Portland seniors Teddy Williams (L) and Owen Brunk (R) are dominating opponents this fall
All great defensive football teams have linebackers that can stop the run and play the pass effectively, while creating chaos for opposing teams.
The Cromwell/Portland football team has that luxury this season.
Portland High seniors Owen Brunk and Teddy Williams are manning the middle for the Panthers, teaming with junior Ryan Rozich to form one of the fiercest linebacking trios in the state.
“We felt like we were the best when we were sophomores and Ryan was a freshman,” said Brunk. “The guys on the team, they push me every day. Even when it gets difficult guys like Teddy will push me. We push each other. “
Brunk was an All-State linebacker as a sophomore in the fall of 2019 and was ready to repeat that performance in 2020, but the pandemic had other plans that included the cancellation of full-contact high school football in the state of Connecticut.
Williams recalled the difficult time, “We missed out on our junior year, which is a big year, and we’ve just been working all offseason to get prepared for it. We were ready when we got the chance.”
The three linebackers, along with quarterback Cole Brisson, are captaining a Panthers team that through four games are undefeated, including a 49-0 statement victory over North Branford last Saturday.
Brunk intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and Williams had a sack, forced fumble, and fumble recovery in the lopsided win.
Brisson led the offense with four touchdown passes, two to Ben Fagan, and running back Alex Hair (also a PHS student) ran for 133 and two touchdowns on only 10 carries.
The team started the season with wins over Morgan (36-8), Haddam-Killingworth (41-3), and Valley Regional/Old Lyme (21-6).
Rozich, who attends Cromwell High School, said the team couldn’t wait to get back on the field after last fall’s disappointment,
“We came out ready to play and it’s showed on the field. We put in a ton of work in the offseason to get ready and we’re just having fun.”
Since the team wasn’t able to compete last fall, the linebackers focused their attention on getting bigger, stronger, and faster in the weight room, training with former Penn State standout linebacker Jarvis Miller at Athlete Training Institute in Cromwell.
“We were able to learn from him. We knew there wasn’t many guys that were doing what we are doing,” Brunk said of the top-notch training. “We knew what we were doing was different. Not many guys train like we do in the offseason.”
Williams has seen a night and day difference in his performance thanks to the professional and extensive training, “Two years ago I was average at best and then I got in the weight room and I work out with these guys, and I come back 100 times better.”
Brunk and Williams do most of their damage on the defensive side, each averaging eight tackles per games, and they also double as offensive threats.
Brunk is a bruising running back, scoring a pair of touchdowns of the ground through the first four games.
Williams starts at receiver, leading the team in receptions (16) and receiving touchdowns (4), and handles some kicking duties on special teams.
The versatile Williams doesn’t mind the double and sometimes triple duties, “I love being the guy that everyone can look at and know that I can get something done.”
Panthers head coach Randell Bennett heaped praise his linebackers, calling them “unstoppable”, adding, “When the linemen see that kind of speed moving in front of them it’s almost like an unfair advantage.”
The production and success on the field is a combination of tireless work in the weight and film rooms, mixed with a natural chemistry. Brunk and Williams are just as close off the field as they are on it.
“My freshman and sophomore year I thought our team was close, but it nothing compared to this team now,” said Brunk. “We not only work out together in the offseason but we also hang out together. We created a bond that when we are on the field everything is easier.”
Williams added, “It’s awesome, I know that if I make a mistake, those two have my back and they’ll make the play. It allows me to go 100% and fly around out there.”
After playing three of four on the road, the Cromwell/Portland football co-op enters a three-game home stretch. The Panthers will welcome Old Saybrook/Westbrook (10/22, 6 pm), Granby/Canton (10/29, 6 pm), and CREC co-op (11/5, 6:30 pm) to Pierson Park in Cromwell over the next three weeks.
Portland and Cromwell are normally rivals in sports, but not on the football field where the towns are united in a quest for a state championship.
“We knew the potential we had this year,” said Brunk. “Every day in practice we are working and we have so many guys that can play at a high level. First team, second team, and we have guys on the third team that can step up and play varsity football.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin