COACH — SAL MORELLO (10th year, 77-24)
CONFERENCE — CCC Division II East
PLAYOFF CLASS — L (670 boys enrollment)
HOME — Rosek-Skubel Stadium at Middletown High
2018 RECORD — 9-2, lost to Maloney in Class L quarterfinals
2019 OPENER — Sept. 13 vs. Bristol Eastern, 7 p.m.
TEAM WEBSITES — Maxpreps | TWITTER — @mhsbluedragons1; INSTAGRAM — @Middletown_dragons-football
RB Xzavier Reyes; QB Jonta’e Dempsey-Brown; OL/DL Osbourne Richards; DL Mike Foster; C/NG Cam Barrett; G/DT Nygell Smikle.
Middletown last faced a rebuild in 2011. It was the year after coach Sal Morello was hired to kickstart a one-win program, which he did, leading the Blue Dragons to 13 wins combined in his first two seasons.
Since then, Middletown has been a playoff team seven years running.
The Blue Dragons will be challenged in every way in 2019 to keep the streak going. They lost nine starters on each side of the ball from last season’s 9-2 team, with big hits coming to both lines, leaving Morello and his staff to build it all back up this fall.
And although his team is largely young and untested, Morello likes its depth of talent and believes the Dragons will be competitive amid a daunting schedule, which includes Maloney, Windsor, East Hartford and Scheduling Alliance opponent Hand, a two-time defending state champion.
“This team is bringing me back to (his first two years) a little bit, but there’s a ‘but.’ We’re deeper. We’re young but we’re a lot deeper, and it’s quality depth,” he said. “We’re going to play a lot of young kids, but a lot of good young kids. We’ve got some athletes. The linemen are young, but they’re going to be very good.”
Morello said there will be upwards of 10 sophomores who will be in starting roles.
“It’s just experience — they’re going to have to get that with playing time,” he said. “There will be some really good things that happen and there’s going to be some things that will be a learning experience for us. It’s a good group of guys. As long as their effort is there and they are doing all the things we expect them to do, they will be fine.”
Senior quarterback Chris Danas, who was in a reserve role last year, has a strong knowledge of the spread offense and will have a four-man well of receivers to throw to, including seniors Kenny Fountain and Tyron Scharborough. The backfield is a collection of untested sophomores in Shaun Gaskins, Will Nta and Levar Cassanova, as well as senior Richy Fortune.
“Danas’ decision-making is what I like and he gets the ball out quickly,” Morello said. “Our receivers are the most experienced group on the team. They have worked hard to get on the same page and they communicate well.”
On special teams, the progress of junior kicker Matt Aresco will help — Morello expects him to be close to automatic from 40 yards and in this season. He was 4 of 5 on field goals as a sophomore (long of 32) and 43 of 45 on PATs, and the majority of his kickoffs pinned teams deep in their own territory last year. Aresco also punted last year, but junior Sal Latera is in line for the full-time role this fall.
On the offensive line, senior co-captains Brady Foster and Eric Alicea are the most veteran players who are bringing along their younger teammates, including junior center Jake Bowen. While the defensive line is young, Morello said, the secondary has experience and the unit overall is filled with ball hawkers.
“I think we will surprise teams with our speed,” Morello said. “I think all 11 kids on defense can run to the football, even the defensive line. They can move. As long they are hustling, good things will happen. (Defensive coordinator) Josh Rosek does an excellent job of putting kids in positions to succeed.”
In the preseason, Morello said, he and his staff have put a strong emphasis on practicing “situational football.”
“To get them to understand third-and-8, this is what we want to do on offense, or third-and-4. Knowing where the chains are, understanding the game. Down and distance, understanding the situation,” the coach said. “That’s a big thing with a young group, and they have a willingness to learn.
“We will have to be more patient as coaches and do a better job teaching the game to them. But the expectations don’t change, they are still high. I expect them to compete.”
Sept. 13 – BRISTOL EASTERN,* 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 – at Hand, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 – at RHAM,** 1 p.m.
Oct. 4 – MALONEY,* 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 – HARTFORD PUBLIC,** 7 p.m.
Oct. 26 – at Farmington,** 2 p.m.
Nov. 1 – at Wethersfield,* 7 p.m.
Nov. 8 – E.O. SMITH,** 6 p.m.
Nov. 15 – EAST HARTFORD,* 6 p.m.
Nov. 27 – at Windsor,** 6:30 p.m.