Coach: Derrick Lewis (3rd year)
2012 record: 1-9
Players to watch: Sr. capt. QB/DB Vochan Fowler (6-0, 180, 1,381 yards passing, 9 TDs, 1,010 yards rushing, 8 TDs); Sr. capt. RB/DB Jihad Whitaker (6-0, 185); Sr. capt. WR/DB Claude Desir (5-8, 160); Sr. LB Julian Fyffe (5-11, 195); Jr. WR/S Kenny Rene (6-1, 185); Jr. DE Ahjah Ennis (6-2, 235); Sr. OL/DL Jake Difre (6-3, 258); Sr. LB/HB Robert Martin (5-8, 205).
Reason to smile: Bassick has 25 seniors. “I love that we have senior leadership. Most of those kids bought into our program as sophomores. They have experience and understand what is needed,” Lewis said. “I’m so excited.”
Reason to worry: The overall roster numbers are good for a school in Bridgeport with three FCIAC football teams. But quality depth is always a concern. Four of the Lions’ opening five FCIAC games are at home but they begin with New Canaan and Darien.
Outlook: “We’re ready to go. For a Bridgeport-based football team to have 25 seniors is against every normal trend,” Lewis said. “I believe our offense has multiple weapons to be exciting. Last year was a step forward. But this year has to be about winning games. We want to be the best high school football team in Bridgeport.”
BRIEN MCMAHON SENATORS
Coach: A.J. Albano (4th year)
2012 record: 6-4
Players to watch: Sr. RB Trey Forney; Sr. QB Matt Downey; RB/LB Kenny Keen; Jr. RB Timothy Hinton; OT Andrew Starr; RG Brice Muldoon; SS Brian Gayle; DL Alan Leonard; DL Matt Hargrove.
Reason to smile: Forney was the lightning to Kyle Jordan’s thunder last year, exploding for several long touchdown runs and bursting onto the scene as one of the most electric players in the FCIAC. He won’t sneak up on teams this year, but he’s one year wiser and gives McMahon a touchdown-in-the-making every time he handles the ball.
Reason to worry: Can Forney, who only carried the ball 66 times last year, step up and assume the workmanlike load of the departed Jordan, who carried almost 200 times last season? If not, the Senators’ offense could struggle.
Outlook: McMahon is predicated on controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The team will likely be a direct reflection of Forney’s senior campaign. Downey wasn’t asked to throw a lot last year, but Forney isn’t the type of between the tackles back that can wear down defenses like Jordan was, so the McMahon quarterback will have to play a larger role this year if the Senators are to repeat as division champs.
BRIDGEPORT CENTRAL HILLTOPPERS
Coach: Brian Gordon (1st year)
2012 record: 3-6
Players to watch: Sr. capt. OL/DL Juwan White (6-0, 295); Sr, capt. OL/DL Erick Cuatzo (6-0, 234); Jr. QB/DB Mykel Morris (5-10, 181); Sr. WR,/DB Quintin Jones (5-8, 165); Sr. capt RB/DB Keyshawn Thomas (5-10, 175).
Reason to smile: “The kids have worked very hard this preseason,” Gordon said. “We have some newcomers who will surprise.”
Reason to worry: “Concerned about depth. Just like everyone else,” Gordon said. “We have a lot of players who are going on both on offense and defense.”
Outlook: Gordon’s was Central’s 2012 defensive coordinator. He implemented and designed Central’s offseason workout program well before being named head coach in February. Central has talent and speed at skill positions. The Hilltoppers have 18 seniors, four captains. 16 juniors. But not deep enough to survive a run of injuries.
Coach: Dan Donovan (5th year)
2012 record: 3-7
Players to watch: Sr. WR Elijah Duffy (5-9, 145); Jr. QB Anferny Ith (5-9, 170); Sr. OT/DT Elijahwon Harris (6-2, 265); Sr. OL Matt Baker; Sr. OL Jacob Reich; Sr. OL Jason Thach
Reason to smile: Experience on the offensive line goes a long way in the FCIAC and the Hatters have it. Danbury is hoping the line gives Ith time to get the ball to his speedy weapons on the outside.
