Division I: XAVIER (West); HAND (East).
Division II: HILLHOUSE (West); NORTH HAVEN (East)
TEAM BY TEAM PREVIEW CAPSULES (Coming soon)
TOP 5 PLAYERS
- HAROLD COOPER, RB/DB, Hillhouse – The 5-foot-8, senior back can blaze trails with the best of Connecticut. He ran for 1,640 yards and 23 touchdowns to earn Register All-State honors in 2012. He makes the defending Class M champion Academics a team to fear every time he touches the ball.
- ERVIN PHILIPS, RB/DB, West Haven – A versatile, four-year starter and Syracuse commit, the 5-11, 180-pound back scored 23 touchdowns and ran for over 1,000 yards in the rugged SCC. But he’s also a He’ll be the producer, director and star of West Haven’s drive for its first state championship since 2002.
- CAMERAN TUCKER, RB/DB, Notre Dame-West Haven – It’s the year of the RB in the SCC, and Notre Dame’s thankful to have the bruiser of the bunch. The 5-10, 208-pound Tucker is a workhorse, having run for nearly 1,700 yards on 215 carries. ND will ride Tucker as far as he can carry them against stacked fronts.
- JAKE KASUBA, QB, Foran – At 5-9, 150 pounds, Kasuba barely looks the part. Yet, he shredded SCC D2 for 2,500 yards and 24 touchdowns and ran for another 500 more yards as a sophomore. The Lions are supposed to contend for a playoff spot. Kasuba’s a big reason why.
- JOE CARBONE, QB, Xavier – He bided his time behind a list of quarterbacks. He hasn’t played a down as a starter but is already getting talked up as a talent. Now, the 6-3 senior gets his shot to direct the Falcons to a fourth-straight championship. More mobile than Tim Boyle, he’ll bring a running dimension back to the Xavier offense.
KEEP AN EYE ON…
NATE GONZALEZ, DB/WR, Xavier; WILL GARRITTY, OL/DL, Xavier; ANDREW MEOLI, RB/DB, Xavier; CHIDI BRODERICK, DE, Xavier; JASON THOMPSON, RB/LB, Shelton; KYLE DROST, OL/DL, Shelton; MARK PICCIRILLO, QB, Shelton; CHRISTIAN FEDERICI, DL, Shelton; ANTHONY PALOZZO, OL, Fairfield Prep; TONY FOX, DL, Fairfield Prep (Fordham); NICK CROWLE, DL, Farifield Prep (Yale); JOE GANIM, RB, Fairfield Prep; JOEY NAULT, QB/DB, Guilford; ERIC ZERGIEBEL, RB, Guilford; DAVID KNAPP, RB, Guilford; TYLER BURNS, ATH, Amity; DAVE RYAN, QB, Amity; DUANE GARY, QB, West Haven; JESSE RIDGWAY, LB, West Haven; ZATRELL LYONS, WR, West Haven; NICK WEISSAUER, RB/WR/DB, Foran; DAN ROGERS, RB/DB, Hand; PAT ROGERS, DB, Hand; HAYDEN ATWATER, QB, Hand; IAN DIELI, NG, Hand; NICK van DELL, QB, Hand; MIKE HALLORAN, LB, North Haven; ETHAN SURACI, FB/LB, North Haven; JEREMY GANNON, ATH, Sheehan; RAFAEL DOMINGUEZ, RB, Sheehan; JACK CUNNINGHAM, RB/DB, Cheshire; ANDREW YAMIN, RB/LB, Cheshire; MARK DIETRICH, WR/DB, Cheshire; ZACH WASHINGTON, TE/LB, Wilbur Cross; JAYLIN FULLER, FS/RB, Wilbur Cross; TIM MAHER, QB, Law; DEVAN HALL, HB, Branford.
- SCC Division I: XAVIER — You were expecting someone else? The three-time defending state champions were actually the second-best team in the SCC a year ago. But with massive turnover at Hand and talented West Haven still unproven, we’re going to say the Falcons are the team to beat in 2012. Yes, Xavier only returns three starters on both sides of the ball, but they already have outstanding talents like Nate Gonzalez, Will Garrity, Andrew Meoli and Joe Carbone set to assume starring roles. Though Xavier’s traditionally scary lines will look significantly more mortal, this is the definition of retooling.
- SCC Division II: GUILFORD – Everybody’s on the lookout for the Indians. The versatile Nault made even some of the SCC’s best programs sweat last year. The supporting cast includes outstanding backs Eric Zergiebel and David Knapp. The bad news is RB K.C. Horton will likely miss the season due to injury and the schedule is nothing short of brutal. But whose in the SCC isn’t? What about Foran? Guilford rolled the Lions last year, making them our top SCC II pick.
