Pequot Football 2018: COGINCHAUG / HALE RAY / EAST HAMPTON preview

Coginchaug/Hale Ray’s Elijah Rivera fends off a North Branford defender during a Thanksgiving Eve, 2017 game George A. Colafati Field at North Branford High School. Coginchaug/Hale Ray won 28-27. Photo: Catherine Avalone / Hearst Connecticut Media

Vitals

Top Players

Key Losses

RB/LB Pat Ladas, WR/DB Kevin Cross, WR/DB Anthony Curry, K Ryan Cross

Outlook

The turmoil that could have swallowed the Coginchaug football program in recent seasons is history. The positive vibes around the Blue Devils these days are unmistakable as they begin Year 2 under coach Erik Becker.

Some of that good feeling comes from a roster that has a nice blend of experience, size, power and a little speed that might just make Coginchaug a player in the Pequot Conference. And, after a run of three coaches in three seasons prior to Becker’s arrival, the roots of continuity are beginning to take hold.

“So much of what we’ve tried to do is instill a culture of leadership that drives behavior, and (positive) behavior produces results,” said Becker, a longtime assistant at Hand of Madison before his hiring in Durham. “The difference last year to this year is almost night and day. When I got the job, there was an absolute absence of continuity. This year, we practice better, the cohesion is better. Everything is going better than last year.”

His debut season was not bad, either. Coginchaug won six games with only four seniors on its roster. This season, there are 20 seniors in all. Even better, Becker has six returning starters on the offensive side and seven on the defensive side.

In addition, the roster – Coginchaug has been a co-op program with Hale-Ray – is now bordering on 60 players with the addition of 13 from East Hampton to the co-op, including five seniors expected to be impact players. Plus, Becker said, last year’s winning season has stirred interest in students in the school who haven’t played previously.

“For any small program, the addition of kids (like the East Hampton players) that can impact a program is enormous. It can’t be overstated,” said Becker, whose program has moved up to Class M for 2018. “They are wonderful kids, incredibly hard-working kids. Everyone on the team is working really hard to build one team out of three schools.”

On offense, the Blue Devils’ spread attack returns 6-foot-3, 240-pound quarterback Elijah Rivera. The backfield will have to prove itself because it lost an All-State player in Pat Ladas, who rushed for 1,200 yards in eight games and accounted for 18 touchdowns. Seniors David Skelps, Jordan Camp and Justin Czermicha will get carries.

Rivera appears to have no shortage of pass catchers – Ryan Genest, Ethan Martin and Michael Slade. All are seniors. All but Slade are six feet or taller. Martin is 6-4.

“Elijah has great potential and Martin has incredible potential,” Becker said. “We were always balanced when I was the offensive coordinator at Hand. Here last year, we were around 50-50 between the run and the pass. I’m a Libra. You know, the scales? The goal is to be a balanced and put all of our strengths in play.”

The Blue Devils’ top returning players in their 3-4 defensive scheme include seniors Terry Lockwood (260 pounds), Justin Gagner (250) and Gabe Slade (250) on the line, Skelps and Czermicha at linebacker and Martin at one end. The backfield features Genest, Stagon and Michael Slade, with Camp at safety.

Ladas, who graduated, also was a very good linebacker, totaling 150 tackles. Becker said he is looking for someone who can replace some of the production in that space, too.

“Last year’s kids were very dedicated and Pat really modeled how to do things the right way,” the coach said.

“Our practices in August have been really spirited. The energy is good and the kids are loving the work. The mark of any great team is having kids who love to practice and get good work done. When I do my job right, I feel like a million bucks after practice every day.”

As has been the case season to season, there will be no shortage of competition in the Pequot. Becker respects the bodies of work of coaches Tim King at Valley Regional and Mark Basil at North Branford, who annually contend for state playoff berths. The Cromwell/Portland program is traditionally strong and neighboring Haddam-Killingworth is a rival.

“Coginchaug has been successful in almost every other sport, and football should be no different,” Becker said. “The Pequot is an awesome small conference. Valley and North Branford are the flagship programs and always will be. If we’re going to win any kind of championship, we will have to go through great teams to do it.

“I believe we’re really capable of being a very good football team. I’m not coaching the players to be mediocre.”

2018 Schedule

Home games in CAPS
*Conference game
**Division game

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed Kenneth Trawicki as a receiver and defensive back. It has been corrected to list him as a center.