Hurricane Irene can delay football practice a few days. It can ruin practice fields all over the Northeast. It can cut the power off from my house and force me to live at The News-Times.
But it cannot stop me from previewing the upcoming SWC football season (only because The News-Times has a generator).
Here are my preseason rankings:
2010: 13-0, SWC champion, Class L champion
Masuk's Thomas Milone
Anything can happen, but it would be very surprising — borderline shocking — to see Masuk lose a single game in the SWC. The Panthers have the state’s top overall recruit in UConn-bound quarterback Casey Cochran, a dynamic running back in senior Colin Markus and a game-changing wide receiver in junior Thomas Milone (headed to UConn on a baseball scholarship).
They also have a pretty light schedule. Masuk’s first seven opponents (Oxford, New Fairfield, Stratford, Joel Barlow, Notre Dame-Fairfield, Immaculate, New Milford) combined to go 17-53 in 2010. It’s not inconceivable for the Panthers to pitch a shutout through the two months. Pomperaug and Newtown are the only true tests on the regular season schedule.
Obviously, there’s little question that Masuk will be a great team. But the offensive and defensive lines, both returning just one starter, will determine if the Panthers are once again immortal (the Panthers won by a painful average score of 50-6 in the 2010 regular season).
Pressure Casey Cochran and control the clock and maybe a team like Brookfield or Bunnell has a chance. If not, everyone else is playing for second place.
2010: 9-3, Class M semifinalist
Even without Brian Kelly, Brookfield has all the tools to be serious contenders in Class M….and possibly pose a threat to Masuk in the conference.
Leaon Gordon may be the best running back in the state. He is a brutally physical runner who can take it the distance on any carry (seriously, watch this highlight video). Brookfield’s other running back, Tyler Puglisi, requires gang-tackles on every carry. And 6-foot-3 junior quarterback Boeing Brown rounds out the most talented backfield in the league. He’ll need a top target — perhaps 6-foot-5 athlete Ralph Schatz — to replace Kelly.
Linebacker Joey Acquanita will lead the underrated Brookfield defense.
Outside of Masuk, this is the SWC’s most balanced team. Holding Brookfield under 30 points will be a feat for most opponents.
Quarterback Bryan Castelot and receivers Jawad Chisholm, Jared Vasquez, Jibril Chisholm and David Camille are back for another year in Bunnell’s air-it-out attack.
The Bulldogs will score, score, score and score. Question is, can they stop anyone? Last year, they were run of the field against Masuk (45-0) and Brookfield (41-12).
2010: 8-2, SWC runner-up
Despite a flurry of injuries, the Nighthawks still went 8-1 in the regular season and qualified for the SWC Championship game. Newtown returns Dan Hebert, one of the most electric players in the conference. Hebert, who played wide receiver and quarterback last season, is listed by coach Steve George as a receiver for 2011. George says he has “three players battling for the QB spot.” Per usual, a strong defense will be Newton’s forte.
The departure of Kellen Croce really hurts. Croce, who transferred to The Gunnery, was one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Without him, it will be tough for Pomperaug to duplicate the aerial attack it succeeded with a year ago. Pomperaug will run it with tailback Andrew Reel and rely on overpowering opponents at the line of scrimmage (and that gameplan usually works out pretty well at Pomp).
The season opener at Brookfield is a HUGE game for both teams.
Bethel's Brandon Schmidt
Brandon Schmidt is a college running back disguised as a high school QB. At 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, he has the strength to run between the tackles and the speed to break off long runs. He’ll also have bruising fullback Brian Birdsell in the backfield.
Over recent years, Bethel’s success in the run game was largely due to its dominant offensive line. With Chris Valenti (Harvard), Alec Belardinelli and Javier Reyes gone, there are certainly some holes to fill. Seniors Thiago Lanes and Tyler Gall will anchor the O-Line and the defensive front seven.
Oxford scored 28 points against Masuk last year, the most of any Panthers opponent. The only problem: they gave up 69. Oxford opens with Masuk and will need to control the ball — and get a few bounces — to stay in the game. After that, though, the Wolverines could surprise some teams. They are physical and experienced. They just need to replace Nick Donofrio’s 1,285 rushing yards and 17 total TDs from a year ago.
Do-it-all QB Markey Desruisseaux is now at Lakawanna College (a two-year school), so the Red Devils will have to find another offensive weapon. Tailback Donald Graham figures to be that guy.
Stratford, which started 2-0 in 2010, could conceivably win four of its first five games.
9. New Fairfield
Though they were just 2-8, the Rebels made some strides in 2010. They played Bunnell and Newtown close, but ended up on the losing end of both games.
Expect a more balanced attack — not the Ryan Mallon show — from New Fairfield this year. With no Bunnell or Newtown on the schedule, New Fairfield has seven very winnable games, including the final four (Weston, Oxford, Barlow, New Milford).
Weston was without a doubt the surprise team in the SWC last fall. Eddie Hutchins, who carried the ball 242 times for 17 touchdowns, was practically a one-man offense. Someone will need to replace Hutchins in order for Weston to build on its breakthrough year.
11. New Milford
New Milford's Valdir Nepomuceno
Last year was a bit of a headscratcher in New Milly. The Wave knocked off Oxford, an up-and-coming team, but then lost to Notre Dame-Fairfield, which could barely field a full roster. New Milford had trouble stopping opponents, but showed it could put up some points. The Wave has a solid tailback in shifty senior Valdir Nepomuceno.
12. Joel Barlow
Quarterback Peter Meehan and tailback Billy Wilson are back in the Falcons’ option attack. If Barlow can control the clock and limit mistakes, it can compete in most games.
13. Notre Dame
The Lancers have a new coach in former MLB player Rico Brogna and some explosive athletes in Daquan Coleman, Frank Zumbo and Nigel Beckford. They’re short on numbers, though, which could hurt as the season progresses.
New coach Bryan Pinabell will institute the option offense in Mustang Valley. Like Notre Dame, Immaculate has some playmakers in quarterback Pat Fahey and wide receiver/scatback Daniel McCorkle. Also like ND, the Mustangs will probably be outmanned on both sides of the ball.
Each high school football team is required to hold 14 mandatory practices before playing a game. Because of Irene, some teams have missed several practices. The CIAC will allow teams to practice on Sundays to help make up for lost time. Read the CIAC release here.
Tomorrow, I’ll be at Pomperaug High football practice to preview the season. On Thursday, I’ll be attending the Ridgefield vs. Brookfield controlled scrimmage (if it happens). Also, look for this year’s SWC fantasy football rankings in Sunday’s paper.