- COACH — BRIAN MAZZONE (4th year, 23-10)
- CONFERENCE — Pequot Uncas
- PLAYOFF CLASS — S (co-op)
- HOME — Stafford High School Field
- 2017 RECORD — 10-2, lost to Ansonia in Class S semifinals
- 2018 OPENER — Friday, Sept. 7 at Morgan, 6:30 p.m.
- TEAM WEBSITE | Twitter: @staffordbulldog
- COLTON ENGEL, Sr. QB/S (5-10, 190)
- JOHNNY KOPEK, Sr. C/LB (5-9, 190)
- JEFF KOLOGY, Sr. WR/S (5-6, 170)
- JULIEN RIVAS, Sr. CB/RB (6-1, 200)
- CODY GEBO, Sr. RB/LB (5-10, 190)
- TYLER GILBERT, Sr. OG/LB (5-9, 230)
- KODY MESSIER, Sr. DE/OT (5-9, 240)
- ANTHONY DESSO, RB/DE (6-0, 210)
- NATHAN LAVALLEE, Sr. OT/DE (6-0, 210)
- GARRETH BOWERS, Sr. WR/DB (5-10, 175)
Andrew Napolitano OLB (Nichols), Jake Locklear C (Hartwick), Jalen Irving (All Conference), Devon Labua WR/DB
Once a long-forgotten football program, Stafford can be ignored no longer. The Bulldogs, who easily surpassed the program’s best finish in school history last year by winning 10 games, including their first CIAC playoff victory, returns just about everybody of consequence, including 14 seniors and seven 2017 All-Pequot League selections, to make a run at a third-straight state playoff appearance.
Fourth-year coach Brian Mazzone, the architect of this co-op’s resurgence who is a mere 13 victories away from becoming the school’s all-time winningest coach, is downright giddy.
Not only does a majority of last year’s stars return, but Mazzone says the team’s chemistry is ideal. Many of the kids played alongside or against each other in youth football and, now that they’ve seen success together at the high school level, this group is hungry.
“We are a very cohesive group,” Mazzone said, adding that their offseason weight room attendance exceeded his expectations. “(The) kids were youth stars together and won multiple titles there.
“Last year’s Bullard Havens victory and early performance vs. Ansonia gave the kids a lot of confidence. The team is very hungry and motivated. I’m very pleased with the offseason. We also have a strong group of incoming freshman with a similar pedigree.”
The Bulldogs revolve around seniors Colton Engle and Julien Rivas, four-year starters who excel on both sides of the ball. Engel, Stafford’s all-purpose quarterback who was a second-team Walter Camp selection at punter, amassed 2,004 yards rushing and 1,134 yards passing yards last season. His school-record 25 touchdowns scored accounted for more than half of the team’s total output. Mazzone says Engel’s been receiving “a ton” of Division I interest.
Rivas, who cuts an imposing figure at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, chipped in with 1,065 total yards and nine touchdowns at running back. “Rivas is a star,” Mazzone said.
Receiver Jeff Kology returns after leading the team with 36 catches for 490 yards and six touchdowns (Rivas was second with 28 catches for 343 yards and four scores). Back Cody Gebo and receiver Garreth Bowers are also proven options.
They’ll have plenty of protection as four of five offensive linemen return, including senior, four-year starting guard Tyler Gilbert, senior, three-year starting tackle Kody Messier, and, of course, center Johnny Kopek.
They’re equally impressive on the Bulldogs’ defense, which allowed just 116 points last year. Kopek is the team’s defensive anchor at linebacker and led the team with 121 tackles and seven sacks (he’s made 14 sacks in two seasons). He’s teamed with Gebo and Gilbert, who return as the team’s second- and third-leading tacklers. The secondary is stacked with athletes, including Rivas, Engel (3 interceptions) and Kology.
If there’s a weakness, Mazzone said it’s depth, which isn’t a shock, even for a three-school co-op. He’s particularly looking to bolster his already strong offensive line.
Before Mazzone’s arrival, Stafford’s football program won 22 games over a 10-year period. In just three seasons, his blossoming program has already exceeded that. Years from now, when Stafford, Somers and East Windsor football players look back at their program’s history, this group will be the standard of excellence.
It’s up to them how their final chapter plays out.
Sept. 7 — at Morgan,* 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 — Canton,** 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 21 — Gilbert/NW,** 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 28 — SMSA/Univ/Class,** 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 — at Granby,** 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 — Rockville,** 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 — at Cov./WT/Bolt/Lym,** 7 p.m.
Nov. 3 — at Ellington,** 1 p.m.
Nov. 9 — at N.Branford,* 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 21 — W.Locks/Suff./East Granby,** 6 p.m.
Home games in CAPS