ANSONIA >> Rebuilding is not often used to describe Ansonia, winners of a CIAC-best 19 state championships.
The Chargers bid farewell to its leading rusher, Tajik Bagley, receiver/defensive back Tyler Bailey and tight end/defensive end Angel Falero from a team that completed an unbeaten regular season before losing to Bloomfield in the Class S title game last year.
Sure, the perennial state power returned quarterback Bryson Cafaro and bruising fullback Malcolm Martin, but only one starter on the offensive line and a cast of relative unknowns in the other skill positions.
So, many pundits thought the Chargers might lose their grip on their proverbial perch atop the Naugatuck Valley League.
But, six games into this season, Ansonia is just being Ansonia. The Chargers are 6-0 and once again the team to beat in the NVL and, just maybe, in Class S, too.
Although those results are expected in Ansonia, head coach Tom Brockett has been pleasantly surprised by his team’s progression.
“There’s still a lot to be determined in our football season, but we have no complaints,” Brockett said. “I think our kids have gotten better. I didn’t think last May that we would be sitting at 6-0, but they have taken steps to do that.”
Brockett said the Chargers had a productive offseason. In addition, Ansonia’s talented junior class has also developed ahead of schedule.
“It starts with the off-season,” Brockett said. “Then you have kids like (juniors) Markell Dobbs and Cody Teodosio, kids who have realized that it’s their time. They waited, and now it’s their time. Those kids have really stepped up and have played tremendously for us.”
Dobbs has been quite the revelation. Dobbs, the younger brother of former Ansonia standout Montrell Dobbs, rushed 12 times for 161 yards and four touchdowns in his first game as the team’s starting tailback in a season-opening 62-21 victory over Wolcott on Sept. 9. Markell Dobbs has carried 69 times for 1,190 yards and 18 touchdowns this season.
Markell Dobbs played sparingly last season.
“He struggled to really get on any special teams last year,” Brockett said. “Maybe he was just on kickoffs, not even on kick returns. To go from that to becoming a marquee name in the state is special. Normally you don’t go from JV to that that quickly.”
It was during the off-season where Markell Dobbs honed his skills. He also got some sound advice from his older brother.
“I worked a lot,” Markell Dobbs said. “I did a lot of training with my brother early morning; lifted with my team. We went to Yale camp together and just kept getting better and better. My brother, he just kept on telling me to run hard.”
The offensive line, once a work-in-progress, has developed into a physical and aggressive unit. It’s size and power is reminiscent of Ansonia lines of the past.
“There’s only one returning starter, so they’re all new bodies in there,” Brockett said. “It always starts up front with the lineman, that’s Ansonia football, so, obviously, they’ve done a tremendous job.”
Cafaro, now in his second season under center, is the seasoned veteran. He doesn’t throw much (21-of-29 passing, 381 yards, eight touchdowns, no interceptions) but he does an effective job of piloting the offense. Despite the graduation losses, Cafaro was confident about this team’s fortunes this season.
“I thought we were definitely capable to go all the way and win a state championship,” Cafaro said. “That thought’s still in my mind and our chances have definitely improved. We’re getting better every week. The young guys have stepped up, especially on the line.”
Teodosio, a linebacker, occasionally lines up at receiver. Junior Justin Lopez leads the team with nine receptions, including four for touchdowns, and he also plays at defensive back. Martin has rushed 29 times for 266 yards and six touchdowns and is the anchor of the defense at linebacker.
“I thought we could be pretty good if we all played together,” Martin said. “If everybody did what they had to do; play hard. Once we did that, we thought it would be a good team.”
The Chargers are expected to be challenged by Valley rival Seymour (5-1) in an NVL Copper Division clash Thursday night. Kickoff is set for 6. [Update: the game has been postponed to Friday, 6:30 p.m.]
The Wildcats have lost only to Wolcott, 33-30. Seymour has two of the best players in the league in senior quarterback Jaylen Kelley and junior running back Bobby Melms.
“Seymour presents a great challenge for us,” Brockett said. “They returned a ton of great talent, and I think the kid Melms is significantly better as a junior than he was as a sophomore. Kelley is such a great player. He could hurt you in so many different ways, with his arms, with his legs.
“I think their defense is where they’re under-looked. It’s been a long time since the Seymour football team’s been this fast. They have legitimate speed and it really shows, especially on the defensive side of the ball.”