Max Nylen runs after catching a pass at practice on Aug. 29. Nylen is one of two all-conference players returning for RHAM football this season.
Dakota Fleming is entering his second year as the varsity head coach for a RHAM football program hoping to build off the success from a season ago.
“We are looking to play team football and make sure everybody does their job,” said Fleming, who coached the JV in 2019 before taking over the varsity program in 2021. “Everybody has a role to play.”
In Fleming’s first year manning the varsity program, the team finished with a 5-5 and won three of their final four games—including a forfeit win against Bacon Academy in the season finale.
There will be a lot on the line when the team kicks off the 2022 season at Bristol Eastern on Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m.
Along with starting a second consecutive season with a win, the Raptors be looking to avenge a heartbreaking loss to the Lancers from Bristol.
Following a 44-21 victory over Farmington in the 2021 season opener, the Raptors were in prime position to start the Fleming-era with two straight wins after scoring what they thought was the game-tying touchdown when Max Nylen plunged in from a yard out in the waning moments of their home opener, and needed only the extra point to win. However, the officials determined that time should have expired on the previous play before Nylen scored the potential game-winning touchdown.
Instead of a 2-0 start, the Raptors lost13-7, prompting a three-game losing streak.
Nylen hasn’t forgotten about the controversial ending and says the team is “looking for a little revenge”
Now a senior captain, Nylen is aiming to follow up on his all-conference season last fall when he led the team in total yards (1228) and touchdowns (14). He played a variety of roles a season ago—from running back to wide receiver to halfback—and will again be the team’s Swiss army knife this fall.
“Wherever the coach puts me, I’ll do whatever he asks,” stated Nylen, who played offensive line in youth football. “Anywhere they need me on offense or defense I am willing to do it“.”
Nylen will be joined in the captain’s chair by Tommy Puetzer, Michael Marques, and Logan Topulos.
Puetzer made all-conference as an interior lineman a season ago and will now move to the outside, shifting to tight end and defensive end.
The 6’3” Puetzer said his roles have changed on the field and on the sidelines where he is mentoring the younger players.
“We’re not the biggest team, we are actually quite small, so we have to be very physical and be tougher than other teams,” added Puetzer, who feels the team needs to start games quicker than they did a season ago.
Marques finished second on the team in tackles and forced a team-high two fumbles a season ago. He will again start at linebacker and play running back.
“Everybody has a ton more intensity compared to the team that we had last year. Everyone is ready to work together,” stated Marques. “We have some younger kids that are really passionate about the sport and have put in a ton of work in the offseason.”
Leading the offense will be first-year junior quarterback Brady Hulland, who spent the previous two years at Xavier High School.
Fleming said that Hulland has fit right in with the team and embraced the role behind center, showcasing an athletic ability that is ideal for the team’s up-tempo offense.
Junior wide receiver Josh Weers, who also plays cornerback and punter, and Nylen should be Hulland’s main receiving threat on the outside.
Fleming added that the team is young and will count on many juniors and sophomores playing expanded roles this year. He has been impressed with the development of younger guys, pointing to Jack Smith, Caden Bellmore, and Thiago Delacruz as players who have made significant strides this fall.
Because he coached youth wrestling and baseball locally before taking over the football program, Fleming has known most of his roster since middle school. The 26-year old head coach believes he has a motivated group of players that are ready and willing to play both sides of the ball.
“Our captains are great football players and we have some juniors that are great football players. It will take everyone working together to get us to get us to our goal,” said Fleming, a 2014 graduate of Windham High. “The competition of the younger players knocking on that door and grinding every day helps our program get better.”
Following next Friday’s season opener at Bristol Eastern High School, the Raptors return home the following week to host Berlin at RHAM High School on Saturday, Sept. 17. Kickoff is 1:00 p.m.
They will close the regular season with three of their final four games at home, including the much-anticipated rivalry renewal of the “Battle for the Rail” against Bacon Academy on Thanksgiving morning. Because of the 2020 cancellation and the forfeiture last season, the teams haven’t met since Thanksgiving morning of 2019 when Bacon won 32-0.
“I just want them to play for each other, have fun, and do their job,” Fleming said of what he expects from the team. “If we are doing those three things then what happens at the end of the game is what will happen at the end of the game.”
Marques added, “We still have something to prove. Last year our team motto was that ‘we’re up to something’ and this year we are setting a tone.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin