NEW FAIRFIELD — As this year’s crop of New Fairfield High School football players toiled through a steady rain Wednesday evening in one of their final practices before the curtain goes up on the regular season, coach Anthony Fata made one thing clear: Players will come and go, but the winning attitude that has surrounded the program the last several years doesn’t change.
“Our goal will always be the same, and that’s to make the playoffs,” Fata said. “I never want to use the word ‘rebuild.’ We want to reload and continue accomplishing the things we’ve been accomplishing the past couple years.
“We know we have a lot of young guys — we only have one senior on the offensive line,” Fata continued. “We’re young and we’re going to go through some growing pains this year, but the goal is still the same, to make the playoffs and continue our winning ways here.”
The Rebels are anxious to prove to their rivals that, just because they’re unproven doesn’t mean they can’t compete.
“We just can’t wait to play and show everyone what we’ve got,” senior tight end and defensive tackle Zach Deldin said. “We’re ready.”
And while the championship banners look really nice on the gym walls, the Rebels realize that they can’t simply rest on their laurels.
“We just have to stay focused,” senior running back and linebacker Randy Benitez said. “It’s a new year, a new page, and we’re trying to define us, not the past teams.”
Key to the Rebels’ success this season will be the play of junior running back and defensive end Zachary Buffington. A CHSCA Class L All-State running back last year, Buffington rushed for 1,118 yards and nine touchdowns, and chipped in with 19 tackles on defense. Benitez rushed for 370 yards and three touchdowns and added 34 tackles. Junior Will Enright will take over the quarterback duties; he earned honorable mention honors as a kicker and punter last year. Junior John Morgan will bolster a speedy defensive secondary; a second-team All-SWC selection last year, he returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown against Masuk.
“Everybody is going to be geared up to stop Zach Buffington,” Fata said. “Obviously, there aren’t any hidden secrets there. He’s going to be the bulk of our offense. But what other teams don’t realize is that it’s not just Buff this year. The last couple years, we let our tailbacks get behind the big linemen and do their thing. This year, it’s not going to be like that. I can’t put all the workload on our line, I have to share the wealth and use my other skill guys, who I’m very excited about. We’ve got a lot of speed on the outside, and we have to utilize that.”
The Rebels will open the season at Brookfield, another perennial contender. It’ll be important for the young Rebels to play well, win or lose, simply to build some confidence. Of course, the older guys are just anxious to buckle up the chinstrap, step on the field and play their guts out.
“We’re just going to go out and play a good game of football,” Buffington said with a grin.
NEW FAIRFIELD REBELS
COACH: Anthony Fata (eighth season).
CONFERENCE, CLASS: SWC, Class M.
2016 RECORD: 8-3 (Class M quarterfinals).
TOP PLAYERS: Seniors: TE/DE Zach Deldin; RB/MLB Randy Benitez; WR/CB Nick Azzollini; FB Jack Carter; LB Cameron Mancuso; DE Chase Brindise. Juniors: QB/P/K Will Enright; RB/DE Zachary Buffington; RB/CB John Morgan; OL/DL Ryan Seaman; WR/DE Zack Thuesen; WR/MLB Liam Ford; RB/DB Jake Ledda. Sophomores: FB/LB Michael Altobelli.
REASON TO SMILE: All-State running back Zachary Buffington gave the Rebels 1,118 reasons to smile last year as a sophomore, and he’ll play a key role again this year.
REASON TO WORRY: The Rebels graduated nearly 50 players combined the last two years; what they may lack in experience, coach Anthony Fata hopes they will make up for in athleticism.
DID YOU KNOW?: New Fairfield’s junior varsity team went undefeated last season. “Even though they didn’t get the experience on Friday nights, going undefeated on the JV squad, they come into this season with a little confidence and they know what they’re up against,” coach Anthony Fata said.
KEY GAME: At Brookfield, Friday at 7 p.m. Week 1 will be a good measuring stick against a fellow perennial contender in a hostile environment. A win would be huge for New Fairfield. A loss wouldn’t necessarily be disastrous for the Rebels, as long as they play well and build off it.
OUTLOOK: The Rebels may endure some growing pains. How well the first-year varsity players can perform under the Friday-night spotlight will go a long way in determining New Fairfield’s fate this year.