David Donahue, the ECFL's most valuable offensive player last summer, will return to quarterback the Northeast Bulls. The Bulls are a semi professional football team that plays their home games at Glastonbury High School.
The Northeast Bulls, a semi-professional football team, is returning to Glastonbury High School to play their home games this summer.
The team’s home opener is this Saturday, June 25, against the Southington Valley Vipers. Kickoff is 5:30 p.m.
Owners Lester Maldonado and Mike Wade are co-founders of the team, which made their debut in the East Coast Football League (ECFL) last summer.
The ECFL is a full-contact adult football league featuring 23 teams throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine. The teams are separated into two conferences and four divisions by region with the Bulls belonging to the East Coast Division within the East Coast Conference.
“The biggest difference this year is that nothing is given. Last year we were a startup team and running with the punches and this year we came out and recruited,” said Maldonado. “When these guys come out they are competing with each other. They are putting in the work.”
Wade added, “After owning a team for a year we know the skill players will come. We really focused our offseason on recruiting linemen. In semi-pro it is hard to find linemen and it’s hard to find good ones.”
Both owners said Glastonbury made a great home-base for the team a season ago and Wade worked again with Anna Park from Glastonbury Parks and Recreation to work out another Saturday summer schedule at GHS.
In the inaugural season, the Bulls advanced to the championship game before losing to the Hartford Rebels in the title game.
This year the goal is to get over the hump with a bolstered roster and revamped coaching staff.
Maldonado wore multiple hats last season, serving as an owner, head coach, and defensive coordinator. Along with being a first-year owner, Wade also played.
Both owners plan to play this summer and have turned the coaching duties over to Brett Harding and his staff, which includes offensive coordinator Dominic Colavito and defensive coordinator Justin Camp.
Harding said his top priority is to have a disciplined team, adding, “Even though this is semi-pro and we want to have fun, we also have a job to do. I hold every player accountable for their actions.”
Harding was the league commissioner a season ago and had previous coaching experience with the CT Mustangs in the ECFL. He’s implemented his high-velocity offense and a “secret” defensive approach that he said will be unveiled once the games start.
Returning quarterback and offensive captain David Donahue welcomes the up-tempo approach, which will include a no-huddle offense.
“It can give us a benefit because we can see what the defense is doing and adjust from there,” said Donahue, was the league’s most valuable offensive player a season ago after throwing 26 touchdowns. “It has made us way more flexible. Now we have the ability to attack the weaknesses.”
Donahue added the chemistry is already better this season and his grudge with the Rebels from Hartford is personal.
Along with losing to them in the championship game last summer, he also previously was the quarterback of the Mustangs, who were eliminated from the playoffs by the Rebels the previous season.
“We got a ton of new players and maintained our core from last year. It’s championship or bust this year,” said the 26-year old signal caller, who has been playing with Maldonado and Wade since he first started playing semi-pro football.
“They have done a great job. This is one of the best organizations that I have ever been around.”
Captaining the defensive side will be Keiynan Butler, who returns for his second season with the Bulls after being honored the division’s best defensive back last summer.
“The biggest difference I see is the chip on our shoulder. It left a sour taste in our mouth after the championship game,” stated Butler. “We have to come back and get it right this time around. Everyone has a drive and a motor on defense.”
Butler, who played football at East Hartford High School before graduating in 2015, said that many of the players have been playing with or against each other dating back to youth football.
“It’s good to reunite with those players from childhood,” Butler added.
Taking care of things behind the scenes is the team’s general manager Victoria Ryan, who took over the role this summer.
Ryan’s responsibilities are multifaceted. She organizes practices, makes preparations for game days, supports ownership, and has previously coached with Harding so she will step in and run the offense when needed.
“We are planning and executing up until the last minute. Our players shouldn’t miss a beat and they should be so focused on football and everything else should be taken care of,” said Ryan, who praised Maldonado and Wade. “They are super dedicated owners. They are hands-on in all aspects, on and off the field.”
The team kicked off the 2022 season with a 38-12 victory at Kenney Park in Hartford on June 18. Donahue threw three scores to three different receivers (Jumel Maldonado, Parker Rowley, and Jordan Ware), while Amari Osbourne and Vinny Marciano added touchdowns on the ground.
Wade added that the team will play “meaner and aggressive” this season and hopes the community will come out and support the team.
“I see the future in Glastonbury. The town is getting to know us a little bit more,” added Wade.
The owners expect nothing short of a championship with the improved roster and coaching staff this summer
Harding agrees, adding, “It’s way more professional than people think. People think it is just a flag football thing, but it’s not. If you come, you’ll be really surprised.”
Along with the game this Saturday, the Bulls also have a grudge game scheduled for July 9 against the rival Rebels (5:30 p.m.)
Tickets for home games are $10 with free admission for children 10-and-under. Active military or those who had previously served can purchase tickets for $5 with proper identification.
The owners said they are still looking for additional sponsors. For more information on the team or for a full schedule, visit the league’s website at www.ecfl.us or follow the Bulls on Instagram or Facebook.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin