STAMFORD — It is the fifth year of the Donny Panapada era for the Trinity Catholic High School football program.
With Gaglio Field providing a solid foundation, the Crusaders are working hard to retain status in the always challenging FCIAC.
“I’m pleased with the way the kids are working and their toughness,” Panapada said. “Our seniors (13) have expectations. Be (Stamford) city champs. Fight toward a state title. Those are still our goals.”
But each season is a time of adjustment for Trinity Catholic.
The Crusaders graduated 19 seniors from the 6-4 squad, which won five of its last six games and was 4-0 at home.
Among the departed are quarterbacks Nick Granata, John Farrell and Frank Alfano as well as leading rusher Jon Michael Bivona along with much of the offensive line.
Overall roster numbers are down from 40 to the mid-30s. So getting through practice healthy each day is a big deal.
With construction complete on its new artificial turf field, Trinity Catholic was able to hold spring practice for the first time.
The change came in handy as the Crusaders are putting in a new offense. Trinity Cath olic offensive coordinator Alex Drayson moved on to Western Connecticut State University, so Panapada will be more involved on that side of the ball this season.
The Trinity Catholic quarterback situation has senior newcomer Sam Aldof as the current starter. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Aldof has a number of impressive physical tools. However, lack of experience is a hurdle he must overcome.
Sam Pensiero, a 5-9, 150-pound junior, took a number of reps at quarterback during spring practice. However, a wrist injury suffered in the summer during American Legion baseball season and subsequent surgery has kept Pensiero from getting any time at QB during this fall preseason.
Pensiero could become a factor at quarterback down the road. He just recently had his cast removed and was cleared to play by doctors.
Senior tri-captain Nick Melia (639 yards rushing, six TDs) returns to lead the running backs.
Trinity Catholic’s 2016 defensive coordinator Frank Rabassa is taking the season off as his son Alex is a junior on the King School football team.
Rich Albonizio will move into the defensive coordinator’s spot.
“It’s great when I can turn to a Hall of Fame coach (Albonizio) on staff,” Panapada said.
The Crusaders take the task of extending their program’s success very seriously.
“We are a small team in terms of numbers. But our group is extremely close-knit and supportive,” said senior tri-captain and middle linebacker Chris Ciacciarella. “In my freshman year, we had good players but they didn’t work together. The team members came together the following season and our current winning tradition has followed. Intensity in practice does carry over to game days. You play the way you practice.”
Trinity Catholic will meet intracity rivals Stamford (Week 3) and Westhill (week 7) relatively early in the schedule. The Crusaders will host Greenwich in Week 2, travel to Trumbull in Week 4 and play a non-league clash at Killingly on Nov. 4.
“Depth is a concern. We’re doing the best we can. I am pleased to see a freshman group of 22 who will help us down the road,” Panapada said. “We will let our body of work speak for itself. I’m proud of the committment I see. What the kids have done the past three seasons is special.”
COACH: Donny Panapada (5th year)
CONFERENCE, CLASS: FCIAC, S
2016 RECORD: 6-4 (5-3 in FCIAC)
TOP RETURNEES: Sr. RB Nick Melia (5-9, 190, 639 yards rushing, 104 carries, 6 TDs); Sr. TE, DE, K, Punter David Broncati (6-3, 205, 36 of 39 extra points, 4 of 8 on field goals); Sr. MLB/OL Chris Ciacciarella (6-0, 210, 63 assists, 76 total tackles).
REASON TO SMILE: More veterans back on defense than offense.
REASON TO WORRY: An overall roster in the 30s is just a few injuries away from real trouble.
KEY GAMES: Hosting Greenwich in Week 2 and travelling to Trumbull in Week 4 will determine whether Trinity Catholic will face another slow start as they had in 2016.
OUTLOOK: If senior newcomer Sam Aldof or junior Sam Pensiero (injured wrist) can develop into a solid game manager at quarterback, Trinity Catholic can thrive as long as the Crusaders remain healthy.