- COACH — JOE ARESIMOWICZ (4th year, 28-8)
- CONFERENCE — CCC Division III East
- PLAYOFF CLASS — L (490 boys enrollment, CIAC success modifier promotion)
- HOME — Scalise Field at Sage Park, Berlin
- 2018 RECORD — 11-2, lost to St. Joseph in Class M final
- 2019 OPENER — Sept. 12 vs. Tolland, 6:30 p.m.
- TEAM WEBSITES — MaxPreps
Kevin Dunn, QB (Sacred Heart); Alex Halkias, RB (Carnegie Mellon); Marco Scarano, LB/RB (transfer to Avon Old Farms); Larry St. Pierre, RB/LB (transfer to St. Thomas More)
When we last left Berlin, a banner season — the school’s best since its last state finals run in 2014 — was smothered by an onslaught of St. Joseph touchdowns in an eventual 70-18 loss in the Class M championship game.
It was a rough way to end an otherwise fantastic season. But the worst news was yet to come.
Two of the team’s top players — would-be senior Larry St. Pierre and junior Marco Scarano — both transferred to prep schools all while Berlin was getting bumped up to Class L due to their status as a school-of-choice and recent playoff success.
Added to the graduations of 2,000-yard passing quarterback Kevin Dunn and 1,000-yard rusher Alex Halkias, Berlin headed into the 2019 preseason as vastly different-looking club than perhaps was expected. Seven starters from last year’s 11-2 Class M runner-up team are gone, including 85 percent of last year’s offense.
Despite this, fourth-year coach Joe Aresimowicz is taking an optimistic approach as the Redcoats attempt to make a fourth-straight postseason appearance.
“We always say it’s the next man up,” he said, adding that the returning players bear no ill will toward the departed. “When somebody goes down, it’s unfortunate. When somebody transfers, it’s unfortunate.
“But the thing is, this program is always bigger than one coach, always bigger than one player, always bigger than one season. So it’s next man up and it’s given a lot of our younger guys an opportunity.”
Now for the good news (there is some!): All-Stater Zach Hrubiec, one of the state’s top returning players, is going nowhere — that is, except off tackle behind Berlin’s four massive returning linemen.
The 6-foot-, 235-pound Hrubiec rushed for 372 yards and four touchdowns and also caught 23 passes for 289 yards and another four touchdowns last season.
Hrubiec also returns to anchor the defense after making 96 tackles, 25 for a loss, and six sacks during his outstanding junior year, mostly spent on the defensive line. He’ll man one of Berlin’s linebacker spots this year and is a three-time captain.
“A lot of people are doubting us,” Hrubiec said. “They’re doubting us and we’re really pushing ourselves to the point where we’re at and we’re really confident. The doubters will be quiet once we start winning.”
He’ll have plenty of company. Joining him in the backfield will be seniors Kyle Krupa and Adam Liberda, who returns to the program after taking last season off and has impressed Aresimowicz with his work ethic. Sophomore back Jamie Palmese has also earned his coach’s praise in the preseason.
At quarterback, not only did Berlin graduate Dunn, it also lost heir apparent junior Nick Melville to a torn labrum. Aresimowicz is confident in junior Justin Skates, whom he says knows the offense despite throwing just one varsity pass last year.
A senior, Skates has been working with former UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, who is friends with Berlin assistant and former UConn back Max DeLorenzo.
Skates will be throwing to three big targets in seniors Mark Addamo and Danny Lynch as well as 6-foot-4, 220 junior Trevor Miano — whom Aresimowicz says is poised for a breakout season. Berlin also has targets in ends Daniel Lynch and sophomore Ryan Aresimowicz, the coach’s son.
“We have two legit tight ends. We have a very good wide receiver and slots are all really fast and really quick,” Aresimowicz said. “We will feel completely at home just running ball down your throat if you going to sit there and let us, but we’ll be able to throw it.”
Perhaps the most impressive part of this squad are the lines. They are simply massive and should only get better. “Our sides of beef,” Aresimowicz said.
It’s anchored by seniors Jake Holmes (5-11, 250), Paul D’Amore (6-4, 250) and Aidan Jones (6-3, 315), who is playing high school football for the first time, and will feature sophomores Bhrett Williams and Dean Custovic, who both started as freshmen. Williams, whose father played at Penn State and in the NFL, is 6-foot-3, 305 while Custovic is 6-6, 325.
Those players will also feature prominently on the defensive line with returner Michael Rivera (6-0, 220), which has freed Hrubiec to play middle linebacker this season along with Miano. Tony Undercuffler returns to the Berlin’s secondary after leading the team with four interceptions last season.
Berlin kicks off on Thursday with a home game vs. Tolland. It does travel to face Class M power Killingly in a Week 3 Scheduling Alliance game. The rest of the schedule is favorable for another state playoff run. The Redcoats wrap up followed by the often contentious Wishbone Bowl vs. New Britain.
“We don’t rebuild, we reload,” Hrubiec said. “That’s our mindset and we’re completely confident in our team.
“We understand that we lost two very good skill players that would have been returning this year. But we can’t dwell on that. We still have a season to play. We’re very focused. Our eyes are on the prize. We know what we have to do, we just have to take it one week at a time.”
Sept. 12 — TOLLAND,** 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 — BULKELEY/HMTCA/WEAVER,** 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 27 — at Killingly, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 4 — NORTHWEST CATHOLIC,* 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 19 — at Lewis Mills,** 12:00 p.m.
Oct. 25 — at Plainville,* 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 1 — AVON,** 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 8 — at East Catholic,* 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 15 — BLOOMFIELD,* 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 22 — at New Britain,* 6:30 p.m.