- WEST HAVEN (Division I) — It’s now or never for the Westies and the stars seem to be aligning in their favor. Ed McCarthy is six victories away from becoming all-time coaching wins leader, Ervin Philips is poised for a big senior year before heading to Syracuse, all-state WR Zatrell Lyons has transferred in from Platt Tech, and the team looks big, fast and determined to make this their year. They’ll also be playing with an angel on their shoulder: Casey Ridgway, the younger sister of LB Jesse Ridgway, died of cancer this summer, inspiring the team to play in her memory. The schedule does them no favors and the Westies have yet to prove they can win a big SCC game. But they’re a strong bet to upset the Hand-Xavier stranglehold on the conference.
- FORAN (Division II) — With seven starters back on offense, eight on defense, and one of the state’s best pitch-and-catch combos in Kasuba and Weissauer, this is shaping up to be Woodmont’s best team since Jeff Bevino took over as coach in 2006. But, team size remains a major issue and the schedule’s stacked with equally good opponents. In addition to a tough D2 slate, the Lions have dates with Fairfield Warde, West Haven, Shelton and Trinity Catholic. Best of luck, boys.
- SHELTON (D1) — Are we ready to welcome the Gaels back as an SCC powerhouse? It helps that the team brings back Jason Thompson, a bulldog at back and linebacker, and made key changes to the defensive line, putting big Federici on the other side of the immovable Drost. If Piccirillo, in his second season at QB, plays well, Thompson will have the opportunity to bust loose.
- FAIRFIELD PREP (D1) — The Jesuits are massive, with future college athletes seemingly at every turn. Losing John Moten, a legit back who moved to St. Louis this offseason, hurts. But the Jesuits believe Ganim can carry the load. Prep is determined to correct last year’s late-season collapse, which saw it lose three of its last four games.
- HAND (D1) — Of all the top teams from 2012, the two-time defending Class L champions and defending No. 1 were the most gutted by graduation. Twenty-nine seniors graduated, just one starter returns on offense and four on defense, including the Rogers brothers, Pat and Dan, and Ian Dieli. That said, Hand hasn’t been one of the state’s most outstanding programs for nothing. They’ll be right in the thick of things, guaranteed. Despite a tough opener vs. New Canaan, Tigers should start out well. Things won’t get dicey until a season-ending stretch vs. (in order) Prep, Shelton, Xavier and West Haven. That should determine if Hand’s still got it.
- NORTH HAVEN (D2) — The Indians lost a bunch of stars, including all-state back Jalon White. Finding someone to replace his productivity will be the task for 2013. Ethan Suraci is going to be getting a lot of attention in the single-wing.
- HILLHOUSE (D2) — They’re the defending Class M champions and have a legit threat with Cooper. But it’s entirely his show now that Je’Vaughn Moore and Andre Anderson have graduated. Switching coaches just weeks before the season couldn’t have helped, either. Can Coop carry the team? Only if a revamped offensive line jells and plays well early, then anything’s possible in a hotly competitive Division II.
- AMITY (D1) — The Spartans have made changes, slotting elusive back Tyler Burns from QB into a utility role while Dave Ryan, who transferred from Prep last season, takes over at QB. The Spartans have size to hang with the SCC’s best clubs, and the schedule isn’t as daunting as its Division I brethren (No West Haven, no Hand). Amity just needs to pull an upset or two early to give themselves confidence. A week 3 victory at home vs. Shelton might be what they need. And Amity never beats Shelton.
- NOTRE DAME-WH (D1) — Cameran Tucker alone makes the Green Knights a team to fear. But does he have the supporting cast? A stretch of mid-season games vs. Prep, Ridgefield, West Haven, Amity, Xavier and Cheshire will tell us.
- CHESHIRE (D1) — The Rams are finally setting in with Don Drust and expect big things. But it might take another year for the Rams to return to dominant form. The junior class led by receiver/back Jack Cunningham, a third-generation Cheshire product (his grandfather coached the program in the 70s), is loaded. If you’re looking for a surprise or two in Division I, look no further.
5 CAN’T MISS CONFERENCE GAMES
- FAIRFIELD PREP at SHELTON (Week 5, Sept. 20) — It’s been awhile since rivalry meant something. Even last year, when it was supposed to mean something, Fairfield Prep dominated the Gaels 42-3. Both squads are much improved in 2013, this date marks their first official ‘big SCC game’ of the year and will set the tone for a thrilling second half in Division I.
