HIGGANUM >> It was a year ago this week when Haddam-Killingworth’s 2012 football season came to a crashing halt. The Cougars were fresh off a Class S playoff appearance the year before, as well as an historic Thanksgiving Day Mud Bowl victory against undefeated Valley Regional/Old Lyme, and had been stamped as playoff contenders again.
Everything changed, however, when Alex DiMauro-D’Amico, a three-year starter at quarterback and safety who was also slated to return kicks, suffered a season-ending broken leg in a scrimmage against Rocky Hill.
“We had to move a lot of kids because of that one injury and it had a significant impact on us,” said H-K coach Dennis O’Rourke.
Their playoff hopes already dashed, the Cougars, who went 5-5, ended the season on a sour note following a 42-12 defeat against a revenge-fueled Valley Regional squad.
“We weren’t happy with that (record),” said O’Rourke, “so we thought we had a lot to do in the offseason because of that.”
When O’Rourke leads the Cougars onto North Branford’s Colafati Field in two weeks, it will mark his 37th season as the head football coach on Little City Road. With only five seniors on the roster, it will also be one of the youngest teams he’s coached.
“The kids have worked extremely hard to be good this year,” O’Rourke said. “Because we’re young my expectations are still that we are going to go out and compete and be successful every week.”
H-K’s starting quarterback will be junior Matt Genovesio (5-11, 180), who called signals for the junior varsity a year ago.
“This is his first year at quarterback and so far he is doing a tremendous job,” said O’Rourke. “I’m happy with the way the offense has kind of blended and gotten off to a good start. All of this is against each other so it’s hard to judge. We have our first scrimmage (at Windsor Locks) on Friday and we’ll get a better assessment of what we’ve accomplished so far.”
The Cougars five senior captains, David Parmelee (5-7, 180, LB/RB), Nicko Hoffman (6-0, 205, OL/DL), Zack Camolli (5-11, 210, LB/OL), Jesse Warren (5-11, 200, OL/DE) and Zack Roth (5-11, 195, RB/LB) have been “sparkplugs” according to O’Rourke.
“They are our senior leadership and we’re looking for others to follow their lead,” he said.
H-K’s linebacking unit will be bolstered by junior Conor Champagne (6-0, 185), junior Taylor Kruck (5-11, 185) and sophomore Lance Reinhart (5-11, 190).
“We’ve got a good core of linebackers,” said O’Rourke. “They’re getting a lot of information and a lot of stuff thrown at them and they’re adapting to it. So those kids have been stepping up and doing what we’ve asked them to do.”
The 21-team Pequot Football Conference realigned this season from two to three divisions (North, West and South). H-K will be in the South Division with Shoreline schools North Branford, Hyde, Morgan, Old Saybrook/Westbrook, Coginchaug and Valley Regional/Old Lyme.
Cromwell has moved into the North Division. The Panthers and Cougars will not meet this fall. “The Pequot has gotten so big,” said O’Rourke. “Cromwell was a good rival for us. So we’re playing some different teams but that’s OK.”
After six seasons as a Xavier assistant coach, O’Rourke started the H-K football program in 1977. “A lifetime ago,” he said.
Since 1982, his teams have gone 142-169-2. O’Rourke also guided the Cougars to the Class S state championship game in 1994 (a 20-14 loss against Putnam).
“When you’ve been doing this for 37 years you know there’s going to be ups and there’s going to be downs,” said O’Rourke. “There’s going to be good kids and there’s going to be not so good kids, big teams and little teams. But if you enjoy doing this, and I do, you keep coming out and going after it. What I’m proudest of is that after 37 years we still have a very viable program. We’re always going to be competitive. We’re going to show up and the kids are going to practice hard and they’re going to play to the best of their ability.”