ANSONIA (14-0 Class S champion)
TEAM BY TEAM PREVIEW CAPSULES (coming soon)
TOP 5 PLAYERS TO WATCH
- ARKEEL NEWSOME, RB/DB, Ansonia – There’s not much else to say about Connecticut’s best tailback that you haven’t heard. The 5-foot-9 terror who’s committed to UConn is close to shattering the state career rushing record and is the reason Ansonia should roll to a third-consecutive state championship and maybe the state’s first 15-0 season.
- JAI’QUAN McKNIGHT, QB/DB, Ansonia – Newsome’s cousin and backfield mate had a stellar sophomore season in leading the Chargers to the Class S championship. He gives the Chargers something they’ve rarely seen in a quarterback lately: An explosive, multi-dimensional threat. He also made seven picks on defense.
- JASON BRADLEY, QB, Naugatuck – As a sophomore, showed promise in leading the Greyhounds to a 6-4 record. His 1,492 passing yards and 26 TDs should only increase under new coach Craig Bruno’s system.
- TANNER KINGSLEY, QB, Woodland – Set insane passing records with 3,227 yards and a state-record 51 touchdowns as a junior. He’ll need to find new weapons, but the Hawks are glad he’s back for another shot at the title.
- LOGAN MARCHI, QB, St. Paul – He’s a UConn commit, having thrown for 2,935 yards and 38 touchdowns as a junior and should so again. St. Paul hopes he can finally put his talents on display in close games. There have been few at St. Paul during his high school career.
KEEP AN EYE ON…
RYAN HOVAN, OL, Ansonia; MATT SIMON, OL, Ansonia; COREY DZIENKIEWICZ, OL, Ansonia; SAIHEED SANDERS, FB, Ansonia; GERRON PENDARVIS, FB/DE, Holy Cross; DREW BIALOGLOWY, RB/DB, Holy Cross; BRYAN BURNETTE, RB/LB, Holy Cross; AARON YOURISON, OL/LB, Naugatuck; JORDAN HOPKINS, FB/LB, Naugatuck; LEVI FANCHER, TE/LB, Woodland; JACK PINHOE, WR/DB, Woodland; JACK BRIGGS, RB/LB, Seymour; ZACH SIROWICH, OL/LB, Seymour; TYRAE SMALL, RB, Derby; MIKE KREIGER, QB, Derby; JORDAN LARUE, WR, Derby; JOE LYNCH, RB, Wolcott; TOM LONGO, DL, Wolcott; JAY PELLETIER, WR, Wolcott; ERNIE TRACY, OL/DL, Torrington; DESMOND LANGS, WR/DB, Torrington; MYLES GOULBOURNE, QB/DB, Crosby; TIM LAMADELEINE, OL, Kennedy; Matt Terlizzi MATT TERLIZZI, RB/DB, Watertown; BOBBY ERNST, OL/DL, Watertown; ANTHONY YORDON, RB/LB, Watertown; JAE’QUAN ROBINSON, RB/LB, Sacred Heart; PARRIS WOLFE, WR, Sacred Heart; REID MORIN, WR/DB, St. Paul.
- ANSONIA — Yes, again. They have the state’s best tailback in Arkeel Newsome, the best line — bolstered by the return of Ryan Hovan from a broken leg suffered last year — one of the best multi-threat quarterbacks in Jai’Quan McKnight, and a bruising fullback Saiheed Sanders. They’re beyond loaded. Rare is the season that the Chargers aren’t even playing for the league championship. Since Tom Brockett took over as coach in 2006, the Chargers have only missed playing for the title once, in 2009, and have only lost the game once, in 2010 to Naugatuck. So you can say the Chargers have winning this league down to a science. The only championship intrigue left is who will face them for league laurels. Eh, maybe that’s not so intriguing, either. How about becoming the state’s first 15-0 state championship team? It’s possible. Who’s going to stop them?
- WOODLAND (Copper) — The Hawks have a stud QB in Tanner Kingsley, but have work to do in a variety of spots. Having Levi Fancher and Jack Pinhoe back to lead the defense helps. That said, typically rebuilding doesn’t take long on Back Rimmon Road. Woodland is tough most years. It hasn’t had a losing season since 2008.
- NAUGATUCK (Copper) — ‘Brunoball’ comes to the Valley. With four starters returning on the line, talent in the front-seven, a bruising transfer from Arizona at fullback in Jason Hopkins and a talent at QB in Jason Bradley, the Greyhounds are as good a bet as any to challenge the Chargers. That said, this group’s best years may lie ahead.
- HOLY CROSS (Copper) — Junior Gerron Pendarvis is a beast and anchors what should be a strong, returning defensive front. He could also wreak havoc at fullback alongside with new RBs Burnette and Bialoglowy. They’ll have three rocks to run behind on the offensive line. The Crusaders have work to do elsewhere, including breaking in a new QB, sophomore Aaron Velazquez.
