Rise and shine.
It’s football season.
At long, long, long last the first — official — day of practice of football season has arrived.
For many of us: Not a moment too soon, although perhaps a year too late.
Regardless what everyone thought about 2020’s COVID cancelation (nobody was happy), we’re playing football again now.
Yes, all systems are ‘Go‘ for a full 2021 high school football season, complete with Friday night lights, gorgeous autumn Saturdays, mind-numbing playoffs scenarios, Thanksgiving showdowns, four (and only four) state championship games and all the hype and hoopla in between.
In other words: actual, normal football.
Sure, COVID-19, which caused the cancelation of the 2020 and irrevocably changed the course of so many potential careers and lives, remains a threat.
But there’s so much we’ve learned about the virus’ transmission over the last year, not to mention effective and widespread vaccines. As long as teams and players continue to follow COVID prevention guidelines, both the CIAC and health experts say we’re all set to play ball.
So on Monday, for the first time in two years, thousands of players and hundreds of coaches will gather together and begin to reacquaint themselves with this glorious rite of autumn.
Want some extra motivation? Hit play on the video, above, and let the late, great Floyd Little tell you what’s what on a backdrop of great Connecticut high school football players, coaches and teams from the past 10 years.
Oh man. Welcome back football.
Let’s get this party started:
Since many of you are new here — we’re talking two, maybe three seasons of families who are joining the Connecticut football family for the first time — we’ll try to break down the essentials for you. Hit the link above to visit the CIAC’s football page for more in-depth info, or download the 2021 information packet here.
Everyone else feel free to absorb the bullet points and get to the good stuff below.
- Organized Team Activities (OTAs): August 12-14
- Conditioning practices: August 16-20
- First practice with full pads: August 21
- First allowable scrimmage: August 25
First, spring football is no more. The optional, 10-day session that took place at the end of the previous school year was unceremoniously dropped by the CIAC before the 2020 season — which we didn’t play. So this is the first year it’s noticeably absent.
With spring football gone, now every team in the state begins the preseason together.
The preseason officially began Thursday with three days of ‘Organized Team Activities’ — three, 90-minute days for coaches to introduce (or reintroduce) their incoming players to their programs. Some teams found this helpful.
The first full week of the season begins Monday with the traditional five days of ‘conditioning’ practice. No contact is allowed, so neither are full pads. But these are the practices where footballs are used and players can push sleds, tackle dummies and run plays.
Actual practices with full pads and contact can begin Aug. 21. The first, official scrimmages can begin Wednesday, Aug. 25.
The Regular Season
- Last date to schedule: September 9, 3 p.m.
- First game: September 9, 6 p.m.
- Last day to count for state playoffs: November 25 (Thanksgiving).
- Mercy rule: A running clock is used when a team is ahead by margin of 35 points in the second half.
Teams have until 3 p.m. on opening day to schedule games that will count toward qualifying for the state playoffs.
Opening day is Thursday, Sept. 9 when Ansonia vs. Wilby kicks off at Municipal Stadium at 6 p.m. Just about everybody else follows over the weekend (some will start in Week 2).
All games must be completed by Thursday, Nov. 25 — Thanksgiving Day — to count toward the playoffs. If those games are postponed due to weather, they’re allowed to be made up the following Friday or Saturday.
- Quarterfinals: Tuesday, November 30 at sites of higher-ranked teams.
- Semifinals: Sunday, December 5 at sites of higher-ranked team.
- Championships: Saturday, December 11 at sites to be determined.
The state is divided up into four classes based on enrollment and teams accumulate CIAC playoff points based on an average of their wins and losses and their opponents’ wins and losses.
The top eight teams by playoff point average qualify. The top seeds get home games in the quarterfinals and semifinals. the state championship sites will be announced after the semifinals.
There were quite a few grumbles when the 2020 playoff divisions were announced and three-time defending champion St. Joseph had dropped from L to Class M.
Then the season wasn’t played and it didn’t matter. When the 2021 divisions were released, St. Joseph had been bumped back to Class L.
Why? Well, the Hogs’ enrollment hovers between Class M and Class S. Last year they were Class S. This year they’re Class M. When you add the CIAC’s school-of-choice success modifier, which promotes designated “choice” schools up a class if they’ve been to the semifinals two years in a row, then you see how SJ got moved up.
So last year they would have been M, and this year they’re now back in L.
Other notable moves include: New Canaan back in LL; Cheshire moving down to L; New London and Masuk going from M to L; North Haven and Notre Dame-WH dropping from Class L to M.
The CIAC’s playoff point system is getting a significant change for the first time in its 45-year history.