Reason to worry: Changing the culture of a program does not happen overnight and the Hatters may have some growing pains as they attempt to get everyone on the same page.
Outlook: The lack of success in his first four seasons caused Donovan to implement a tougher offseason workout regimen and the result was the loss of several players who weren’t fully committed to the program. The Hatters will step on the field with around 40 players on JV and varsity, but Donovan feels those who will suit up are dedicated to improving a once proud program and returning it to a perennial contender.
DARIEN BLUE WAVE
Coach: Rob Trifone (7th year)
2012 record: 7-3
Players to watch: Sr. QB Silas Wyper (5-11, 155); Sr. RB Jay Harrison (5-9, 150, 113 yards, 2 TDs), Sr. WR/RB Nick Lombardo (5-10, 160, 685 yards, 11 TDs); Sr. TE Kyle Gifford (5-10, 150, 130 yards, 1 TD); Sr. OLB Myles Ridder (5-10, 190, 51 tackles, 2 sacks); Jr. DE George Reed (5-10, 210, 38 tackles, 2 sacks), Soph. DE Mark Evanchick (11 tackles, 4 sacks).
Reason to smile: Darien returns a strong stable of running backs, including Harrison, Reed and Lombardo. The strong ground game combined with Lombardo’s ability to stretch the field should allow for a smooth transition for new signal-caller Silas Wyper.
Reason to worry: Darien loses its top five leading tacklers from last season, so the defense may not have the experience of some other FCIAC teams.
Outlook: If Darien can continue to turn last year’s role players into this year’s stars — as they’ve shown an ability to do in recent seasons — then the Blue Wave should be right in the mix for the FCIAC title and/or a state tournament appearance.
FAIRFIELD LUDLOWE FALCONS
Coach: Vinnie Camera (7th year overall, first at Fairfield Ludlowe)
2012 record: 5-5
Players to watch: Sr. QB Matt White (5-10, 180); Sr. TE Stephan Zadravec (6-2, 195); Sr. OL/DL David Harris (6-0, 225).
Reason to smile: The new coaching staff has brought a fresh outlook with plenty of enthusiasm. White, Zadravec and Harris were all-conference players in 2012 in the FCIAC Central and will contribute to the offense again.
Reasons to worry: Installing a new offense and a new defense, with different formations and schemes, as well as unfamiliar plays and coverage responsibilities, is rarely a quick process without growing pains. Camera was the coach at Platt Tech when it embarked on varsity football, and the Constitution State Conference competition Platt Tech encountered is a far cry from the FCIAC, traditional home of several state-playoff qualifying teams. There’s little experience back on defense.
Outlook: The quicker the Falcons can embrace all the changes comfortably and gain confidence as a unit, the sooner Camera can create a climate where winning is expected. If enough players can rally around the leadership of White, Zadravec and Harris, the Falcons could surprise many opponents. If the learning curve is steep and unsettling, wins could be hard to secure.
FAIRFIELD WARDE MUSTANGS
Coach: Duncan DellaVolpe (5th year)
2012 record: 1-9
Players to watch: Sr. OT/DT Colin McKeown (6-2, 275); Sr. OG/DT Ahmed Hourani (6-2, 280); Jr. RB/DB TJ Gallagher (5-11, 185); Jr. QB Brandon Bisack (6-3, 175); Jr. WR/FS Ryan Brown (6-1, 170); Sr. OLB/TE Brian Kerrigan (6-4, 220).
Reason to smile: Bisack has shown some poise and athleticism, as well as a deft passing touch in the preseason and could be the real deal. McKeown and Hourani add power to the line, and there might be enough pop from skill position players Gallagher, Brown, Kerrigan and Colin Ventura to cause opposing defenses concern.
Reason to worry: As goes the defense, so goes the team. A relentless schedule of three of the FCIAC’s four traditionally elite teams (Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien) adds to the challenge of adding many more victories to last year’s win total. St. Joseph and Trumbull likely won’t be pushovers, either. Overall experience is lacking.
