ANSONIA — Try to find out what sets this year’s Ansonia football team apart from other recent teams from the state’s small-school powerhouse, and the answers stand apart themselves.
Coach Tom Brockett talks about experience. A couple of his key players talk about how young the team is around them.
“We’ve got a lot of kids who haven’t started before,” senior linebacker Cody Teodosio said.
There’s truth in both. Perhaps there’s lots of young players up and down the roster; maybe some older players are switching positions. Brockett will take it, with eight defensive starters back and five on offense.
“I think it’s the first time in a couple of years we’ve got some guys back,” Brockett said. “We’ve played a lot of first-year guys the last couple of years.”
And an experienced Ansonia is about as dangerous as it gets for Class S and the NVL.
The Chargers have been to a CIAC final of one form or another in seven consecutive years. They won Class S last year, coming back to beat Rocky Hill, to end an interminable two-year drought without a state title, their 20th championship in 41 seasons of CIAC playoffs.
What does that mean right now?
“It means a lot, but even though you won a state championship, a state championship means nothing (in a new year),” Teodosio said at a recent practice at Nolan Field. “Now we’ve got to make it back again.”
The players who did that last year carry with them the mental toughness, Teodosio said, and the work they put in to get it done.
And speaking of carrying, they also bring with them Markell Dobbs, who rushed for over 2,400 yards last year.
Dobbs had 12 100-yard games. He also caught 10 passes for 297 yards. His first focus is another 13-0 season, and a few records along the way would be fine. (He didn’t know the state record for rushing yards in a game off the top of his head — Zach Davis of Sheehan put up 543 last Thanksgiving — but he said he planned to ask.)
“He has almost everything you like in a pretty great back,” Brockett said. “He’s got great vision. He’s tough. He doesn’t get caught. And he catches the ball well.”
Among those gone are Malcolm Martin, one of the best in the state at fullback and linebacker. Three offensive linemen are gone, including all-state Chazz Sanders.
“Our whole line’s got a lot of speed,” Dobbs said. “That’s going to help us this year.”
Justin Lopez, whose squib-kickoff recovery helped set up the go-ahead touchdown in last year’s championship game, takes over at quarterback from the graduated Bryson Cafaro.
He started at safety and at wide receiver last year.
“Again, that’s somebody who has played a lot of games,” Brockett said. He’s confident in the leadership.
It all adds up to a team that has a chance to mark its place in a legendary program’s history.
Ansonia’s 30 finals appearances are almost twice as many as anyone else’s since 1976. According to the state football record book, including the pre-playoffs era of unofficial championships, only New Britain (31) and New Canaan (22) have more titles than Ansonia (20).
“We know what our town expects,” Dobbs said, “what the younger kids expect.”
COACH: Tom Brockett (12th year)
CONFERENCE, CLASS: NVL, S
2016 RECORD: 13-0 (NVL and Class S champion)
TOP RETURNEES: Sr. RB/DB Markell Dobbs (5-11, 185; 200 carries-2,406 yards, 32 TDs); Sr. QB Justin Lopez (5-10, 165; 44 carries-321 yards, 8 TDs; 17 rec.-348 yards, 6 TDs as WR); Sr. LB/WR Cody Teodosio (6 rec.-186 yards); Sr. OL/DL Kolby Ortiz (6-0, 230); Sr. DE/OL Michael LaRovera (6-1, 210); Sr. OL/DL Kevin Rasco; Sr. WR/DB Brent Washington; Jr. FB/DE Terjuan Burney
REASON TO SMILE: Dobbs is among the top players in the state. Ansonia has more returning starters than usual, most notably eight on defense.
REASON TO WORRY: The Chargers have a handful of holes to fill and will need some young players to fill them.
DID YOU KNOW?: The Chargers have reached seven consecutive CIAC championship games. Playoff formats have varied over four decades, but there’s only one longer such streak since the playoffs began in 1976, and it also belongs to Ansonia, which made a final in each of the first nine years they were played. Only St. Joseph (1978-84) and Bloomfield (1993-99) have also made it seven times in a row.
KEY GAME: Oct. 26 at Seymour, 6 p.m. A truer answer is probably the Class S championship game on Dec. 9, since it’s the Chargers’ ultimate goal and usual grand finale anyway. But the Wildcats have been in the hunt the past few years and are expected to be there again.
OUTLOOK: Ansonia has top-notch players returning, has experience, has tradition. The NVL and Class S championships typically go through Ansonia, and there’s no reason to doubt that won’t happen again.