Playoff points are tabulated by awarding teams 100 points for a win and 10 points for every defeated opponents’ win and then averaging by the number of games played. You’d get these points regardless of how strong your opponents were.
Now, teams will be awarded an extra 5 points for every opponents’ win and 2.5 points for every tie, regardless of whether they win or lose the game. Think of it as a strength-of-schedule modifier.
The CIAC implemented the new point system thanks to a successful lobby by the leaders of the Connecticut High School Football Alliance (a Connecticut high school version of the NCAA’s ‘Power Five’ conferences).
The playoff modifier was added in hopes of giving schools more credit for playing tougher opponents, and making them less likely to schedule Cupcake High in order to accumulate easy playoff points.
A historical look back at the last 10 seasons show the points would not have swapped out many qualifiers, but it would have rearranged some of the final seeds.
The Connecticut High School Football Alliance — now in its fourth year of promoting statewide scheduling equity through cooperation — has scheduled 97 crossover games for 2021, with a majority of them taking place in Weeks 3, 4, 7 and 8.
Just like in 2019, five of the state’s eight conferences are involved in the scheduling arrangement: The SCC, SWC, ECC, CCC and the FCIAC. Capital Prep/Achievement First, an independent, is also involved.
Of those 97 crossover games, SCC schools will play in 75 of them; the SWC 45; the FCIAC 34; the CCC 24 and ECC 18. Capital Prep/AF was given four crossovers.
A realignment of the CCC this year forced three matchups to be played between conference foes.
You can find links to school and league composite schedules here.
(An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Xavier was playing on Thanksgiving against Glastonbury. Xavier and Glastonbury will be playing the Saturday before on Nov. 20 at 1:30 p.m.)
A lot can happen in the coaching ranks over two years, especially during a pandemic.
Indeed, there were around 35 coaching changes among all football-playing schools in Connecticut, that’s both CIAC and NEPSAC.
Two-time championship Woodland coach Chris Anderson is back … at rival Naugatuck.
Joe Lato took over the vacant Woodland job when Chris Moffo stepped aside. Longtime Monroe Lions Pop Warner coach Steve Christy has assumed control of Lato’s old gig at Masuk.
Three-time state championship coach Rob Trifone is now two years gone from Darien; Top assistant Mike Forget is officially in charge of the Blue Wave.
Hill Gbunblee is Tim King’s successor at Valley Regional/Old Lyme. Mike DeFelice is Jeff Roy’s successor at Shelton.
Erik Becker left Coginchaug for Haddam-Killingworth, but when his mentor Steve Filippone retired (again) at Hand, Becker became the next coach at his alma mater.
Jude Kelly retired at St. Paul, assistant Mike Kennedy took over the Falcons in 2020, but then went to CREC; assistant Joe Cianciola became Falcons coach. …Then, to complete the circle, Jude Kelly came out of retirement and became head coach of a resurrected Weaver JV squad.
Overall, at least seven head coaches got different jobs; six assistants got head coaching jobs at new schools; 14 were assistants promoted at their current school; Two coaches returned to their old jobs after several years away — Keith Tautkus at Ellington and Kevin Driscoll at Avon Old Farms.
A Co-Op Soap Op
Try to keep up here:
Nonnewaug-Middlebury, which has struggled to maintain a varsity program throughout its 14-year history, was about to join up with the Sacred Heart/Kaynor Tech-Waterbury co-op for the 2020 season.
But then the pandemic hit, Sacred Heart closed its doors and Kaynor Tech left to form a new co-op with Wilcox Tech of Meriden: Wilcox/Kaynor.
Wolcott Tech and Wamogo, meanwhile, were two thirds of a new co-op with Housatonic Regional called MCW United.
But then Housatonic bowed out as the host school and joined up with Gilbert/Northwestern to form a virtual Northwest corner All-Star team between former Thanksgiving rivals, Gilbert/Northwestern/Housatonic.
So Wolcott Tech and Wamogo joined up with Nonnewaug to form another new co-op called Northwest United, with Wolcott Tech playing host. The games, however, will be played at Nonnnewaug.
Also new on the scene: Bullard/Kolbe, a cooperative between Bullard-Havens and Kolbe Cathedral of Bridgeport (Kolbe hasn’t played football since the early 80s, at least).
As mentioned, Weaver, will be returning in 2022 after playing a JV schedule this year.
That’s all we can think of so far. There were some league realignments, but — frankly — it’s nothing really significant. Besides, leagues have been made almost completely irrelevant by realignments, playoff points and alliances.
Whatever. It’s football season. Off to practice with you.
We’ll have much, much more from Team GameTimeCT in the coming days, weeks and months, starting with previews of every team in the state.