Again, not definitive here. Just looking for answers (Thanks to @CurrenSCC for an assist).
Note: One slight edit on the Shelton post, but it’s notable news.
1. Just how good will last year’s state champs be?
If you believe in the few preseason rankings out already, Cheshire (Class LL champ) and Notre Dame (L champ) are the best teams in the state. I’m going out on a twig here and say the official preseason polls will have them 1-2.
Some of my colleagues love to just take last year’s rankings and slot them into their preseason vote.
Bah! We try to do some homework for you and, from what we can tell both teams have many gaps to plug, holes to fill and decisions to make.
At Cheshire, all of last year’s stars QB Greg Palmer, DB/WR Brian Havilcek, FB Dan Sweeney, DB Paul Tuscano, FB, linemen Luke Scinto and Craig Thorne are gone. They *do* have nice QB back in Max Slade, who filled nicely for Palmer. Cheshire also has a stable of backs led by Mike Skibicki. Will throwing be an issue? Havicek’s big-play ability will be missed and we’re wondering how the revamped offensive lines will fare.
Actually, Notre Dame almost has the exact same problem. Their QB is Sean Goldrich, the Walter Camp QB award winner who is attracting all sorts of preseason attention. WR/DB Conor Keniry is gone, RB/LB Justin Willis is gone, but huge RB/LB David Rose returns as does speedster Tirrel Young-Williams. ND will need to fine some good lineman to replace Rob Bowman and Dom Diglio.
Of the two, I’m giving ND (which plays in Class L) the slight nod. Cheshire (LL) should be good, but its schedule is brutal.
Remember, two losses isn’t (quite) a death-knell anymore in the new playoff system.
2. Who are Graham Stewart and Austin Ahern, and are they enough to make Xavier a winner?
They’re two tremendous defensive players and the key components of Xavier’s 2010 season. Stewart is one of the state’s top recruits — he recently committed to Boston College. Ahern is a hard-hitting strong safety.
But, of course, they can’t do it on their own and Xavier defense, while good in spots last season, did surrender 25-or-more points in four of its five biggest games last year. This time, however, the offense might not be in position to bail them out. QB Alex Pace, TE Connor Brownell and, of course, tailback Julian Hayes are all gone. Those are big spots to fill. Ryan Murphy, a nice junior TE, returns and I’m sure there’s plenty of unknown talent waiting in the wings.
We’ll find out about Xavier real quick:
at Notre Dame-West Haven, Sept. 17.
3. Can Shelton contend with the big boys?
The Gaels had the makings of a good team in 2009, but injuries and, well, poor tackling pretty much killed the Gaels during a 1-3 start, including losses to Cheshire, Xavier and Hamden.
Speedster Paul Piccirillo is gone, as is QB Ray Pendagast. But there are plenty of skill guys returning: WR/DB Mike Georgalas RB/LB Ryan DeAnglelis, and LB Cody Kitson. Kicker Jonathan Groth takes over at QB.
Edit: It looks like RB/LB Ryan DeAnglelis is lost out for the year due to a torn ACL in the spring. Already a tough break for the Gaels.
Regardless, the Gaels should be fine offensively. It’s the defense we worry about. Who’s going to step up on the front-seven?
Shelton won’t have time to figure it out. It opens with dangerous Wilbur Cross (which features RB James Ward, QB Dontay Long and more skill guys than an opposing coach cares to count — speaking of which, look out for Cross) and Sheehan at home before a big match at Notre Dame. Home vs. Xavier and away vs. Cheshire also loom.
(On a side note, I haven’t seen the Shelton coaches, but how’s that new $400 student activity fee affecting the team? Can’t imagine very well.)
4. So what’s Hamden’s story now that Scott Benoit’s gone?
Well, all-league back Jordan Teague is returning. And, with the Green Dragons looking for a new QB and (both new and former) coach Tony Martone back a the controls, could we be seeing Hamden circa 1998? Instead of Horace Dodd carrying the ball 50 times a game, maybe it’ll be Teague left, Teague right, Teague up the gut?
Outside of Teague, Hamden lost pretty much everybody from last year’s team. You name the player, he’s gone.
5. Will we ever hear from Fairfield Prep again?
Well, we’ll hear from them again, it’s just a question of when. It’s a school with nice tradition that has violently fallen on hard times. But like the fight song says, “We will laugh, we will cry, but we’ll never say die.”
We’ll see. So, what’s in store for this year? Prep brings in a rookie head coach in Tom Shea, who’s a 1973 alumni and knows his Prep history. He played for Earl Lavery and coached in and around the program for years while running successful technology companies.
He inherits a very young team that didn’t just get kicked around the league in 2009, it was battered and bruised. Returning are C.J. Donahue, the quarterback, RB/S Kyle Vignone, TE/LB Brian Golger and OL/DT Hayden Collins. They’re not names, but they’re kids who no doubt remember the beatings they’ve endured.
But can they play ball and do something about it? No idea. The last time I actually saw a Prep game was the replay of their 49-0 loss to Hamden. So far, I haven’t heard a word about Prep yet. I don’t know Shea’s philosophy. They are truly a big question mark and a team that will be dismissed until they accomplish something.
Non-pressing (yet): …Are there any good SCC Division II teams out there? Foran has Tucker Schumitz but an absolutely brutal schedule. North Haven? Hillhouse? Law? How about the Wallingford schools? … Now that Nick Merullo’s gone in Madison, what’s Hand got? Amity isn’t quite starting from scratch, but close enough, especially with new coach Bert Mozealous. West Haven is another mystery and have been for awhile.
We’ll take your questions, comments and ponderings …
Edit: An original story had Xavier tight end Ryan Murphy’s name wrong. It has been corrected.