WESTPORT >> The message from the Staples High football team this season is this won’t be the same team from last year. And that’s a good thing.
After assembling an 8-3 record last fall and falling short of the postseason, a year after winning the FCIAC title, it was clear change needed to be made.
In the offseason, a more dedicated and focused approach was taken.
“Well, I think we’ve made massive improvements just from our work ethic,” senior and co-captain Mat Jacowleff said. “Our group has been really dedicated to fixing what’s wrong and going out there and proving that every single week and practice.”
A big emphasis in the offseason was getting stronger and buying into the defense. Last season the Wreckers gave up nearly 25 points a game to opponents. Head coach Marce Petroccio said they gave up too many big plays and too many easy touchdowns.
“It’s a different type of team this year; our defense is so much different. We really made a commitment to playing better defense. It’s night and day,” Petroccio said.
Leading the charge defensively for Staples is seniors Jackson Hoebermann (6-2, 255) and Nick Esposito (6-4, 210) up front, along with junior Jackson Ward.
“One of the biggest differences this year is Nick,” Hoebermann said. “He’s really stepped up from last year, where I guess our whole defense wasn’t up to par, and he’s just been the leader that we need.”
While the defense will look different this fall, so will the offense. Four-year starting quarterback Jack Massie is gone. He accounted for a majority of the Wreckers’ offense as he threw for more than 1,400 passing yards and ran for 618 yards on the ground. Running backs Patrick Lesch (1,011 yards) and Jack Greenwald (703) have also graduated.
Senior Teddy Coogan, who clocked time in as a receiver last fall and played QB in mop up duty, takes over as the starting quarterback. Coogan is more of an option quarterback and like Massie, Petroccio called him a ‘warrior.’
“He can really run the ball,” Jacowleff said of Coogan. “You don’t often see a defender on top of him, if he’s going to the ground usually he’s on top of the defender.”
While Coogan is still unproven in the starting role, his teammates are confident in him to get the job done.
“Well, we all miss Jack (Massie), but we’ve grown up with Teddy too,” Hoebermann said. “I trust him to do what he needs to do.”
Along with Coogan, senior and co-captain Jake Melnick (WR) will see his role expand, while lot of new faces will be debuting offensively this fall. Jacowleff said they don’t have that one superstar who is going to get all the headlines. And that’s OK.
“Here’s what it’s done, it’s made us closer as a team,” Petroccio said. “There’s more team chemistry; everyone is pulling for each other.”
“It’s a group of guys who really care for each other and we push each other…we’re trying to win a championship,” Jacowleff said.
Staples will get a good first-test as they host Xavier this Friday at 7 p.m. A year ago they lost on the road to them 30-22.
Xavier is in a similar position as Staples, as they failed to make the playoffs last year for the first time since 2008. They are also starting a new quarterback in 5-foot-10 senior Michael Scherer.
“We know they’re extremely well-coached, they’re physical and work really hard, it will be a battle,” Melnick.
While the Wreckers are excited to get the season started, Jacowleff was quick to point out they haven’t proven anything yet.
“We have a clear goal trying to get back to the postseason,” Jacowleff said. “We haven’t proved much to anyone yet. I feel like this team is completely different than other years teams. I just think that we could be a sleeper in some people’s eyes, we could be a favorite in our own eyes, it all matters if we have confidence and go out there and do what we do.”