The Hyde Leadership school — the one that took up residence in Hamden, at least — and the Southern Connecticut Conference were conceived and implemented at approximately the same time more than two decades ago.
Athletics were a big part of the Hyde experience from the time it opened and, as a New Haven school run by New Haven Public Schools despite its location in Hamden, Hyde and the SCC seemed like natural partners to further the conference’s mission of bridging the seemingly rarely crossed gap between urban and suburban schools through athletics.
Yet, despite some discussions back and forth over the years, never the twain met. Until now.
When Hyde athletics (and it didn’t take long) got fully operational, its football team went, not to the SCC, but to the Pequot League while the rest of its sports played in the Shoreline Conference.
One reason was that the SCC, which had Derby at the time, had a full, outer valence shell with an even 20 teams. But the main reason was size. Hyde’s male population hovered somewhere near 100, which made them one of the smallest (if not the smallest) football-playing school in the state, or somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 percent of the massive public school a short ride down Dixwell Avenue.
As you probably know, Hyde thrived almost from its first day on the field (and finding fields was always fun for them). The Howling Wolves won state titles in 2000, 2004, and 2005 under John Acquavita and another in 2009 under Melvin Wells, producing Division I and NFL quality talent like Bruce Campbell along the way.
When a new school as tiny as Hyde had success like that, it came with raised eyebrows and jealousy from some who wondered whether things would have gone the same had they been forced to play SCC teams on a weekly basis.
When Derby finally left the SCC after the 2008 season, the SCC had a glaring opening in which Hyde seemed to fit nicely. But Derby left essentially because of its small population, so why would Hyde give up a good gig for that? Plus, the school was going through transitions that for a while made its survival as a school less than assured.
It ditched the “Leadership” model and changed to the Hyde School of Health Sciences and Sports Medicine. It had plans to leave the antiquated old Barry Junior High building in Hamden to take over the vacated Gateway Community College on Sargent Drive.
But soon after trucking everything there in 2013, a leaky roof among other things forced it to North Haven, where it has been ever since.
There had been talk of a move to Hillhouse, where Hyde would share the campus and eventually expand. However, that movement seems at a standstill at the moment.
Hyde is stable, for now. With the contract with Hyde Schools finally running out, it will be rebranded as the Creed School of Health Sciences and Sports Medicine, named for Dr. Cortlandt V.R. Creed, the first African-American to graduate from Yale Medical School in the mid-19th century (not Apollo Creed, Rocky fans, sorry, although you’re free to make jokes during the season).
With a rebrand and a turnover of staff, including Athletic Director Erik Patchkofsky, and that 20th spot still remaining vacant, it was finally time for the Hyde/Creed football to become a part of the SCC. It will play its first game as a member on Sept. 9 against Hillhouse at Bowen Field.
“We’ve been talking about it for a while, and finally got to a point where it was, ‘Why not?’,” SCC commissioner Al Carbone said. “Their school had a little different philosophy. But Eric was a real leader. He really pushed to get this done and I think it will be good for everyone involved, and we finally have our 20th football team.”
In the end, Hyde and coach Brendan McCormack point to two big factors in this being the time for the long-awaited move to the SCC. First, the Pequot Conference is geographically diverse, to put it mildly. A road trip to Gilbert in Winsted is all of 90 minutes from New Haven and does not exactly constitute a natural rivalry. McCormack graduated from East Haven and was an assistant at both East Haven and West Haven before going to Creed.
“Logistically, it just didn’t make any sense for a school from New Haven to be traveling all those distances when these other schools were so close,” McCormack said. “There were some long bus rides.”
The other big factor in this being the time is a co-op with Career and Whitney Tech, with this being the second season of the arrangement.
Career is obviously an SCC school, which competes as a full member in almost every other sport except for football. Although Career’s numbers are still relatively low this season (about 10), as a member of the SCC the hope is that the numbers will grow in the coming years. It will definitely be needed since, according to the CIAC, Creed begins 2016-17 with just 168 total students, 187th of 190 CIAC members.
“It will definitely help,” McCormack said. “I think some kids (at Career) have shied away because of the league we were in. Now we can go out and create our own identity in the SCC.”
Both Carbone and McCormack indicated the new three-division football setup in the SCC did not play a role in Creed’s inclusion. Even if the format had remained at two divisions, the Howling Wolves still would be on board for 2016.
The logistics of a co-op are always tricky, but they’ve always been difficult for Creed, which has played home games at Bowen Field, Wilbur Cross, and places like East Haven in the past few years.
The bigger problem, of course, is practice, especially since the school moved to North Haven (it is still a New Haven magnet school). The current site is the Ross Woodward School in New Haven and, although McCormack admits it isn’t ideal, he credits the staff at all three schools he’s drawing from to make things work.