Outlook: Captains McKeown and Kerrigan, as well as Brown, will supply the senior leadership but the rest of the cast is mostly juniors. Some of them cut their teeth last year as sophomores and showed promise. Growth by them would bode well for this year and next.
Coach: Rich Albonizio (17th season)
2012 record: 8-2 (FCIAC runner-up, Class LL quarterfinals)
Players to watch: Sr. QB Jose Melo (5-11, 180); Jr. RB/WR/CB Austin Longi (5-8, 150); Sr. DE Jack Wynne (6-5, 230); Sr. DE Jack Harrington (6-3 215); Sr. OL Justin Gaccione (5-11, 220); Sr. C Vincent Murphy (6-0, 225); Sr. RB/LB Kendrick Pozo (5-8, 210); Sr. G Andrew Del Carmine (6-0, 260).
Reason to smile: Melo has performed well filling in at quarterback the past two season and seems ready to take on the role of full-time starter. The speedy Longi is a versatile offensive weapon who can hurt teams on the ground and as a receiver. The Cardinals should be strong up front on both sides of the ball.
Reason to worry: Will Greenwich generate enough offense on a consistent basis? The Cardinals graduated more than 30 seniors from their squad last season, including many of their top offensive players.
Outlook: A lot will be learned about the new-look Cardinals early on, as they face West Haven, Darien, New Canaan and Trinity Catholic their first four games of the season. With some inexperienced skill players on offense, Greenwich’s defense must be strong.
NEW CANAAN RAMS
Coach: Lou Marinelli (33rd year)
2012 record: 9-3 (Class L semifinals)
Players to watch: Sr. QB Nick Cascione (6-0, 187, 1,133 yards, 24 total TD); Sr. QB Teddy Bossidy (5-10, 173, 748 yards, 12 total TD), Sr. WR/RB Jack Gilio (5-9, 173, 265 receiving yards, 3 total TD); Jr. RB Frank Cognetta (5-10, 191, 336 yards, 3 TD); Sr. DL Connor Buck (6-5, 244, 59 tackles, 10 sacks); Jr. LB Zach Allen (6-6, 243, 76 tackles, 8 sacks), Sr. LB Cole Harris (6-0, 143 tackles), Sr. LB Michael Root (6-3, 277, 105 tackles).
Reason to smile: New Canaan’s defense returns five of last season’s top six leading tacklers. Harris is back after setting the pace last season with 143 tackles, and Buck should continue to wreak havoc for opposing offenses after notching 10 sacks last season.
Reason to worry: New Canaan is down last season’s top running back (Louis Hagopian) and its top two receivers Grady Lynch and Andrew Read, who were lost to graduation.
Outlook: The Rams’ schedule would appear to be a bit tougher this season, but they should be right in the mix of the FCIAC title picture and be strong contenders for a return to the Class L playoffs. With so many returnees on defense, the unit should be even stronger than last year, and there are enough playmakers to be among the FCIAC’s top offenses.
Coach: Sean Ireland (3rd year)
2012 record: 3-6
Players to watch: Jr. QB Jeremy Linton; RB Clint Joseph; WR/CB Hopeton Chambers (FCIAC 300-meter hurdles champion); Soph. WR Dakari Eason; So. WR Terrence Bates; Sr. OL/DL Tommy LaRosa; Sr. OL/DL Corey Barrett; Jr OL/DL Evan Adams; Sr. LB Brendan Hanzlik.
Reason to smile: Speed at the skill positions, including Linton, who took over under center halfway through his sophomore season. The wide receivers are relatively young and green, but if they can get the ball in space — especially Chambers — the Bears could have the kind of quick-strike scoring ability they were lacking last season.
Reason to worry: Inexperience. Linton and his three trusted linemen — LaRosa, Barrett, and Adams — have significant varsity game time, but the rest of the team is relatively green.
Outlook: If Joseph can loosen up the defense on the ground, the Bears have the type of dynamic offense that can be difficult to contain, provided the fleet-footed receivers get up to speed and run sound routes.
