TRUMBULL — Under the blue-gray of the fluorescent lighting at Insports on Wednesday, the sea of red shone brightly: the Masuk helmets, the red shorts, a few red undershirts, red shirts on football players and coaches.
After a couple of green years, Jeff Nugent wouldn’t want it any other way.
“Everyone here, they’re in the culture,” Nugent said as the Panthers prepared for an indoor practice, ducking the impending storm on Wednesday.
“You see, everyone’s got their red shorts on. Everyone’s battling. The hours we put in in the summer, the four hours we put in every day after school. Everyone wants to be here, and everyone wants to win.”
Nugent went to Hamden Hall for two years, becoming one of the top lacrosse players in his class and setting himself to play at Richmond.
He returned to Masuk, where he played freshman football three years ago, for his senior year.
“It was mainly that I really wanted to be back with my friends, the kids I’ve always grown up with, bonded with my whole life,” Nugent said. “I’m back where I want to be.”
Masuk visits Cheshire on Friday night in a non-league battle of 3-1 teams. Nugent is expected back after splitting open a finger catching a pass, needing stitches, in practice before the Panthers’ 37-13 win over Bunnell in their last game, Oct. 4.
Even in the win, coach Joe Lato said, they missed Nugent.
“Offensively, he can score from anywhere,” the coach said. “Against Windsor, he ran a play completely wrong, and it went 75 yards for a touchdown.
“He’s brought a very explosive component.”
The Panthers have gone from a spread team to one running a triple option. Nugent certainly gives them one athletic option.
“He’s been my best friend since, like, kindergarten. It’s been great to have him back to finish this out with us,” said senior Chris Tillotson, another of those top skill players.
“He makes everyone around him work hard and be a better player.”
Lacrosse took him to prep school for two years, a sport he fell into almost by accident in eighth grade.
“My younger brother started before I did,” Nugent said. “I was sitting playing NHL in the basement one day, and my dad was like, ‘Jeff, you want to play lacrosse today?’ and I was like, ‘yeah.’ I got pads from a friend.”
In just a few years, he became a Division I midfielder.
“For me that was the big focus on lacrosse, my main sport, that was really why I went (to Hamden Hall),” Nugent said. “It was good to see a different high school experience.”
Lato had heard there was a chance Nugent, who he calls a “super kid, total package,” could return to Masuk. It was a question for a while, wondering what would happen.
“Around mid-July he looked me in the eye and said ‘I’m in,’” Lato said.
Masuk beat New Fairfield to open the season but lost to Windsor by a point in Week 2. The Panthers, installing the new offense, are young in spots. They’ve got some athletic linemen, Nugent said, which has helped the backs.
They’re not quite clicking yet, Lato said, which makes him optimistic that things will keep getting better. And at worst, Nugent gives them a chance on every play.
“If we pitch the ball and people are in the right spot, theres a very good chance he’s going to bust one,” Lato said. “He gets the ball in space, good things are going to happen. Even if he does it wrong, sometimes, somehow, it comes out right.”