“The whole staff is great about everything, especially the secretaries for the ADs,” McCormack said. “If we need something or have to change a time, they’re right on top of it and we don’t miss a beat. At the end of the day, you need good people working with you to make this work and I have good people.”
On the field, Creed has not enjoyed unbridled success since its 2009 state title, in fact posting three losing records in the last seven years. It finished 6-4 last season and ended the year with a 53-6 pasting at the hands of North Branford, which came soon after it was announced Creed would be joining the SCC.
But McCormack thinks that the potential lack of expectations may work in favor of his team this season. Star running back Jhavion Haddock (1522 yards and 20 TDs on just 143 carries) was injured and did not play in that North Branford game. McCormack has switched things up a bit, moving junior Wyatt Jackson to quarterback and former QB Tyrese Thomas (who rarely threw) to receiver. The Howling Wolves have participated in passing leagues all summer and should be more diverse offensively and return a good amount of experience in most places.
New name. New league. New identity. Creed knows, even playing a Division III schedule, they’re stepping up in competition, but with great challenges come great opportunities, and McCormack believes they’re ready.
“If people think we’re going to be doormats, we’ll just use that to our advantage,” McCormack said. “Some people are going to have their doubts, but we were looking for the step up in competition. The SCC is where it’s at and it’s where we wanted to be. Here we are, and we couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity.”
DIVISION III POWER RANKINGS
Adding a third division and realigning means things are wide open in this part of the SCC, which should give a boost to all the teams here in one way or another.
Alas, it really doesn’t help their scheduling all that much. Each will still play one game against a Division I team and realignment means it won’t be Hamden (whom East Haven defeated last season) or Amity (whom Branford nearly did).
But when we say it’s wide open for the inaugural division title, we mean it. So take these with a big grain of salt:
The Hornets recovered from a schedule-induced poor start to get back to .500 last season after going 0-11 the year before. That should immediately inject them with more confidence than they’ve had in a few years. They did it with defense, including on Thanksgiving where they upset rival East Haven 10-7 to spoil the Easties’ playoff hopes. Quarterback Griffin Lynch returns, but Branford will likely again depend on its defense and sophomore Jackson Seward, who made several big plays down the stretch.
It was a remarkable turnaround for the Easties, even if the Thanksgiving loss left a bitter taste in their mouths. Remember that they recently went four years without winning a game, so you take the good with the bad. The Yellowjackets have a lot to replace but do return runners McClay Marshall and Dominic Manna, as well as one of the best defensive players in the SCC in senior Niam Coward. They get a rematch with Hamden and have Hand on the schedule. But getting back to .500 (unthinkable a few years back) is a good goal to have.
Barring injury, it doesn’t seem like Jhavion Haddock is going to be any easier to stop in the SCC than he was in the Pequot. He was not a high volume runner last season, but averaged nearly 11 yards per carry. We shall see if he gets more chances with the ball in his senior season. Defense is a concern, and things will be extremely difficult against the likes of Hillhouse and West Haven (welcome to the SCC, Howling Wolves), but they should be extremely competitive against most of the league.
If a season where you rush for 994 yards and nearly 10 yards per carry can be called a bit of a disappointment, Zach Davis did that last season. But Davis made up for it on Thanksgiving, rushing for 520 yards (media outlets had it at 507) on 51 carries, a top-five performance in state history. That also means more than half his rushing yards for the season came in the final game. If he’s healthy, it should not be the case this season. Davis also caught 55 passes for 736 yards last season, meaning opponents will definitely be keying on him. If he gets some help, the Titans could be a force to be reckoned with.
Year One of the Mike Eagle Era in Guilford could definitely be chalked up to growing pains as Eagle implemented his passing first, spread offense, which looked to be a shock to the system to Guilford. The Indians completed less than 50 percent of their passes and had 12 interceptions to just six touchdowns. There are still lots of questions to be had, but at the very least, the Indians should be much more comfortable with the system they’re in. But it still may take a while.
Speaking of reclamation projects, Erik Larka steps in at Law having had success at Bacon Academy. Larka, a Law alum, may find things a little more difficult. But he was an assistant under Mark Robinson at Law and knows the SCC, which should make the transition a bit easier. The Lawmen, as they did under Derrick Lewis in 2014 as well, did get better as the season progressed, but just couldn’t generate much offense in the last couple of seasons. That’s an area Larka will probably have to remedy first for the Lawmen to become competitive.
With Fitzgerald Field finally renovated, the Trojans have turf, new lights, and everything a varsity football team should have as far as facilities. So Lyman Hall can now turn its attention to matters on the field, where — unfortunately for the Trojans — it has lost 20 consecutive SCC games and 35 of their last 37, with those wins coming back-to-back) dating back to an overtime win over Branford in 2013. For that to change, the Trojans will have to sure up their defense, the one Zach Davis ran through at will last Thanksgiving.
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