High school football. What else proves so effectively that, as soon as one good thing ends, another begins?
Sure, summer’s almost over.
But, after the first week of practice in full pads, several hundred area kids can tell you it’s still plenty hot.
For some, being the first teams on the playing fields (the other fall sports start today) eases the prospect of buckling down to schoolwork and bundling up to colder weather.
Newcomers to all varsity sports have a right to their apprehension about coaches, about conditioning and about competition.
But veterans in a sport like football will tell you experience isn’t just knowing the system and a position on the field.
The other 50 percent is knowing how hard you have to work to be competitive.
That’s what’s been going on at Gilbert/Northwestern, Lewis Mills, Nonnewaug, Torrington and Wolcott Tech in conditioning last week, full pads and contact this week.
Here’s a taste of things to come.
Motivation for extra hard work comes from either end of the scale with experience. Either a team is embarrassed into trying harder or success breeds a taste for more.
After a season with the most wins in school history (nine) and a Class M playoff appearance, the Yellowjackets have a thirst for more.
Graduating two of their biggest horses, quarterback Johnny Lippincott and running back Tony Ortiz, makes this year’s mission more intense.
The captains’ take:
- “Last year, we had really good players. This year, we’re going to have to work really hard.” – Paxton Franklin, last year’s tight end converted to this year’s tailback to help fill the hole left by Ortiz.
- “The intensity is really high.” – Mitchell Jackson, a stand-out two-way tackle with a personal mission to mold newcomers into a solid line.
- “There’s been a lot of effort in the past few weeks.” – Matt Nieves, a fullback likely to see more action in Ortiz’ absence.
“We have a couple of quarterbacks who run better than they throw,” said coach Scott Salius, explaining Franklin’s move from the receiving ranks. “When we’re trying to get the ball to Paxton, it’s easier to hand it to him this year.”
The Spartans’ 2-9 record last year is the mirror image of G/N’s 9-2, but pre-season attitude at Mills emphasizes the stimulating power of success and the relativity of that word.
The G/N program is decades old, along with Torrington’s. The other three in the area are relatively new.
Each win for new programs is a seed that can lead to more. Mills had two of them last year, along with some impressive near misses.
“We were down just 6-0 to G/N at halftime,” third-year coach Jose Santana said. “We lost to Granby on a 27-yard field goal in the last minute.”
Relative success brought almost 60 kids out for pre-season practice, including returners with a new sense of purpose.
The captains’ take:
- “Everyone is really pushing themselves.” – Fullback/linebacker Hayden Macri.
- “After the first few games, we should be able to beat anybody.” – Wide receiver Grant McGregor.
- “We believe in ourselves this year.” – Lucas Lanning, a junior starting for his second year at quarterback.
The Chiefs had their best season ever, 4-7, after going 2-8 the year before.
With 10 seniors returning, it’s a hungry bunch. “The stakes grow with a veteran team,” coach John Oko said.
When a team hits a point where they brag about each other, more success is likely on the way.
- “We’re looking a lot better, with the same offensive line.” – John Gambos, a leading rusher behind that line.
- “The offensive line each benches 200 pounds. Watch out for the Chiefs this year.” – R.J. Burke.
- “Everyone’s pushing themselves harder.” – Eligah Gonille.
- “Four wins and close games give us confidence.” – Trevor Scappatura.
The Red Raiders are at the other end of the motivation spectrum.
Nobody was happy with a 3-8 record despite high marks for a new attitude created by first-year coach Gaitan Rodriguez and his staff.
The combination of a positive attitude and desire for another chance is a powerful motivator.
The captains’ take:
- “We’ve made a lot of progress from last year. We’re coming together.” – Ben Bonvicini.
- “We’ve matured a lot.” – Dillon Heller.
- “It’s going to be a good team.” – Nate Bresson.
- “Everybody is working hard.” – P.J. Kilmartin.
“We’re excited about our offensive line,” coach Rodriguez said.
Still, the biggest promise for the program’s success comes from the coaches.
Rodriguez, Jordan Capitanio, Mike Ciesco and Andy Theriault each won the highest accolade in Raider football as players, the ’29 Club Award.
Don Whitley and Bob Reynolds were head coaches at Gilbert before the team joined forces with Northwestern.
Coaching help is also a key to Wildcat football hopes.
Head coach Jamie Coty has been solid since the program began in 2007, but last year, he and assistant Jen Stango had to go it alone on the sidelines.
This year, Joe Perusse returns, along with Mark Mangelinkx, crossing the street from Torrington High School, and a fourth assistant yet to be hired.
Good coaches attract athletes, setting them on winning paths.
After a 1-9 season a year ago, numbers are up to 40 players year.
The captain’s take:
- “We lost a lot of close games last year, some in the final minute. Coach says we’re not going to lose because we’re out of shape this year. We’re going to learn to close.” – Senior quarterback Mickey Ross.
Hard work for the last two weeks is a good thing; everybody sweating it out in shoulder pads believes it leads to something better.