Colton Smith pushed up the cuff of his dress shirt. Wrapped around his right wrist are two bands; one pink and one green. The green one has a story that the Fairfield Prep starting quarterback and his teammates from Newtown hold close.
“It says what date and it says, ‘We are Newtown,'” Smith explained Wednesday at the CIAC football state championship luncheon in Plantsville. “Me and Connor (Roche) both wear wristbands for Newtown every day. Never take it off.”
Smith and Fairfield Prep (11-2) will play for the Class LL state championship Saturday at Central Connecticut State University’s Arute Field against Southington (11-1) at 1:35 p.m. It is the first anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Smith, Roche, Stephen Walsh and Geoff Santore are the four Newtown residents on the Jesuits’ roster.
“It’s the championship and probably one of the biggest games I’ll ever play in,” said Walsh, a senior safety. “But in the end, it’s just a game. Life is so much bigger than just a game; it kind of keeps it in perspective.”
Saturday no doubt will be filled with the full spectrum of emotion. Smith and his two younger sisters attended Sandy Hook. Walsh said his aunt worked there.
“Well, it was emotional,” Smith said. “But we knew it would definitely strengthen us. And we just honor them every game we play.”
Smith and his teammates have helped turn the Fairfield Prep program around. When Walsh was a freshman, Prep won just three games. Now the Jesuits are riding a seven-game winning streak into the state championship game.
“It’s kind of a dream,” Walsh said, “especially as a senior. I would like to go out with a (win).”
Smith, who has rushed for 27 touchdowns and thrown for nine, said he’s learned to appreciate the game more this season. Going back to the wristband: it’s a simple but strong reminder to Smith to make the most of every play, every down and everything in life.
“You’ve got to love everything you have,” Smith said. “(I) definitely play with more heart and more desire.”
Said Prep coach Tom Shea: “I can’t identify what strength or inspiration they draw from, but I can tell you they have done a tremendous job.”
The Jesuits’ journey to the state final potentially could have culminated with a showdown with Newtown. The teams were on opposite sides of the Class LL bracket, but No. 1 seed Newtown lost 35-33 in the quarterfinals to Ridgefield, its first loss after going 12-0 this season.
“I started playing in the eighth grade and played with a lot of those guys who just lost,” Walsh said. “All of them are good players. I think it would have been fun.”
Smith and Roche, both juniors, grew up playing together in the Newtown youth football system. At last Saturday’s semifinal against West Haven, there was a section from Newtown cheering on Prep.
Smith and Walsh said their approach to Saturday’s game won’t be any different. It will be a passion-filled day that they know they are ready for.
“We want to bring (Newtown) something to look forward to, to be happy about,” Smith said. “Because that’s what everybody is looking for at these times.”