- • FAIRFIELD PREP at HAND (Week 6, Oct. 18) — Prep’s on the rise, but is Hand on the decline? Yes, Xavier-Hand has the name recognition. But that won’t be played until a few weeks later. Week 6 is where the SCC Division I race really gets rolling. This game is going to be why.
- XAVIER at WEST HAVEN (Week 6, Oct. 18) — It likely won’t pack the punch of last year’s Xavier-Hand tilt at Palmer Field, but in September, the matchup looks like this year’s Game of the Century in the SCC. This is where the league will separate the men from the boys.
- HAND at WEST HAVEN (Week 9, Nov. 8) — Hand narrowly escaped defeat in last year’s meeting at the Surf Club. Here comes a critical, late-season rematch at Ken Strong Stadium as teams jockey for playoff spots — or to play spoiler. The Tigers will have played Xavier the week before. But we say this game will be even bigger. The Westies must prove they can win a big SCC game. Hand must prove it’s still boss.
- FORAN at GUILFORD (Week 10, Nov 15) — They’re supposed to be the best two teams in SCC Division 2. Who knows where these clubs will stand in Week 9. Last year Guilford amassed 300 yards rushing and picked off Jake Kasuba four times in an overwhelming victory. Will this time be any different? We hope so.
Behold: The SCC-FCIAC Challenge! Finally. After two years of waiting, we finally get to see nearly every team from Connecticut’s premier two football leagues duke it out on the field. Though Amity’s unwavering commitment to play Seymour threatened to topple the whole proposal, the two powerhouse conferences managed to stop the bleeding. Only Norwalk and Westhill (from the FCIAC) and Branford and Amity (SCC) won’t be playing. That leaves 17 delicious match ups from which to choose, including Xavier-Staples, Hand-New Canaan, Trumbull-Shelton, Hillhouse-Darien, Cheshire-Ridgefield, NDWH-St. Joseph, North Haven-Central. You’ll probably only get to see four or five games, at most, as the games will be played from Wednesday, Sept. 11 to Saturday, Sept. 14. So choose wisely. Yes, we will be keeping score. …Other non-cons: Amity booked former Housatonic League rival Seymour in Week 1. After bowing out of the FCIAC/SCC challenge, Branford picked up Woodland of the NVL. Lyman Hall plays Hyde in Week 9. Law plays Plainfield in Week 11. …Several FCIAC schools agreed to fill SCC bye dates. Fairfield Prep picked up St. Joseph in Week 2, Branford plays Wilton in Week 3, Notre Dame will play Ridgefield in Week 4, Foran will play Trinity Catholic in Week 5, Sheehan will play Fairfield Warde in Week 8. East Haven will play Ludlowe in Week 9. North Haven will play Darien in Week 10 … Milestone for Mac? West Haven coach Ed McCarthy is just six victories away from passing Bill Mignault’s all-time career coaching win total of 321. McCarthy’s record is 316-111-9 over 43 years as a head coach at St. Joseph and West Haven. West Haven’s Week 5 and 6 opponents are Notre Dame-WH and Xavier, respectively …Coaching changes: The league didn’t quite suffer as its counterparts, but there was some movement. At Branford, 2003 alumnus John Limone takes over for Mike Tracy. East Haven quietly dumped Greg Volpe and hired journeyman assistant Anthony Lucibello away from Cheshire. Also: Don Drust had the interim tag removed from his position at Cheshire. …New Fields: The Surf Club is being transformed into the Strong Center at the Surf Club. The field will be turf and feature new stands, field houses and a new scoreboard. It was scheduled to open vs. New Canaan, but delays have forced the first game to be Week 3 vs. Wilbur Cross. Hillhouse’s Bowen Field is out of commission this year as it is refurbished with a turf field. The Academics will play their home games at Wilbur Cross.
- Champions: Division I West: Xavier; Division I East: West Haven; Division II West: Guilford; Division II East: Foran=
- Playoff Teams: Xavier (LL), West Haven (LL), Hand (L), Guilford (M).
THE BOTTOM LINE
Are the winds of change blowing in the SCC again? After three years spent staring enviously up at Xavier (three-straight Class LL titles), Hand (two straight Class L title) and Hillhouse (two Class M titles in three years), now’s as good a time as any for a new team with some new stars to claim the limelight. The brutal league schedules, bolstered by significant crossovers vs the FCIAC, will weed the pretenders from the contenders. Anyone who survives the gauntlet is going to be the hands-down favorite to win its playoff class.