Finally, after a brief respite to deal with Hurricane Irene and its aftermath (I just got power back this morning), we return to the pressing questions portion of our 2011 high school football blog.
Once again, this is based on what we know just a week or so into the preseason. Still lots to learn and lots can change.
But here’s what we know, and what we think about the mighty Southern Connecticut Conference.
1. Xavier: Better or worse than last season?
Honestly, it’s hard to be better than Xavier was last season: 13-0, Class LL champs, No. 1 ranking. Can’t ask anything more of a team.
But if you want to split hairs, the 2010 state No. 1, Class LL champ’s one weakness was its offense.
Xavier didn’t exactly blow your doors off with its execution sometimes. That was to be expected, it was a pretty young outfit with a new tailback and new quarterbacks. But the team’s defense was so good, it gave the offense a wider margin of error than most high school programs.
Now cut to 2011 and you’ll possibly see a reversal of roles. Many of the offensive stars from last season are back — senior QB/WR Pat D’Amato, tall junior QB Tim Boyle (who’s been picking up several Division I college offers lately), senior bruiser Mike Mastroianni, senior tight end Ryan Murphy, linemen Sean Marinan and Austin Wezenski.
While the defense returns several standouts, including LB Jovan Santos, it did lose major components — LB Graham Stewart (now at Florida), DE Eric Mishke, LB Austin Ahern and DB Kosy Broderick.
So, based on who returns, we think Xavier will be better on offense, maybe slightly worse on defense.
Whatever. It’ll all even out in the end. Xavier should have an outstanding football team. We’ll submit they’re a solid choice for preseason No. 1.
As for repeating, they’ll be the favorites. But Xavier’s road is a minefield. There are some potential heavyweights lying in wait…
2. And who might those teams be?
Off the top of our head: West Haven. Cheshire. Hillhouse… maybe Shelton.
(Again, these are teams on Xavier’s schedule.)
West Haven, which lost to Xavier twice last season, is expected to be strong again with one of the league’s top tailbacks returning in Ervin Phillips. He’s only a sophomore. QB Nick Nieves is also back.
Hillhouse won the Class M championship with a pretty young class. (We’ll get to the Acs in a bit). Shelton brings back a large senior class (see below).
But we’ve been hearing the most buzz about Cheshire.
The 2011 Rams have a massive senior class (28) and 15 returning starters, led by receivers Sebastian Little and Jake Scinto, RB/LB Bill Weyrauch, QB Michael Ecke, RB/LB Dylan Baumgardner; OL/DL Shaun Bowman.
Cheshire was 5-5 last year, but probably better than most teams. Sure, the Rams lost four straight games at midseason, but only by a combined 13 points.
With almost everybody back a year wiser, Cheshire should be in payback mode. They play Xavier at Palmer Field Week 3.
There is an issue with the playing field. The Maclary Complex is getting turf, but won’t be ready until at least Week 5 vs. Cross. (Cheshire will face Hamden at Sheehan Week 1; Hand at Falcon Field in Meriden in Week 4.)
Will that have any effect? Probably not.
3. Hillhouse: Was last year’s title a fluke or what?
You must not know Hillhouse very well. The Acs are notorious for winning titles during so-called “rebuilding” seasons.
They did it in 2005, reaching the Class M title game with a young team before winning it all in 2006.
Though there was some signs during the 2010 regular season (read: a 9-6 loss vs. Xavier), nobody expected the young Acs — led by a freshman tailback (Harold Cooper) and a sophomore quarterback (Je’Vaughn Moore) — to roar back from a 2-2 record, capture the No. 8 seed, upset Berlin in the first round and eventually hoist a state championship trophy.
But they did. And now they’re allllll back.
Twelve starters (six on offense, six on defense) return, including Cooper, Moore, big senior lineman and UConn commit Rennick Bryan.
They won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time. And, once again, their schedule is unusually rugged for an SCC Division II team. Division II contender North Haven, along with Division I heavyweights Cheshire and Xavier are all on the docket again.
Even if the Acs lose two or even three of those games, it still might be enough to get them into the Class M playoffs, battle tested and ready to rock like last season.
4. Earth to Shelton. Come in, Shelton. Are you out there, Shelton?
It’s been awhile since we’ve truly heard from the Gaels, hasn’t it? OK, they’ve had some solid years, 7-3, 7-4, 6-4 since reaching the 2007 Class LL championship game. But they really haven’t been boss in SCC Division I.
“That doesn’t cut it here,” coach Jeff Roy said. “We’re really looking to get over that hump.”
That could change this season.
Thirteen starters return. Seniors dominate the lineup, including new QB Frank Camerino, who put on a show vs. Derby on Thanksgiving, fullback Gary Thompson and a large, veteran offensive and defensive front led by twins Robert and Austin Rose and Joe Ortoli.
They’re not names yet, and some new go-to guys are desperately needed on offense — especially since standout Will Karcher was lost for the season due to an ACL tear back in the spring. But Shelton is hoping you’ll get acquainted with its players real soon.
Consider the Gaels a dark, dark horse at this point. They’re still a team to watch.
5. Anyone else worthy?
Of all the SCC Division II teams, North Haven‘s getting the most preseason love. The Indians, who notoriously replaced Notre Dame in the Class L playoffs with their upset of the Green Knights at midseason, has everybody’s attention with the return QB Joe Schwab, RB Jalon White, OL/DL Andrew Savenelli and LB Mark Zurlis. With all due respect to NDWH-Xavier, North Haven’s Week 1 matchup at Hillhouse might be the league’s best game of opening night.
As for the rest of the SCC D-II teams, uncertainty rules once you get past Hillhouse and North Haven. Lyman Hall, a playoff team from a year ago, lost plenty of star players with the exception of RB Joe Desandre. They might fall back to the pack along with Foran, Law, East Haven, Sheehan, Guilford and Branford.
Getting back to Division I, Hand – the New Canaan of the SCC — always puts out a good product, though losing all-state WR Alec Pacelli and QB Zach Miller hurts. There were, however, plenty of underclassmen on last year’s Class L semifinal team. The Tigers could potentially be one of the best teams in SCC D-1, or middle-of-the-road.
Notre Dame-West Haven appears to be starting over somewhat. Many of the holdovers from the 2009 state championship team gone — particularly QB Sean Goldrich, WR Tirrell Young and RB David Rose. The Green Knights return tailback Amihr Bess and LB Davante Mallard and a a few experienced linemen.
Fairfield Prep? We’re still deliberating on the Jesuits. Little’s known at this point except they lost some skill guys but remain blessed with a large roster. Now in Year 2 with coach Tom Shea, Prep might be worth a couple of extra victories..
Wilbur Cross will have to find someone to replace standout RB/KR James Ward. The Governors, like Amity and Hamden, appear to be in building mode.