Coach: Kevin Callahan (14th year)
2012 record: 8-2
Players to watch: Jr. QB Ryan Dunn; Sr. RB Will Bonaparte; Jr. RB Jimmy Turner; Sr. TE Andrew Chuma (6-3, 220); Sr. HB Aiden Mauro; Sr. C Wyatt Hemley (5-11, 270)
Reason to smile: The Tigers may have more depth at the skill positions than anyone in the league and Chuma is a big target that will create matchup problems for most teams.
Reason to worry: How Dunn fares in his first season under center may be the determining factor in the success of these Tigers.
Outlook: The Tigers are feeling comfortable in their offense, and having an experienced center in Hemley who can make calls based on what he sees in the tackle box should help the offense run smoothly. The Tigers also feel they matchup well on defense against spread offenses with players that can get to the ball in umbrella coverage. The Tigers’ schedule also looks to favor them with an early season matchup with St. Joseph and a mid-season game at Darien their biggest road blocks to reaching the FCIAC championship game for the first time since 1983 and possibly winning the first conference title in school history.
ST. JOSEPH CADETS
Coach: Joe Della Vecchia (16th year)
2012 record: 8-3 (Class M quarterfinals)
Players to watch: Sr. QB Jordan Vazzano (6-3, 225, 2,110 passing yards, 27 TD); Sr. OL Steve Hashemi (6-6, 260); Sr. OL Pete Mestre (6-6, 290); Sr. C Tom Adzima (6-1, 245); Jr. S/WR Lars Pedersen (5-11, 185, 5 INT); Sr. TE Mark Hirschbeck (5-11, 205, 30 receptions, 6 TD); Sr. WR Shane Miller (5-11, 175); Sr. DB Darren Jackson (5-10, 165); Sr. NG Mike Schuchmann (6-2, 230); Sr. LB Dylan Ryan (6-2, 195)
Reason to smile: Look no further than the player behind center. Vazzano is expected to be one of the best signal-callers in the state this season. He has size, a strong arm and is surrounded by talented skill position players. Della Vecchia may not be smiling come December when his franchise QB’s scholastic career ends, but he sure is now.
Reason to worry: On defense the Cadets lost their top three tacklers to graduation. But the biggest concern is replacing WR Jake Pelletier, Vazzano’s favorite target and the school’s all-time leader in receptions. Pelletier caught 48 balls for 907 yards and 14 touchdowns. Lars Pederson, Shane Miller and tight end Mark Hirschbeck must pick up the slack.
Outlook: As long as Vazzano stays healthy, a Class M title is possible. The Cadets have good size and experience up front. But the schedule, which starts off with non-league games against Notre Dame-West Haven and Fairfield Prep, will be demanding. “We must compete at the highest level each week in order to be successful,” Della Vecchia said.
STAMFORD BLACK KNIGHTS
Coach: Jamar Greene (1st year)
2012 record: 2-8
Players to watch: Sr. RB Cameron Webb; Jr. QB Jalen Brown; Sr. RB Jerry Aime; Sr. TE/LB Jack Rakoczy; Sr. WR Jake Bivona; Fr. WR/CB Jon-Michael Bivona
Reason to smile: Webb is one of top running backs in the FCIAC and the addition of Aime should make the Stamford running attack tough to handle.
Reason to worry: The Knights come into the year with injuries to several key players and the early season schedule does not offer any relief with games against Fairfield Prep, Trumbull, Staples and Ridgefield right off the bat.
Outlook: First-year coach Greene is laying the foundation for what he hopes is success in the future, but the Knights might have to take some lumps along the way. The offensive line is young, but if Brown can find time to throw he has some serious speed to work with. Stamford has no illusions of competing for a title this season, but is really looking for players to work hard and maybe pull a few upsets along the way.
