MIDDLETOWN >> The high school football season gets underway today and every area team is upbeat. Some have visions of titles dancing in their collective heads, others think that a run at a playoff spot is possible and others believe that major improvement is going to happen.
Nowhere is there talk of rebuilding, no doom and gloom.
Tonight, we’ll begin to see how much of the optimism translates into big seasons.
Norwich Free Academy at Xavier, McHugh Field, 7 p.m. >> This ought to be a good test for both teams. Xavier beat NFA by a touchdown last year, but the Wildcats played without their best player, Jawaun Johnson (880 yards in limited action in 2015), who was injured. Johnson was the quarterback in 2015 and this year he’s been switched to running back.
“I don’t think they’re as good as they were last year, but Johnson is an extremely talented player,” Xavier coach Sean Marinan said. “We’ll have to stop him.”
Xavier, which is ranked No. 10 in the Register’s preseason poll, comes in with its own talented players, beginning with quarterback Will Levis (65-for-133, 686 yards, also in limited 2015 action) and running back Glenn Cunningham (179 carries, 910 yards).
Marinan said that his concerns have to do with inexperience, especially at skill positions like receiver and at linebacker. He is also concerned about finding the right people for the right positions.
“We have potential,” he said. “But things could break either way for us.”
The game will be carried live by the local Internet radio station wcnxradio.com.
XAVIER to win a good one.
Middletown at Platt, Falcon Field, Meriden, 6:30 p.m. >> Platt has a new quarterback and has developed some depth across the board and figures to be improved over last season. Its most dynamic player is receiver/returner Tylon Papallo.
“Platt is like looking in the mirror,” Middletown coach Sal Morello said. “They have speed at the skill positions, too.”
Middletown, which is ranked No. 8 in the Register’s preseason poll, comes in with a veteran team, but a club that still has a lot of juniors. No question the key to success is quarterback Tyshaun James, a threat to both pass and run. He is supported by a talented group of quick receivers and running backs and both the offensive and defensive lines return many.
“We’re healthy and way ahead of where we were at this time last year,” Morello said.
Middletown also has Mike Aresco, likely the best place kicker in the area.
MIDDLETOWN to win.
Platt Tech at Vinal/East Hampton/Goodwin, Palmer Field, 6 p.m. >> VT/EH/GT has just about everybody back and is bolstered by a big freshman turnout.
“We’re very excited,” Hawks coach Joe Cefaratti said. “As we told the kids, this is our second year of starting, so it’s time to step up to the plate. It’s the first year in a while we aren’t opening with one of the league’s powerhouses. In Platt Tech, we have a team on the same level as us.”
Cefaratti said that Platt Tech brings speed and that he expects a “helluva” game.”
One down note is that starting running back Jake Sevigny is out with a serious leg injury and will be lost for the foreseeable future. “That will hurt,” said Cefaratti.
The Bellhawks will be led by senior quarterback James Tharin and return a core of seniors who have been through the 1-8 wars of last season.
“We have a good mix of veteran and younger players,” Cefaratti said. “They have been very focused this week in practice.”
VINAL to get off on the right foot with a win.
Coginchaug at Cromwell/Portland, Pierson Park, 4 p.m. >> Cromwell/Portland looks to be set up for a good, maybe a very good, season.
“We have a lot of returning starters,” Panthers coach Chris Eckert said. “We have size on both lines and I think we’re going to be pretty good on offense. I think we have a big-play capability and it will be up to Coginchaug to slow us down.”
Anthony Puntiel (6-6, 340 pounds) will anchor both lines at offensive tackle and defensive tackle. Senior Kristian Sapp returns at running back.
Sophomore Bryce Karstetter will be the quarterback, making his second varsity start.
Coginchaug is young. Coach Steve Croce said that his club’s success will depend on how quickly his sophomores learn the speed of the varsity game. He said that up to six sophs will rotate on the offensive line.
CROMWELL/PORTLAND to win.
Ellington/Somers at Valley Regional/Old Lyme, Blythe Field, 6:30 p.m. >> Valley/Old Lyme coach Tim King said he thinks his team will be OK. When King says that, watch out for the Warriors.
“Yeah, I think we’ll be OK,” King said. “The big thing will be how well the offensive line develops as we lost four of the five starters from last year. But it’s coming along.”
King described Ellington as one of the top teams in the Pequot Conference Uncas division and said that he thought the game would be a tough one.
Valley, which plays in the Pequot Sassacus-South, will be led by quarterback Matt Sapere (1,329 yards in 2015) and running back Dan Stecher. If the offensive line comes along as King thinks it will, then the Valley offense will be very good.
“This is a big game,” King said. “If we can win, it sets us up well for the rest of the season.”
VALLEY to win.
Haddam-Killingworth at Old Saybrook/Westbrook, 12 p.m. >> Haddam-Killingworth has made progress each year of coach Mike Baklik’s tenure. The Cougars were 4-7 in 2014 and 5-5 in 2015. Time to take the next step?
“We’re always looking to improve,” said Baklik. “We want to improve on last year and be better than .500.”
H-K will be led by quarterback Alex Segaline, who threw for 1.032 yards last season. The task facing Baklik will be to replace the 15 seniors who graduated.
“We’re young, but we’re making progress,” he said. “We have a long way to go, but we’re getting better every day.”
He said that Old Saybrook /Westbrook returns a solid core and ought to be a good opening day test for his club.
HADDAM-KILLINGWORTH to win.