Week 5: No. 9 Southington (4-0) at New Britain (4-0), 6:30 p.m.
NEW BRITAIN – Nothing has really changed in 10 years.
When two young running backs met at their first youth football practice, little did they know that they would always share a backfield and start a very close friendship.
“The first time I touched a football,” New Britain senior Shawn Robinson said pointing towards teammate Kaiyon Gunn at practice on Monday, “was with that man, right there.”
During that first season, both players were good enough that coaches didn’t know who to start.
“We were just talking junk – we didn’t know each other – we were just talking junk: ‘I’m better than you. I’m better than you,’” Robinson said.
It worked back then and it has continued to work into their high school careers.
The duo of Gunn and Robinson has totaled 833 yards on the ground so far this season – an average of 208.2 yards per game – and have led the Hurricanes to their first 4-0 start since 2003.
“You got five (yards)? I’m going to get nine. You got 10? I’m going to score,” Robinson said of how the friendly competition between the two would play out. “At the end of the day, end of the game, he’s still my brother. We still dap each other up, love each other, call each other’s mom, ‘mom.’ It’s family.”
The feeling’s mutual.
“I definitely am the first person to high-five him after he scores,” Gunn said. “I tell him ‘I scored last week so now it’s your turn.’”
Gunn is the more shifty and speedy running back while Robinson takes the pleasure of running through defenders.
New Britain coach Tebucky Jones raved about the friendly competition between his two running backs.
“It’s like that old Rutgers team, they had that Thunder and Lightning,” Jones said. “They both run hard. They both have the ability to make people miss.”
OK, so who is thunder and who is lightning?
“Back then, he was faster than me,” Gunn said. “Now I am faster than him. I was more like the chunky guy. He’s now the chunky guy.”
Does Robinson know that he’s thunder now?
“Nah,” Gunn said with a laugh. “I’m going to go tell him now.”
Robinson has some idea.
“I was the one who got the sweeps and he got the dives and the blasts,” Robinson said. “He worked on his speed a little more. He got me.”
To Jones, however, both are just as dangerous when they’re on the field, regardless of if they get the blocks or not.
“I always tell them: You can never let one guy tackle you,” Jones said. “It has to be more than one. When it’s one guy you have to win that battle.
“I think they went into the season with that mindset and it’s working out pretty well.”
The duo has listened and listened well.
It’s hard not to listen to Jones. He speaks from experience.
While Jones was an NFL first-round pick as a safety who helped the New England Patriots win Super Bowl XXXI, he built his career as a running back when he starred at New Britain in the early 1990s.
Jones was a two-time New Haven Register All-State selection, at running back and at defensive back, but was recruited to play tailback at Syracuse. He only made the switch to safety his senior year.
“I take it as an advantage, because most kids don’t have what we have,” Gunn said of having an former NFL star as his head coach. “He’s an excellent coach and gives us information on how we can do things better.”
The relationship between the three goes beyond player and coach.
“It’s a blessing. He’s more of a role model to me,” Robinson said. “He put New Britain on the map when New Britain had nobody to look up to. He was a hero. Everybody wants to be like ‘Buck.’
“Getting the chance to have him as my coach, me and my brother, playing football the game we all love. It’s the best thing that could have ever happened.”
‘Buck’ knows a thing or two about beating Southington. His senior year he helped New Britain beat Southington 12-0 on Thanksgiving. Jones would lead New Britain to an undefeated record and a Class LL championship that year.
This year, both teams come into Friday night’s showdown 4-0.
The Hurricanes haven’t had much luck against the Blue Knights, recently.
The year Gunn and Robinson began playing youth football was the last time the Hurricanes won a game in the series, a 3-0 victory in 2008.
Southington has won the last nine meetings, mostly via blowout. Last year, Southington won 42-20.
“We have to realize that they are just another team,” Robinson said. “They bleed like we do. They practice like we do. They ain’t nothing special but another football team.”
Jones, in his seventh year as coach of the Hurricanes, isn’t letting past season’s losses get in his team’s head.
“I was a DB. If you get beat on a catch, it’s short term memory,” Jones said. “That’s how we look at it.
“Last year is gone. It’s a whole new year. We tell the kids, it’s a new beginning.”
It’s a new year, a clean slate and the players have bought in.
“Knowing that we won a few games, we’re feeling ourselves a little bit,” Gunn said. “We don’t want to feel ourselves too much because they’re still a contender and we want to beat them. I think them beating us in the last few years, we have something to prove.”
How are the Hurricanes going to beat the Blue Knights?
“I think we need to play without penalties, play aggressive, play fast and make sure everyone does their jobs,” Gunn said. “If one person slacks off, then that’s an opportunity for the other team to score.”
According to Robinson they are going to have to come out and score early if they are going to send a message to the rest of the state.
“First drive is always a statement,” Robinson said. “Whomever comes out and punches whomever in the mouth first sets the tone for the game. I feel like if we get the ball first – they’re going to have some blood to taste.
“It’s us against the world because we fight for everything we need. Everything we get is never given to us. We practice hard, 100-percent every practice. We get the best out of each other.”