SEYMOUR >> Joey Salemme didn’t exactly have the best ending to an outstanding football season last year.
Against rival Woodland in the season finale, Salemme exited the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury with Seymour clinging to a 19-14 lead.
He never returned.
On the ensuing possession after Salemme’s injury, Woodland scored the winning touchdown. Seymour finished 6-5, losing four games in the closing minutes.
A healthy Salemme returns for his senior season posied to be one of the state’s top running backs.
“I’m pretty pumped this year,” Salemme said. “I think I’m coming back faster and stronger. We all worked hard in the off-season.”
It was indeed a productive offseason for Seymour, which won the Naugatuck Valley League weightlifting competition in March. Salemme finished second in both the bench press and power clean and third in squat in the 161-180 pound division.
Salemme’s success last season certainly wasn’t a surprise to those involved with the program. But Salemme became a workhorse, rushing 305 times for 1,913 yards and 21 touchdowns.
“We definitely had big expectations of him going into last year,” Seymour coach Tom Lennon said. “Even though we had high expectations, he even exceeded those. We knew he had a ton of ability. We knew he had great power, good quickness. But he exceeded our expectations in terms of his durability.”
Salemme, who ran out of the Wildcat formation towards the end of the season, also threw three touchdown passes. In addition, Salemme made 35 tackles and two interceptions and earned a spot on the Register All-Area team.
“Joe was able to make a lot of things happen,” Lennon said. “We were able to do some things with difference packages. We had a heavy dose of the Wildcat towards the end of the year. He had the ability to throw the ball, that helped us take advantage of some people who were loading up the box against us.”
The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Salemme admitted he thrives in a leadership role.
“I definitely like having the ball in my hands,” Salemme said. “I like being the person that everyone looks to when things go bad to pick back up the team. A lot of people think that’s a lot of pressure, but I just thrive off the pressure. I think it makes me play even better.”
Despite Salemme’s accomplishments last season, which included being named an All-NVL and coaches all-state selection, there’s one he’s still chasing. This year, Salemme will attempt to break the school record for rushing yards in a season. The record of 2,030 yards is held by Edwin Esson, a two-time Register All-State Most Valuable Player in 1979 and 1980.
“I’m just excited to chase the record again this year,” Salemme said.
Some pundits questioned if Salemme was overused last season, to which Lennon responded “maybe.”
That may change this season. The Wildcats return 16 seniors, including running back Greg Chase-Patrick, wide receiver Jack Osiecki and Julian Falcioni anchoring the line. Seymour will start sophomore Jaylen Kelley at quarterback.
“We’re bringing back 16 seniors, the largest senior class we had in quite some time,” Lennon said. “A lot of them were big contributors for us last season. We certainly have high hopes.”
Salemme will still be the focal point of the offense, but the Wildcats are expected to be more balanced.
“I’m still going to get my carries,” Salemme said. “Every team knew we were running the ball (last season), so they eventually adjusted to it. Now that we have a passing game, and we have other running backs that we can switch it up to, we should be able to mix it up a little bit and confuse defenses.”