- COACH — SAL MORELLO (9th year, 17th overall, 144-36)
- CONFERENCE — CCC Division II East
- PLAYOFF CLASS — L (634 boys enrollment)
- HOME — Rosek-Skubel Stadium, Middletown High School
- 2017 RECORD — 10-1, lost to New Canaan in Class L quarterfinals
- 2018 OPENER — Sept. 7 vs. Wethersfield, 7 p.m.
- TEAM WEBSITE — Maxpreps | @MHSBlueDragons1
- OSBOURNE RICHARDS, Sr., DT/OG (6-0, 250)
- NYGELL SMIKEL, Sr., G/DE (6-0, 250)
- CAM BARRETT, Sr., C/DT (6-2, 310)
- MIKE FOSTER, Sr., OLB/OT (6-2, 240)
- STEVE HILL JR., Sr., LB (6-0, 220)
- XZAVIER REYES, Sr., RB/LB (5-10, 190)
- JONTAE DEMPSEY, Sr., QB/WR/CB (6-0, 165)
- TYREECE LUMPKIN, Sr., RB (5-5, 130)
- KENNY FOUNTAIN, Jr., WR/DB (5-10, 160)
QB Stone Belzo (All-State), WR/DB DeAaron Lawrence (All-State), K Michael Aresco (First-team All-State), C/DL Max Cyr (All-State), WR/DB Nico Cavaliere
It looks as if a rare quarterback competition for Middletown High will go down to the wire as the Blue Dragons prepare for their season opener Friday night against Wethersfield at Rosek-Skubel Stadium.
Despite evaluating senior Jontae Dempsey and junior Chris Danas for several weeks, Middletown coach Sal Morello said the process is “still up in the air” and hinted that he will not rush his decision.
“It’s been back and forth for Jontae and Chris. Both players bring different things to the table, and you might see both Friday night,” Morello said. “I’ve told them, the choice will come down to whoever is the best decision-maker and whoever takes care of the ball best.”
Dempsey, who has varsity experience and also can play wideout, has a good arm and the speed to run with the ball, Morello said. Danas, meanwhile, has a good handle on the spread offense and his decision-making skills have been encouraging to the coaching staff.
“Chris understands what we’re asking for, he just might need a little more time,” the coach said. “His only thing is he played junior varsity last year. Jontae played varsity at times last year, so he has a little more experience. But we like the way Chris has developed and he’s coming along.”
The Blue Dragons once again had a multi-threat offense last season, but will have new full-time personnel at receiver in addition to quarterback. There are a few playmakers returning from a team that went 10-0 in the regular season and reached the CIAC playoffs for a sixth consecutive year – senior running backs Xzavier Reyes and Tyreece Lumpkin and receivers Kenny Fountain and Matt Morris.
“Having Reyes back from a 1,000-yard season is a great thing. Tyreece is dynamic with the ball in his hands,” Morello said. “He needs to touch the ball. Whenever he touched the ball last season, something good happened. And Kenny Fountain has great hands, too.”
“I think you’ll see the ball in the air a little more than people are accustomed to seeing in a Middletown team,” Morello added. “We’ve got to find that balance and keep teams on defense guessing.”
Even though Middletown lost record-setting kicker Michael Aresco to graduation, it will have a capable successor in Aresco’s brother, Matt, a sophomore. Morello believes Aresco No. 2 can handle field goal attempts inside 37 yards and that his confidence and range will increase as time goes on.
Middletown’s offensive and defensive lines are experienced and have depth, led by 6-foot-, 250-pound nose guard/tackle Osbourne Richards, 6-2, 310-pound center/tackle Cam Barrett, 6-2, 240-pound linebacker/tackle Mike Foster, and 6-foot, 250-pound guard/end Nygel Smikel. All are seniors and Richards is a three-year starter.
Steve Hill Jr., Brandon Campbell and Reyes are the Blue Dragons’ top returning linebackers, and Fountain, Foster and potentially Dempsey (“I’m not crazy about playing a quarterback on defense,” Morello said) form a strong and experienced secondary.
“We have enough seniors on defense, up front and in the secondary, that I expect we’ll be efficient and do good things,” Morello said. “(Defensive coordinator) Josh Rosek will have them well prepared, as he always does.”
The Blue Dragons’ 10-record last year earned them the top seed in the Class L playoffs, but they lost at home to New Canaan in the quarterfinals. Class L again is expected to be loaded with very good teams, more than the eight who will qualify.
“The kids are aware of how often we (reach the playoffs). They talk about it and understand it,” he said. “They don’t care about (our success) four of five years ago, but to go 10-0 and get beat in the first round, it’s humbling. No matter what you’re doing or the year you’re having, there’s always someone out there that’s pretty good.”
For now at least, the intrigue of this team begins and ends with the quarterback situation and the challenge Morello has in managing it.
“Having two who can play the position is new to me,” he said. “I have to be very careful how I handle this — it’s unchartered waters for me. The plan is whoever I decide who the starter is, to go as long with him as we can, but my No. 2 is right behind that one. I don’t plan on alternating series between them, but if it’s not their night, I’ll go to the bullpen.”
- Sept. 7 — WETHERSFIELD*, 7 p.m.
- Sept. 14 — at Bristol Eastern*, 6:30 p.m.
- Sept. 22 — at Hartford Pub.**, 1 p.m.
- Sept. 28 — at Bristol Central*, 6 p.m.
- Oct. 12 — FARMINGTON**, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 19 — at E.O. Smith**, 6 p.m.
- Oct. 26 — NEWINGTON*, 7 p.m.
- Nov. 9 — at Platt*, 6:30 p.m.
- Nov. 15 — NEW LONDON, 6 p.m.
- Nov. 21 — WINDSOR**, 6:30 p.m.
Home games in CAPS