Bryce Karstetter and Ricky Montalvo will be position captains at WNE this fall
From 2013-2019, Ricky Montalvo and Bryce Karstetter became household names around the area thanks to their excellence on the high school football fields.
Montalvo was an All-State linebacker for Rocky Hill, before graduating in 2017, and Karstetter was an All-State quarterback from Cromwell, before graduating in 2019.
Over four high school seasons, each were part of 36 wins, as both Rocky Hill and Cromwell averaged nine wins per season during their tenures.
Now the two former high school rivals are college co-captains for the Western New England University football team in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“In high school you see those kids as they bad guys, but then you get into college and you become friends with them and realize we’re all the same,” said Karstetter, who recalled his high school coaches having to prepare for Montalvo, “He was a big part of our game plan. He would just get through any gap and he was just so fast. Our coaches would have trouble figuring out the system and I don’t know if those where the gaps he was supposed to go to or if he did it on his own. He was everywhere on the field.”
Montalvo twice played Cromwell, coming out of the winning side both times in the first two Shunpike Showdowns, “There was nothing like those Thanksgiving games, everyone is home from either college or work, so we got big crowds. Being the next town over it was a huge rivalry.”
Montalvo, who was known for his instincts and unrelenting motor, made All-Conference three times at Rocky Hill before committing to WNE following his All-State senior season.
“Going to at Western New England was the best decision of my life, both football and academic-wise. The brothers I’ve made throughout the years and the culture of the program is unreal,” said the senior linebacker, who credited WNE defensive coordinator and Connecticut recruiter Alex Bresner, “Coach Bresner is a great guy. As soon as he to recruited me, he made me feel like I was wanted, and made me feel like I was one of his sons.”
Karstetter, who was a three-year starter at quarterback in high school, had a similar experience with Bresner.
“I loved the campus, I loved the facilities. Also they were a winning team and I loved he coaches. It was kind of the whole package,” Karstetter said of his WNE decision, “It’s a great culture here, it wasn’t what I expected it to be. Our coach [Jason Lebeau] says every year that the #1 priority is that we know the name of every kid on the team. Its little things like that that make you realize it’s not what you expect college football to be, it’s more like the family that we had in high school.”
Bresner, who has been coaching at WNE since 2016, referred to both Montalvo and Karstetter as terrific young men.
“Ricky has impressed us since day one with his motor and energy every day. Ricky made a position switch from ILB to OLB his junior year and has got to a point headed into the fall where he can do it all for what we ask of the position,” stated Bresner, “Ricky has tremendous character, and our players really gravitate to his leadership ability. We have all the confidence in Ricky that he will be one of the best defensive players in New England this fall.”
Bresner added, “What impressed me the most about Bryce during the recruiting process was his maturity and his love for the game. Bryce is a football guy and a real student of the game. We got a feel early in the process that he had a winning mentality and he wouldn’t be scared to come in and compete right away. The culture we have established at WNEU is built on hard work and competition and I know that was a big factor in him deciding to join our program.”
Prior to his college commitment Karstetter was coming off an All-State senior season at Cromwell, throwing for nearly 3000 yards and tallying 33 total touchdowns. His final regular season game with the Panthers was a memorable 30-0 win over Rocky Hill, marking the Panthers first Shunpike Showdown victory in 2018.
“I love every second of high school football, I miss it all the time,” recalled Karstetter, “I love college football too but being with the kids you grew up with and playing on Friday nights was always a good time.”
2019 was the first season that the former high school foes were teammates. It was a historic season for the Golden Bears, who finishing 9-2 and hosted a playoff game for the first time ever.
Montalvo was a defensive stud, racking up 52 tackles, three sacks, a pair on interceptions, and a blocked kick as a junior. Karstetter was a freshman learning the ropes behind quarterbacks Alec Coleman and Brendan Smith.
The 2019 season ended with a 33-28 loss to Brockport State in the postseason.
For Montalvo, the home playoff loss left a bitter taste in his mouth.
“It was a really good game and it came down to the last drive of the game. We played hard all four quarters but couldn’t pull through,” Montalvo recalled about the NCAA Division III tournament game played on November 23, 2019, “Leaving that game I had a lot of motivation coming into the next year. We just kept working and trying to get better each and every day.”
Little did the team know at the time that it would be nearly two years before they would compete again.
The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled 2020’s fall season, leaving both Montalvo and Karstetter without competitive football for the first time since they were in grade school.
“We went through the phases. It was really good because we were able to practice but at some points it was tough because you’d start to think you were practicing for no reason,” recalled Karstetter, “Luckily our coaches stayed really positive, and they did tons of things to keep us engaged and stay focused. By the end we were having fun and enjoyed it.”
Montalvo added, “It was pretty heartbreaking, but every great athlete faces adversity so it was just something that we had to push through.”
2020 would have been Montalvo’s senior season but thankfully WNE granted an additional year of eligibility for all athletes, as well as offering two paid graduate classes for seniors who would be graduating.
The cancelled season turned out to be a quasi-redshirt seasons for both Montalvo (senior) and Karstetter (sophomore).
All told, 13 of the 14 seniors from 2020 chose to return for one last ride.
“I never lost motivation knowing that I was going to get another year of football. It was definitely hard mentally knowing that we weren’t going to play any games but we just had to keep getting better,” recalled Montalvo, who graduated with a degree in finance and will take grad classes this fall.
Montalvo will captain the outside linebackers, who are the core of a talented defensive unit at WNE, “I think we’ll be really good defensively. Two years ago we were a young crowd but with everyone coming back we have a lot of experience and leadership.”
Karstetter was named the captain of the quarterbacks as he preps to potential take over an offense that will be loaded with playmakers.
“Everyday gets better and better, luckily we have a lot of kids returning,” said Karstetter, who is also a finance major, “Having that COVID-season, with all the negatives that surrounded it, there were a lot of positives that we took away from it. Being with each other and practicing for a whole year was so positive.”
The Golden Bears first time back on the field for an official game will be against Springfield on September 4. The schools share the same city limits and will renew an annual showdown that was put on hold during the delay.
“It’s going to be awesome,” said Karstetter, “We can’t wait to play them again and line up against someone else other than ourselves.”
Montalvo added that the Western New England vs Springfield battle is like the Rocky Hill vs Cromwell games from high school, “We’ve been looking forward to it. They’re in the same town as us, so it’s a huge rivalry.”
Montalvo and Karstetter are putting in the work this offseason at the Golden Bears aim to capture more conference crowns
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin