By Emery Filmer
Last year the Trumbull High Eagles rebounded from a disastrous opening week loss to complete what must be considered a successful 7-3 season. Now we will see how they fare while trying to bounce back from some major graduation losses.
One year ago Trumbull opened the season against eventual state finalist Ridgefield. The Eagles had a 21-point lead late in the third quarter before watching Ridgefield rally for the stunning victory. But the setback did not destroy the Eagles’ season. They went on to win seven of their last nine games and just missed earning a state playoff berth.
So now what happens, after losing quarterback and Walter Camp Award nominee Johnny McElroy and all-state receiver Danny Hoffman, not to mention their top three defensive players, to graduation?
Coach Bob Maffei hopes the recovery will be similar to last year’s.
“Aside from McElroy and Hoffman, our skill kids are back,” Maffei said. The Eagles will continue to run the spread offense so expect the high-scoring — and lengthy — games to continue. “(Junior) Colton Nicholas will be our quarterback and he has been working well with our receivers. He will be throwing forever but he can run, too.”
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Nicholas will try to get the ball into the hands of explosive senior running back Markeese Woods, who is a threat to go all the way every time he touches the ball. McElroy’s other favorite target figures to be senior wide receiver Pat Daley. Both Woods and Daley are three-year starters. Returning senior linemen Joe Turner, another three-year starter, and 265-pound Erik Palankas will need to take charge in the trenches and give Nicholas time in the pocket.
“Hopefully we won’t lose much going from McElroy to Nicholas,” Maffei said. “Colton is a good passer and also a strong runner. Tacklers bounce off him. But he’s also very smart. That should help.”
Defensively, the Eagles figure to see a lot of time on the field thanks to the quick-strike nature of the offense. Senior tackle Odai Dayob (240 pounds) will lead the way along with middle linebacker Turner, defensive back Daley and tackle Palankas. The Eagles will certainly be capable of winning shootouts but Maffei is hoping the defense plays better than it did in 2016.
Maffei is also hoping to avoid another 0-1 start. That won’t be easy, however, with their Week 1 opponent another perennial powerhouse in Greenwich.
“That game will set the tone for the whole year,” Maffei said. “When it comes to the first game, who the heck knows. We were up 21 at Ridgefield last year and blew it. It was a disaster. But we bounced back from that. Whatever happens, we’ll either be chasing people or they’ll be chasing us.”
The game will be Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and will be played at Sacred Heart University because of the scheduled “Trumbull Days” festival that will be held at Trumbull High Friday night and Saturday.
The Eagles were unable to fill their Week 9 bye week so the annual Thanksgiving Day showdown against cross-town rival St. Joseph will be their ninth and final game, unless they qualify for the state playoffs. The schedule includes five opponents that played in last year’s state playoffs.”
COACH: Bob Maffei (20th year)
CONFERENCE, CLASS: FCIAC, LL
2016 RECORD: 7-3
TOP RETURNERS: Sr. RB Markeese Woods (5-10, 175 pounds); Sr. T/MLB Joe Turner; Sr. WR/DB Pat Daley; Sr. G/DT Erik Palankas (265); Sr. DT Odai Dayob (240).
REASON TO SMILE: Junior quarterback Colton Nicholas is replacing Walter Camp nominee John McElroy. Nicholas is a strong passer and can also run and looks to be suited perfectly for the Eagles’ spread offense.
REASON TO WORRY: Aside from McElroy, Maffei will also need to find replacements for all-state receiver Danny Hoffman as well as several top defensive players.
DID YOU KNOW: Bobby Maffei, son of the Trumbull coach and a former Eagle quarterback, is now the defensive quality control coach at Baylor. Maffei Jr., came to Baylor from Tennessee Tech where he was the cornerbacks coach.
KEY GAME: The Thanksgiving Day game against St. Joseph is always a highlight, but this season’s opener against Greenwich looms as the most important, especially with last year’s fiasco at Ridgefield still fresh in everyone’s mind.
OUTLOOK: Beating Greenwich will certainly boost the Eagles into state playoff contention. But this team will have to score points and if Nicholas comes anywhere close to matching McElroy’s production at QB, the Eagles will have a shot at playing December football.