Week 7: RHAM (5-0) at Berlin (5-0), Friday, 6:30 p.m.
BERLIN – Pick your poison.
That’s the thought that likely goes through every defensive coach’s mind in the week leading up to a game against Berlin.
Do they try to prepare for the brute strength of Zach Hrubiec? The speed of Larry St. Pierre, Jr.?
What about the speed and strength from the senior Alex Halkias or the do-it-all sophomore Marco Scarano?
It’s a unit that surely keeps defensive coaches awake at night leading up to their matchup against the Redcoats.
“Marco can cut on a dime. Marco sees the field better than the rest of them. Maturity-wise, he has to catch up,” Berlin coach Joe Aresimowicz said. “Alex, I wouldn’t want to tackle. Zach, I wouldn’t want to tackle, and I know Larry I couldn’t tackle.
“I tell the coaches if I am the defensive coordinator this is what I would do to you,” Aresimowicz said. “I don’t know what I would to this team. It puts most coaches in a box. Northwest Catholic had the best luck and everybody else has really struggled to keep up with the offense.”
For Aresimowicz, it’s a beautiful thing.
“It’s a great problem to have,” he said.
Through five games — and five victories — this season, the Redcoats have rushed for 913 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Halkias leads the way with 355 yards and eight touchdowns while Hrubiec has 165 yards and three touchdowns. Scarano has rushed the ball just nine times. He has racked up 126 yards and two touchdowns on those carries.
St. Pierre has rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns as well as catching six touchdowns on only 10 receptions.
The Redcoats Run-Pass-Option (RPO) offense plays perfectly into the hands of Aresimociz and his staff.
“Any of them can get the ball on any play,” he said.
His only trouble is figuring out which one to take off the field, especially having two top wide receivers — Giancarlo Tufano and Andrew Brochu.
“Everything we do is hand signals, so the hand signals go in and occasionally they’re like ‘What about me?’” Aresimowicz said, mimicking the shrug they give him. “Somebody has to come out of the game.
That’s (running backs coach) Max DeLorenzo’s problem to deal with, though,” Aresimowicz said with a laugh.
Berlin — which proclaims itself RBU, ‘running back university’, due to its long history of top-flite backs — has depth and skill that every team in the state would dream of.
“I tell them all the time we are the best unit in the state,” said DeLorenzo, himself an All-State back at Berlin who eventually went to play at UConn. “They give us different looks between size, speed, making people miss and running people over.”
Even off the field, the group has different personalities that blend well together.
Hrubiec and St. Pierre are the jokesters who keep the group loose. Scarano is the young back who is watching and learning at every turn. Halkais keeps them all under control as the senior leader of the group.
“We have our own running backs group chat with our running backs coach, Max DeLorenzo,” Halkias said. “If any of us have a bad run, if any of us fumble, we get on each other.”
DeLorenzo uses the text group to send the players cutout clips, specifically for them.
“I’ll coach them up a little bit like I used to get at UConn,” DeLorenzo said.
The players use it send memes and gifs.
“It’s fun,” Hrubeic said laughing of a frequent meme he sends. “It’s just a good time.”
They each know what their roles are and how important it is to the success of the team.
“I know what Marco, Alex and Larry can bring to the table,” Hrubiec said. “They are very fast and they can move. They can do everything… My job is to set the tone, let everyone know what Berlin is bringing that day.”
With only one ball and a certain number of carries to go around during a game, some would think that the backs might squabble who gets how many carries. According to them, it doesn’t exist.
No hate, just love.
“We just spread the love to each other,” St. Pierre said.
Especially when one of them reaches the end zone.
“I throw my arms up, we’ll run down and bump shoulders,” Halkias said. “It’s a party in the end zone. That’s what (assistant coach Mike) Eagle preaches and that’s what we do.”
The four having been playing together since youth football. Still, Scarano joining the varsity group full-time this season was an adjustment for the sophomore. He says he takes advantage of any chance to learn from one of the upperclassmen.
“I usually ask Alex or one of the backs, ‘How does that help us or what does that do for us?’” Scarano said. “I just learn a lot from them. It’s just making me so much better of a back.”
With all the laughter, jokes, memes and gifs the unit is ready and always prepared for their next opponent.
“We know the difference between working hard and being focused and when to joke around a little bit,” Hrubeic said. “It’s a great combination. In practice sometimes we’ll joke around and have fun.
“But when those lights turn on, on Friday night, we know it’s business. When we’re all dialed in, it’s scary. We have a lot of weapons and a lot of stuff we can do.”
This week has been all business for the Redcoats with RHAM invading Sage Park, Friday night. RHAM is coming into Friday’s showdown with an identical 5-0 record.
The Sachems are lead by do-it-all quarterback Cal Redman, who has amassed 932 total yards and accounted for 11 touchdowns.
Redman is notably the biggest player every time he steps on the field. The Redcoats, of course, have taken notice.
“Obviously he is the offense,” Hrubeic said. “Twenty-two, you see him you’re like, oh, jeez. He’s big, he’s 6-foot-5, 230.
“I saw him at a camp. He’s gigantic. We feel like, you stop 22 you have a great chance to win the game. If you let 22 do his thing, you are going to be in for a long day. We feel like we have a good game plan for him. We feel like we are going to be able to contain him to a point and we feel like we are going to come out with the W.”
The senior quarterback has even drawn an impressive comparison from Aresimowicz, from when the coach was an assistant coach on the Berlin staff in 2010.
“When my son was a sophomore, we played Wethersfield and they had Tyler Murphy,” he said. “You know you’re not going to stop him, you just hope to contain him. You understand he is probably going to get one or two touchdowns by sheer athletic ability. But if you put a scheme into place and the kids execute it to where you can hold the rest of the team down, you’re going to have a chance. We just can’t let him have a field day on us.”
Both teams have had a relatively easy road leading up to this showdown. Both teams have won four of their games via routs and both have run into a close encounter.
Berlin held on to beat Northwest Catholic, 21-13, on Sept. 22 and RHAM had to pull off a 24-point comeback to beat Plainville, 32-24, on Oct. 6.
There will be no room for error in this one.
“This week’s motto is 5-0, 5-0, someone has to walk away with a loss,” Aresimowicz said. “No regrets, every play, play your heart out and let’s see what happens.”