniors, allow the team to go deep into the Class LL tourney this June.
“I do think we have the potential to be better than we were last year. Hopefully we can lean on our seniors to ride out any rough spots. We do return a lot of kids with a lot of playing experience. You hope that when the going gets rough we’ll have those kids to fall back on that have been there before,” said Markie.
The veteran skipper added that it may take the team some time to fill the spots vacated by the key players they lost to graduation. But for now, he’s trying to keep the team in a rhythm after their first week of the regular season was postponed due to Connecticut’s annual April snowstorm.
“It is a very weird start. We’ve had a lot of scrimmages, which has given us the opportunity to grow as a team and we’ve made some huge strides from the first day until now,” Markie continued, “I would love to of had those games under our belts, but hopefully we can keep the momentum going when we come back and we can hit the ground running again.”
Markie’s squad is just finishing up a trip to Florida, where they played a few scrimmages and a game against Plainville at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. Before leaving Bernacki described the trip as “so exciting.” It was her second softball adventure to the Sunshine State, also traveling with the team during her sophomore season.
Bernacki and her softball sisters are hoping the trip south is just the beginning to an unforgettable spring.
This time next year Bernacki will be attending Southern Connecticut State University, pursuing a career in education as a kindergarten teacher. But before she can start the next chapter in her life, she has one more sports season to finish.
It’s one more season to play the sport she loves. One more season to lace up the cleats. One more season to share a zany handshake with a friend. One more season to kiss the bat. And one more season to be the best teammate she can be.
Questions or comments? Email email@example.com or follow on Twitter @RareReminderJH
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin