ast year’s high school football season was the year of the senior.
Just about every team that won a title or played for a title featured were headlined by large and talented senior classes. Brookfield, New Canaan, Darien, North Haven, Shelton, New Fairfield, Bloomfield… just about all of them were predestined to reach the state championship games because of the veterans.
But for every awesome senior class, there are inevitably junior and sophomore players who have toiled in anonymity, patiently, anxiously waiting for their turn.
Their moment has arrived, at last.
Aside from the few who have committed to play in college next fall — and Connecticut has a particularly strong class of future Division I-bound athletes — we know very little about these players, however.
We can’t tell you much about the kids who backed up Darien’s Mark Evanchick, New Canaan’s Michael Collins or Brookfield’s Bobby Drysdale, or Windsor’s Tyler Coyle. We don’t know how any of them are going to perform as a team.
New stars will emerge, as they always do. But right now, just days from the 2016 kickoff, it’s been all guesswork. The sportswriters and broadcasters have basically donned their blindfolds and threw darts as they submitted their 2016 GameTimeCT / New Haven Register Preseason Top 10 Football Poll votes.
Class LL champion DARIEN finished last year No. 1, and starts this year No. 1. Class L champion NEW CANAAN finished No. 2 and starts this year No. 2.
Yet, NORTH HAVEN, last year’s No. 3, is nowhere to be found in the Top 10. Neither is last year’s Class S champion BLOOMFIELD, which finished No. 7, or Class M champion BROOKFIELD, or No. 9 WETHERSFIELD or No. 10 NEW FAIRFIELD.
In their places are trendy preseason favorites West Haven, Middletown, Staples and Newtown.
Are these the best teams in the state? Perhaps. But, honestly, based on the emails going back and forth between sportswriters this past week, only thing we’re certain about is this: We have no idea how this season is going to turn out.
Welcome to what should be a wild and unpredictable football season.
Let’s football, shall we?
–SEAN PATRICK BOWLEY
The 2016 Preseason Top 10
Poll compiled by Mike Pucci
|Last season: Defeated Shelton 39-7 to win the Class LL state championship.
Kickoff: at St. Joseph, Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Bottom line: The Blue Wave begin this season where they finished last season — at No. 1. Darien lost plenty to graduation, including Register All-State MVP Mark Evanchick, but the Blue Wave return a talented squad that will again be in the hunt for the FCIAC and Class LL title. Senior lineman Andrew Stueber (6-foot-6, 300 pounds) has committed to play at Michigan.
2. NEW CANAAN
|Last season: Def. North Haven 42-35 to win the Class L title.
Kickoff: vs. Trinity Catholic, Saturday, 3 p.m.
Bottom line: The Rams lost four Register All-State selections to graduation after winning their third straight state title. New Canaan has won eight state titles in 10 final appearances over the last 11 years. The Rams have some holes to fill, but expect New Canaan to vie for a state crown yet again.
|Last season: Lost to Darien 39-7 in the Class LL state championship game.
Kickoff: at Amity, Friday. 7 p.m.
Bottom line: Behind senior quarterback David Wells, senior running back Jonathan Sobotka and senior wide receiver Anthony Schiavo, the Gaels will attempt to reach a state championship game for a third straight season.
|Last season: Lost to Darien 49-7 in the Class LL semifinals.
Kickoff: vs. Enfield, Friday, 7 p.m.
Bottom line: Sure, the Blue Knights have to replace quarterback Jasen Rose, who graduated, but Southington returns two solid running backs in Vance Upham and Ryan Montalvo and what’s projected to be one of the state’s best defenses.
|Last season: Lost to New Canaan 21-6 in Class L quarterfinals.
Kickoff: vs. Bristol Central, Friday, 7 p.m.
Bottom line: Quarterback Jahkari Grant and wide receiver/defensive back Jason Pinnock, who has committed to Boston College, are among the Warriors’ returning players. Expected to vie with Southington as the best team in the CCC, although those two do not play each other during the regular season.
|Last season: Lost to Darien 41-7 in Class LL quarterfinals.
Kickoff: vs. McMahon, Friday, 7 p.m.
Bottom line: The Wreckers qualified for the playoffs last season for the first time in three years. Staples is again expected to vie for a postseason berth behind UConn commit Ryan Fitton, a 6-5, 240 tight end/defensive end.
7. WEST HAVEN
|Last season: Lost to Shelton 40-20 in the Class LL quarterfinals.
Kickoff: at Hamden, Friday, 7 p.m.
Bottom line: The Westies just may be the most talented team in the SCC. West Haven returns running backs Anthony Godfrey, Kyle Godfrey and Chris Chance, quarterback Tim McCarthy, receiver Sheilan Velazquez and lineman Byron Dickens, a Register All-Area selection as a junior.
|Last season: Lost to North Haven 48-13 in the Class L quarterfinals.
Kickoff: at Platt, Friday, 6:30 p.m.
Bottom line: The Blue Dragons have advanced to the state playoffs during coach Sal Morello’s tenure in every season since 2012. That trend should continue this season. Middletown returns senior quarterback Tyshaun James, one of the state’s best athletes.
|Last season: Lost to Shelton 35-28 in the Class LL semifinals.
Kickoff: vs. New Fairfield, Friday, 7 p.m.
Bottom line: The Nighthawks have reached the postseason the last five years. Michigan commit Ben Mason, arguably the state’s top returning player, has Newtown poised to make it six in a row. The Nighthawks open against New Fairfield, the Class M finalist a year ago that handed Newtown its only loss of the regular season.
|Last season: Did not qualify for the postseason.
Kickoff: vs. Norwich Free Academy, Friday, 7 p.m.
Bottom line: The Falcons have the potential to be very good. They return running back Glenn Cunningham, who is headed to Fordham, and quarterback Will Levis. We’ll find out just how good they can be when Xavier opens the season against ECC member NFA.
|Dropped out: North Haven (3), Bloomfield (7), Brookfield (8), Wethersfield (9), New Fairfield (10).
First-place votes in parentheses and points tabulated on a 30-28-26-24-22-20-18-16-14-12-11-10-9-8-7 basis.
|Others receiving votes: Bloomfield (13-0), 268; Notre Dame-West Haven (9-3), 212; Ridgefield (7-2), 168; Seymour (10-2), 160; Glastonbury (8-2), 148; Ansonia (12-1), 124; North Haven (12-1), 117; Cheshire (4-6), 116; Trumbull (5-4), 114; New London (2-8), 86; Brookfield (11-2), 82; Hand (7-3), 53; Ledyard (10-2), 38; Hillhouse (8-2), 23; Trinity Catholic (9-2), 19; NFA (6-4), 17; Killingly (10-2) and Masuk (6-4), 16; East Hartford (6-4), 14; New Fairfield (11-2), 12; Greenwich (4-5), 9; Fairfield Prep (5-5), 7.|
|The following voted: Marc Allard, Norwich Bulletin; Bob Barton, New Haven Register; Bill Bloxsom, Hersam Acorn; Doug Bonjour, Connecticut Post; Sean Patrick Bowley, GameTimeCT.com; Jim Bransfield, Middletown Press; Kyle Brennan, Waterbury Republican-American; Gerry deSimas, The Collinsville Press; Mike DiMauro, The Day of New London; Scott Ericson, Stamford Advocate; Francesco Graziano, CPTV Sports; Ned Griffen, The Day of New London; John Holt, WFSB-3; Mark Jaffee, Waterbury Republican-American; Don Laviano, WVIT-30; Ken Lipshez, Meriden Record-Journal; Mike Madera, Elm City Newspapers; Joe Morelli, New Haven Register; John Nash, Norwalk Hour; Pete Paguaga, Meriden Record-Journal; Dave Phillips, Shore Line Newspapers; Mike Pucci, New Haven Register; Dave Ruden, The Ruden Report; Mike Suppe, Hersam Acorn; Derek Turner, GameTimeCT.com; Tom Yantz, Hartford Courant; Jimmy Zanor, Middletown Press.|