WALLINGFORD — For 14 years, Connecticut High School Coaches Association enjoyed putting on an all-star football clash with its neighbors from Rhode Island every Summer. But the enthusiasm on both sides waned over time, especially when the Connecticut contingent consistently whupped their neighbors on the field.
Connecticut won 11 of 14 games, including 10 straight when the game was scrapped after 2012. Over the next five seasons, the CHSCA switched its focus to an intrastate contest pitting two squads of Connecticut talent against each other in what was dubbed the “Super 100” All-Star game.
As it turned out, getting two rosters of 50 players each became burdensome given the wildly different schedules and responsibilities of the recently graduated seniors invited to playing the games.
So the CHSCA again reached out to its counterparts from Rhode Island and asked them if they’d be interested in reviving the dormant Governor’s Cup. After some negotiating, including an agreement to shift the home site yearly between Connecticut and Rhode Island — which was not done in the previous amalgamation of the Governor’s Cup — the two coaches associated agreed to revive their nascent rivalry.
The resumption of the Governor’s Cup will be held Saturday, 2 p.m. at Veteran’s Stadium in New Britain. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the gate, which will open at 1 p.m.
“I think the Connecticut-Connecticut thing just ran its course,” said Xavier head coach Andy Guyon, who’s been involved in the CHSCA’s all-star game for 13 years and will coach this year’s Connecticut squad of 52 players, who were culled from a combine held in March. “It was great when we had it. We all loved it. We enjoyed it. We took it serious. But I think the interest in getting 100 kids to commit to two weeks in the summer is tough.
“Getting 52 kids was very, very easy. We haven’t had many, if any, problems at all getting kids here and practicing, practicing hard. So, that’s where it went.”
It’s not an All-Star team in a strict sense. Only two players on the Connecticut All-Star roster were consensus first-team all-state. Most of the college signees either have already reported or have been forbidden to participate by their future schools.
But it is the best of the best Connecticut players willing and available to participate in two weeks of practices at Sheehan High School and represent their home state.
“We’re missing a few, we’re missing a lot,” Connecticut’s Larry Mounds, a lineman from Capital Prep said. “But it’s a good team. It’s been pretty fun. It’s a good experience. The bond that we’ve had these last two weeks has become pretty strong and we’re confident about Saturday. I feel like we can pull off the win.”
One of the top players is Spencer Lockwood, the chiseled Killingly running back and reigning Gatorade and Walter Camp state player of the year.
After an outstanding career running over a myriad of Connecticut opponents, Lockwood is thrilled to be lining up with many of them on his side of the line of scrimmage. For two weeks, Lockwood said, this group has gelled together well.
“We’ve got a lot personalities on the team. We have a lot of fun guys who all like to have fun,” he said. “We joke around a lot. Everybody makes practice fun with their personalities. So it’s cool to come together. We were enemies before, but now we’ve come together to beat Rhode Island.”
Guyon said his coaching staff, which includes head coaches from all across Connecticut, selected their team like an NFL roster. They paid particular attention to the linemen — 10 offensive and 10 defensive — to keep the beef up front fresh. “It’s going to be hot (Saturday),” Guyon said. “So you can’t have those guys run out of gas.”
Similarly, Connecticut has gone heavy on defensive backs and receivers, “because that’s the way the game is played nowadays,” Guyon said.
Among the standout receivers are Ralph Gilliard, the all-time leading receiver in Simsbury High School history; Southington all-stater Tim O’Shea; Jared Mallozzi, St. Joseph’s two-time all-state first teamer; Xavier all-stater Kyle McGillis and Platt’s Elijah Felton, who has impressed throughout the All-Star practices.
“We just bonded together really well,” Gilliard said. “At first I thought it would be much more isolated. But we’ve bonded together since the first day.”
Lockwood will be joined in the backfield by West Haven’s Chris Chance and Woodstock Academy’s Kameron Janice, a bruiser who’s caught the attention of the coaching staff.
“Chris Chance was phenomenal as a running back for West Haven… Spencer Lockwood is what Spencer Lockwood is, he’s the Gatorade State Player of the Year for a reason,” Guyon said. “The kid from Woodstock… When he was at the combine there was no way we weren’t selecting him, just based on body type alone. So we have a lot of playmakers, which is a good problem to have.”
Connecticut’s quarterback tandem will be Shea McManaway of Norwich Free Academy, who will play at Endicott next year, and Kyle Zajack of Capital Prep, who is signed to play at Central Connecticut State.
“They’ve been fantastic,” Guyon said. “They’ve been sponges. They take everything we throw at them and have soaked it up. They’re both going to be phenomenal at the next level.”
Capital Prep’s Mounds and Notre Dame-West Haven’s Frank Paine are among the linemen charged with making the team’s offense hum. “The line is huge,” Lockwood said. “I like seeing that in front of me.”
Guyon said the linebackers, headlined by Sheehan’s Wes Terzi, Southington’s Ian Hall, Xavier’s Ryan Cartelli and Killingly’s Zach Caffrey will lead the defense — which will be played in a 4-3 alignment. “We haven’t done enough to promote those kids,” Guyon said. “They play with an edge and they play physical.”
As for Rhode Island, well, Connecticut’s players and coaches admit they don’t have a scouting report to share. “I know Westerly has some good players because we’ve played them,” Lockwood said. “But other than that, I couldn’t tell you. It’ll be interesting to see who they bring.”
Connecticut is more focused on bringing its best into Saturday’s game.
“They’re starting to come together as a team,” Guyon said. “That was one thing that we were definitely anxious about: How we were going to get this group to come together, not in cliques of position groups. They’ve definitely done that.
“Now, the last two days we have to hammer it home that we’re all on one side. Since the start of the first practice, we’ve wanted them to know It’s going to be competitive, but not combative. We’re all in the same boat going in the same direction.”