NEW MILFORD—The players on the New Milford football team have experienced the gamut of emotions the past three weeks, from heartbreak of a close defeat to a winning two-point conversion in the final moments to secure a win.
All of it — even the pain — is a welcome sight with that preceded it.
Memories of an 0-10 season are long gone now as renewed excitement and a new philosophy has engulfed the program. Two straight wins the Green Wave (2-2) could become three Friday night when they welcome Wilbur Cross to town.
And that would mean being above .500 for the first time since winning the opener in 2017.
First-year coach Sean Murray has preached building relationships since getting the job earlier this year. Though likely hesitant at first, his players have clearly bought in and the results are already coming in.
“It’s something I haven’t seen in my four years here,” said senior Devin Jasso. “Now everyone is excited to get out there and go practice. It’s a culture I haven’t seen in forever; it goes without saying after the past few years we’d have our doubts going into a new season.”
A gut-wrenching loss to Enfield Sept. 20 only brought the team closer.
“I saw kids who I never thought could be emotional act super emotional after that game,” Murray said. “I saw tears, anger and sadness. We regrouped the next day and no one quit. Everyone was coming back and believed they could get the next one. The pain they felt that night ignited a little more inside of them because they never wanted to feel that again.”
What followed were two of the most dramatic wins possible, first a rally from 22-8 down to stun Hamden before another comeback to pull to within a point of Brookfield. Jasso told Murray he wanted to go for two, and the win, and everyone agreed.
“It’s definitely been pretty crazy,” said junior Michael Muller “Going from losing against Enfield, we didn’t want to have that feeling again. The last two weeks we’ve turned it around and we’re able to experience a much different emotional feeling, this time happier.”
A pair of seniors have led the way elsewhere as Sergey Holcomb (372 rushing yards, three touchdowns) and Johnny Fitzmaurice (301 receiving yards, three touchdowns) have provided the yardage. On defense, Ricky Ganser leads the team with 40 tackles while Brandon Dubret has a pair of interceptions.
A key pillar to the rebuild is sophomore quarterback Reese Vanek. He’s already earned the respect of his teammates with a fearlessness that is rarely seen at the age. Shaking off mistakes that will naturally come, Vanek
“Reese has been incredible,” Muller said. “He doesn’t show fear or play scared, which is a big thing for us. We don’t want to play scared this year. Last year it was a lot of people’ first time playing varsity and he’s gone out there and played to the best of his ability every game and leading us.”
He represents what the Green Wave could become in future seasons if Murray continues to progress the program.
“Nothing phases him,” Murray said. “He’s as tough as nails; he’s taken a few verbal lashings from me in practice and bounces right back, he’s taken big hits in games and bounces right back and has made some bad throws and bounces right back. I think that’s really helped propel him into the role he’s assuming right now.”
New Milford hasn’t enjoyed a winning season in a decade and even the remote possibility of approaching .500 would be a massive first step.
“We’re going into the game with one mindset and that’s to get out of it being 3-2 and be over .500 for the first time in two and-a-half years,” Jasso said. “It would put us in a position that we probably ourselves didn’t think we would be in. Regardless of whatever adversity we face our goal is to come out 3-2.”