This year was unfair to the local high school football players, particularly the seniors. Not only did they face the same issues that every student-athlete battled, but they also had their final football seasons squashed as most other high school sports were played without incident.
Rocky Hill head coach Rich Dance and Wethersfield head coach Matt McKinnon are two local coaches that helped their seniors navigate through the disappointment of an unfulfilled final high school season.
Here are the two coaches, in their own words, reflecting on the senior players.
Coach Dance on his Rocky Hill seniors
Omar Ahmed (Captain): “Omar is a leader on and off of the field. He sets a great example for what a student-athlete is supposed to be and has a great mix of intelligence and athleticism. He is no doubt going to be successful in anything he puts his mind to.”
Christopher Cruz: “Football has meant so much to Chris and his family and even though the season did not turn out the way anyone wanted, he can leave with many positive and rewarding memories. He has a great work ethic that will certainly help him as he moves forward.”
Maxwell DiMatteo (Captain): “Maxx is such a coachable and hard-working young man. Anything the coaches asked of Maxx he was able to do without hesitation and do it well. His presence and ability will surely be missed next season.”
Matthew Gwara: “Even though Matt only came out to play in his senior year, he was always positive and enjoyed his time on the field. The players and coaches were fortunate to have Matt on the team, if only for one season.”
Michael Hamann: “Mike did anything the coaches asked of him and was ready to do anything to get himself on the field. His positive attitude and contributions did not go unnoticed among the coaches. That attitude will benefit him as he continues in his goal of becoming a firefighter.”
Ryan LeVie: “The team was really looking forward to seeing Ryan's progress at free safety this season. He was constantly asking for feedback on his performance and what he could do to be a better player, which the team greatly appreciated and made Ryan a pleasure to coach.”
Ethan Meister: Ethan was new to Rocky Hill in his junior year but he embraced his role on the team and came to practice every day giving his maximum effort. He was ready to go at all times, even as the team's practice punter.
Ethan Moreno: “Ethan was not only one of the toughest players on the team but also one of the funniest. He could put his head down, play downhill, and make a big tackle. He could also spontaneously have his teammates and coaches laughing uncontrollably.”
Arber Ndoni: “Arber is such a naturally gifted athlete who has ability that cannot be taught. His size and speed had opponents constantly worried about where he was on the field. Those talents, along with his coachable and competitive personality will be difficult to replace.”
Admin Nukic: “Admin is another young man that worked very hard to make himself a better football player. He was poised to be a big contributor on the field this year but unfortunately the season was cut short. Despite that, he should be very proud of his contributions and dedication.”
R.J. Onyina (Captain): “R.J.'s commitment to making himself a better football player has been a joy to watch. He is one of the most athletically gifted players the coaches have had the pleasure of coaching and we look forward to seeing him continue to excel at Southern Connecticut.”
Alijah Ruocco-Smith: “Alijah transferred to Rocky Hill at the beginning of his senior year. Despite being the new guy on the team, he was immediately embraced by his teammates and coaches. He is a competitor that was always looking for an opportunity to contribute on the field.”
Sufwan Shahid: “As a player and student, Sufwan is an incredibly polite and personable young man on the field and in the classroom. He is a reason why coaches enjoy coming to practice every day. The team is sure that Sufwan is destined for great success in life.”
Gabriel Wilkowski: “Gabe worked hard day in and day out at practice on the offensive line and ended up working his way onto the field on defensive line as well. His size and speed would have certainly made him a force in his senior year. Gabe and his family have a long history with Rocky Hill football, and the team is thankful for all of their contributions.”
Sunkee Wong: “While undersized, Sunkee was a dedicated and hardworking member of the team that was ready to contribute at tailback in his senior year. Despite not having a true season, he was able to make his presence felt in 7v7 and would have certainly been a big part of our offense if circumstances were different.”
Joshua Young: “Josh did not hesitate to volunteer or contribute to anything that was needed of him on the field. Even a job like being the placekicking holder was embraced by Josh, and he was ready to go at all times.”
Coach McKinnon in his Wethersfield seniors
Connor Gray: “Connor is an overall terrific kid, who was part of our program. His work ethic and commitment to the program was tremendous. He would have been our Special Teams Phenom this season.”
Dylan Knapp: “Dylan stepped up big time for us on the defensive line in his junior season. He would have had a monstrous season for us this fall at defensive end. He was always willing to be coached and get better. He led by example in practice for his teammates to follow.”
Sam Marchio: “Sam was a leader on our offensive line, holding everyone accountable for their play. He led with toughness and dedication to get better every rep in practice. He had all of his teammates backs and left his mark on the program.”
Marcus Nieves: "Marcus will be one of the best players to ever come through the Wethersfield football program. He is a dynamite player, who had a very good chance in making the All-CT Team for all-state if we played. He is a fearless leader who the program will miss dearly. He leaves behind the MLB position to guys who learned from him all during fall practice the past 2 years. Marcus left some big shoes for his younger brother Mathyas to fill the next two years. It upsets me they won't share the varsity field together, as it was taken away from them this fall. Nieves left his mark on the program and will be someone in film cut-ups we use to teach the position at its finest to our players."
Gustavo Reyes-Alvarez: “Gus was well respected from the coaches and his teammates. He was an outstanding running back and helped us on defense at the middle linebacker position. He led by example in the weight room for his peers to follow.”
Julius Sanchez: “Julius led by example in the weight room. He transformed his strength throughout the 4 years in our program. He would have been our center this season and was very smart reading the defensive box. His fundamentals were one of the best on our offensive line.”
Nick Thompson: "Nick is a fierce warrior. He wanted to go against the best every play. He loved the challenge and let his teammates know he was going to war for them. His sense of humor and dedication to greatness made him so enjoyable to be around. He will be a player who the program will never forget. All defensive players learned from him these past seasons with how hard he executed in practice and showing the determination to win. He broke his entire hand, wrapped it up and played lights out the last 3 games of the season, including the playoffs. Nick is a great person who we enjoy so much."
Vasilios Tsipouras: “Vas would have been our starting QB this season. His leadership role of the offense set the tone for future QBs in the program. He understood the game and knew how to read a defense. Vas has a strong arm and continued to show growth throughout the fall.”
Hakeem Williams: “Hakeem was a player who was competing for time at wide receiver. He was learning the position and would have helped us this season on offense.”
Alessandro Zabalza: “AZ was one of the strongest players in our program. His strength and quickness would have made him a force this season on the offensive and defensive lines. He was determined to get better every rep in practice.”
Zak Zurzola: “Zak was one of our fastest players in the program. He played defensive back and wide
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin