COACH — TYLER WHITLEY (8th year, 27-30)
CONFERENCE — Erickson League
PLAYOFF CLASS — NEPSAC
HOME — Rockefeller Field, Watertown
2018 RECORD — 8-1
2019 OPENER — Sept. 14 at Phillips Exeter Academy, 3 p.m.
TEAM WEBSITES — Maxpreps | taftschool.org — @TaftFootballCT
Nolan Grooms, QB (Yale); Teely Rhyne, RB; Anim Dankwah, OL/DL (Howard University); Ryan Last, OL/DL (Delaware University); Seamus O’Hora, OL/DL (Union College); Liam Akpata, DB (Oberlin College); David Brown, OL/DL (RPI); Isaiah Hernandez, DB (Bowdoin College); Ayinde Johnson, WR/DB (Transfer)
The 2018 campaign was a successful one for Taft, which compiled a 8-1 record and was crowned Erickson League Champions. Taft also won the Todd Marble Bowl NEPSAC Championship.
Nolan Grooms was a one of the main reasons for that success, as the three year starter he finished his high school career as the Erickson League Player of the year and will be attending Yale this fall.
With such a crucial player gone, last year’s backup Josh Schwartz and incoming sophomore Nick Brown of Hampshire, Illinois will compete for the starting job. Whoever head coach Jason Whitley choses will likely need to have a breakout year if Taft wants to repeat what it did a season ago.
Similarly to the quarterback position, Taft lost its top running back to graduation as well. In 2018, Teely Rhyne rushed for over 1,000 yards and received All-New England honors.
Senior captain Mashod Harrison takes over after splitting starting time between slot receiver and running back last year,” Whitley said. “Harrison has a Brown University offer and heavy FCS interest. He is an outstanding two-way player who is eager to be our main rushing weapon.”
Harrison handled 21 carries for 75 yards and caught 27 passes for 394 yards and a touchdown a season ago.
Sophomore transfer Jack Englert (Ridgefield) and junior receiver Skyler Bell could also see some carries as well.
The receiving corps, of course, will be highlighted by senior Diante Vines. As a junior, Vines had 51 receptions for 602 yards and 12 touchdowns in nine games. Committed to Iowa, the elite receiver will look to produce at a similar level as last year.
Returners accompanying Vines include slot receiver Michael Yamin, who “is an exceptional route runner and a third down machine,” according to Whitley, and junior Skyler Bell, who has received offers from UVA, Iowa, UMass and Rutgers.
Junior Mark Didio (Staples) and junior Jacob Rooks (Chicago, Illinois) will also be expected to contribute to the receiving core that could prove to be one of the best in the state.
Three of the starting offensive lineman from the 2018 roster were postgraduates and must be replaced.
Chez Jennings (6-6, 320), Erik Johannesson-Perez (6-4, 315), Stanley Dennis (5-11, 290), Mason Frank (6-2, 290), Richie Licursi (6-3, 275), and Heath Bostick (6-4, 240) will make up the 2019 line.
Based on size alone, Taft’s offensive line may not have any problems adjusting to three new members.
The Big Red will look to emulate what it did a season ago, but after posting an 8-1 record the team may have a target on its back.
“We hope to compete with the best in New England and return to a New England Bowl game,” Whitley said. “We know that we will not sneak up on anyone this year and we expect to get the best from every team that we play.
“The Erickson League looks especially tough this year and I expect there will be great parity. NEPSAC football is as strong as it has ever been. It has truly become one of the best leagues in the Northeast and I expect every game to be very close.”
Sept. 14 — at Phillips Exeter, 3 p.m.
Sept. 21 — vs SALISBURY,* 3 p.m.
Sept. 28 — vs WILLISTON NORTHAMPTON,* 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 — at Trinity-Pawling,* 4 p.m.
Oct. 12 — vs BRUNSWICK,* 3 p.m.
Oct. 19 — at Avon Old Farms,* 3 p.m.
Oct. 26 — vs KENT,* 3 p.m.
Nov. 9 — at Hotchkiss,* 3 p.m.