By Mary Albl
WESTPORT — Ready or not, the Staples High football team will get a pretty good diagnosis of themselves come Wednesday evening.
The Wreckers open up the season on the road against Class LL state champion Xavier in Middletown. Staples enters the fall still trying to figure out its identity and personnel after graduating all but four starters. Come Wednesday, the Wreckers will get a full report of where they stand early on.
“It’s going to take us some time and we don’t have a lot of time right now,” Staples head coach Marce Petroccio said.
It will be a large task for the reigning FCIAC champs that finished the season at 10-1, falling to Norwich Free Academy in the Class LL state semifinals. The team graduated team-leading running back Joey Zelkowitz (1,105 yards, 15 TDs), wide receiver James Frusciante (932 yards, 14 TDs) and Nick Kelly who amassed 625 yards on the ground and rushed for 10 scores in 2012.
In place are players eager to get a chance to take the field and learn.
“I just think this is a totally different group, you’re starting from ground zero,” Petroccio said. “And that means we can’t really do as much as we’d like to do. We’ve got to get better at the fundamentals, so we got a big job ahead of us.”
What the Wreckers do have is a solid core of returners that will lead the way. Senior dual-quarterback Jack Massie will pace the team. Massie threw for 17 touchdowns and accounted for 1,556 yards. He also ran for another 10 TDs (683 yards).
“I think Jack has become so much of a dual-threat he can run, he can throw, we’re just trying to figure out ways on the offensive line where we can just give ourselves better opportunities to score points,” Petroccio said.
Joining Massie on the offense this fall will be senior back Patrick Lesch (out for Week 1) who ran for 716 yards and nine touchdowns, as well as wide receiver Will Johnson. Petroccio also mentioned juniors Owen Burke and Jake Melnick as two to watch at back.
Senior Nick Ward is the lone returner on the offensive line. Joining him are a handful of new faces looking to work their way into rotation. Ward explained practices have been going good and the players have shown improvement.
“It’s going OK. A lot of these guys are definitely stepping it up. I was in the same position a few years ago and now I get to do the same for these guys and help them.”
Added Massie: “The focus is on the younger guys and how important it is they improve.”
Ward said on the line with him are Jackson Hoebermann, James Black, Jackson Ward, Chase Colasurdo, Jack Dulsky and a few others in rotation.
Defensively for the Wreckers it will be a new look as well. Petroccio mentioned Jack Greenwald and Bryan Porter as two names that have emerged this fall.
Despite the turnover, one area the whole team will be working on this fall is playing with a high-level of intensity.
“I think we have to work at just being incredibility intense on both sides of the ball,” Ward said. “We have to work twice as hard as we think we have to.”
Come Wednesday, Staples will see how much work they have ahead of them.
“It should be fun,” Massie said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge.”