- SEYMOUR (Brass) — Briggs and Sirowich would star on any team and the Cats should be good on defense. Their offense, featuring new QB Frank Marcucio (whose father coaches at Westhill) and RB Joe Salemme, will have to prove it can move the ball consistently.
- DERBY (Brass) — With Kreiger, Small and LaRue, the Red Raiders have plenty of skill, minus Dylan McMahon. The offensive line isn’t as polished, however. Derby hopes it can make up the difference on defense.
- WOLCOTT (Brass) — Do-everything QB Mike Nicol is gone, as are 19 seniors. So the burden of production will be “more collaborative,” according to coach Jason Pace. Joe Lynch and WR Jay Pelletier will likely get the most touches. The Eagles are starting from scratch in most other areas, particularly at QB.
5 CAN’T MISS CONFERENCE GAMES
- ANSONIA at HOLY CROSS (Week 4, Oct. 4) — Unless someone in the Brass Division shows up, of all the pre-Thanksgiving games on Ansonia’s schedule this non-divisional matchup is the only one that looks remotely competitive. The Crusaders are supposed to contend for the Copper Division. Here’s a sneak-peak at what a potential NVL title game might look like (Our guess? Not pretty).
- NAUGATUCK at WOODLAND (Week 4, Oct. 4) — Call this the first mega game of the Craig Bruno era. It’ll feature two of the league’s best teams and best quarterbacks in Naugy junior Jason Bradley and Woodland record-breaker Tanner Kingsley. The winner, which is typically Woodland (they’ve won all but one game in 10 years), gets inside track in the Copper Division race.
- WOODLAND at HOLY CROSS (Week 8, Nov. 1) — The NVL Brass Division race will kick into high gear with a two-week stretch of the Division’s top contenders duking it out for the right to face Ansonia for the league title.
- NAUGATUCK at HOLY CROSS (Week 9, Nov. 7) — By most predictions, this late-season clash should claim a winner in the Copper Division sweepstakes.
- ANSONIA at NAUGATUCK (Week 12, Nov. 28) — Early predictions are already pitting these two heavyweights together for the league crown on Thanksgiving. Regardless, all eyes should once again be on this Valley classic.
Coaching Shakeup!: The biggest coaching hire of the offseason came at Naugatuck, where two-time state championship coach Craig Bruno takes the reins after spending 11 years at Bunnell. His unorthodox style of football, affectionately called ‘Brunoball’ in this space, is sure to have the old guard talking. If he gets results quickly, he’ll be a hero. …Torrington, which suffered through a difficult offseason following the arrest of two former football players for rape, is now coached by former Sheehan assistant and Torrington alum Gaitan Rodriguez. …One More Year!: Oxford agreed to join the NVL in 2014 after a courtship between the schools Board of Education and the league brass. Thanks to the NVL-SWC challenge, border rival Seymour will get a first taste of the Wolverines. Oxford players, like coach Joe Stochmal, typically played for Seymour until the town built its own school. When Oxford joins, the league will realign into three divisions. … The NVL-SWC challenge: It’s not as ballyhooed as the clash of the two behemoth leagues down south. But, unlike the SCC-FCIAC challenge, this cooperation between leagues was done quietly and without fuss. The two leagues, which matched up strictly by past strength, will face each other Week 6: Newtown’s at Wolcott; Derby’s at Bethel; Immaculate’s at Crosby; Barlow is at Torrington; Kennedy is at Stratford; New Farifield plays at Sacred Heart; Seymour travels across town lines to face future NVL rival Oxford; Watertown plays New Milford; Woodland’s at Pomperaug; Holy Cross is at Weston; Notre Dame-Fairfield is at St. Paul; Brookfield is at Wilby. The two sexiest match ups are Masuk at Ansonia and Bunnell facing former coach Craig Bruno at Naugatuck. …New Fields: Naugatuck added turf during the offseason, giving the NVL four such fields. The others are Wolcott, Watertown and Municipal Stadium. All Waterbury schools except Crosby use Municipal. …
- Champions: Brass: Ansonia; Copper: Naugatuck; Champion: Ansonia
- Playoff Teams: Ansonia (S), Naugatuck (L), Woodland (S).
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s just unfair, really. Ansonia’s pedigree allows it to restock while restocking. The rest of the NVL seems to have taken a step back, with newcomers and gaping holes prevalent in a majority of the league’s teams. All signs point to a cakewalk for the Chargers on the way to an unprecedented 30 league championships. So, once again, the intrigue will be on the three-team race for the Copper Division championship and on who else can join the Chargers in the playoffs.