Coach: Marce Petroccio (21st year)
2012 record: 10-1 (FCIAC champion; Class LL semifinals)
Players to watch: Sr. QB Jack Massie (6-1, 185, 27 TDs); Sr. RB/CB Patrick Lesch (5-10, 170, 716 yards, 9 TD); Sr. OL/DL Nick Ward (6-4, 290); Sr. WR/CB Will Johnson (5-10, 172, 12 catches, 136 yards); Jr. WR/RB/CB Jake Melnick (5-10, 150, 50 tackles, 2 INT); Jr. Owen Burke (5-10, 155); Jr. OL/DL James Black (5-8, 186); Sr. TE/DL Bryan Porter (6-3, 225), Jr. OL/DL Jackson Hoebermann (6-2, 185).
Reason to smile: A traditional power, Staples returns one of the sport’s brightest coaches and an experienced playmaker at quarterback.
Reason to worry: With only four starters back, the cast has almost entirely changed off back-to-back FCIAC titles and Class LL tournament appearances.
Outlook: The Wreckers believe they’ll develop into a strong team, but it will take some time. There’s plenty of youth and inexperience on both sides of the ball. With a challenging schedule ahead, the Wreckers face an uphill battle to continue their reign in the conference.
TRINITY CATHOLIC CRUSADERS
Coach: Donny Panapada (1st year)
2012 record: 8-3 (Class S quarterfinals)
Players to watch: Sr. capt. WR/DB Neno Merritt (6-1, 175), Sr. capt. WR/LB Matt Christensen (5-10, 170), Sr. capt OL/DL Robert Tusch (6-2, 225), Jr. RB/DB Randy Polonia (6-0, 180).
Reason to smile: Senior Connor Amann (6-2, 170) has settled in as starting QB for the Crusaders.
Reason to worry: Running backs Shaquan Howsie and Sean Brown were among 15 seniors who graduated from the magical 2012 squad.
Outlook: The preseason work has shown Panapada will get the most out of the small-in-numbers Trinity Catholic roster. The Crusaders have so many two-platoon starters that a few key injuries would be extremely damaging. Merritt will be the most exciting player to watch in the FCIAC.
Coach: Bob Maffei (16th year)
2012 record: 5-5
Players to watch: Sr. QB Nick Roberts (6-4, 230, 3-year starter); Sr. RB M.J. Cesar (5-7, 175); Sr. DT/FB Andrew Marino (6-0, 240); Sr. DB/WR TJ Hayduk (5-8, 170); Sr. G Zach Thompson (6-0, 255, 3-year starter); Sr. OL Phil Reardon (6-2, 230, 3-year starter); Sr. CB/WR Liam Moore (6-2, 175); Sr. WR Quentin Burnetti (6-1, 215).
Reason to smile: The Eagles have several players with varsity experience back, but what makes Maffei happiest is that most of the school renovations have been completed and the team finally has its weight room back. Last season they did their lifting in the concession stand. “Now we’re working hard every day and getting stronger,” he said.
Reason to worry: Last season it was the defense and special teams that were a problem, so a special emphasis has been given to those areas in the preseason. “We’ve got to start playing physical football again,” Maffei said. The coach also worries about injuries because the Eagles lack sufficient depth.
Outlook: We will know a lot more about the Eagles after their opener against Shelton. But with a slightly more palatable schedule — no New Canaan — Maffei feels the Eagles can post a winning record. “We’ve worked very hard and because of that hopefully we’ve earned the right to win,” he said.
WARREN HARDING PRESIDENTS
Coach: Jack Cochran (1st year)
2012 record: 0-9
Players to watch: Sr. capt. RB, DB Reggie David (5-11, 195); Sr. RB, DB D.J. Smith (5-10, 195).
Reason to smile: “The kids’ work ethic has been tremendous,” Cochran said. “Very pleased with the time and effort the players have put in.”
Reason to worry: The overall roster is very short. “There’s not much depth,” Cochran admits.
Outlook: The Presidents have bought into Cochran’s Committment to Excellence slogan on the back door of the Harding football complex. And the full-team, after-school, pre-practice study halls have been an absolute success. The controversial Cochran is well-known throughout the state for turning around programs at Bloomfield, New Britain and New London, winning state championships at each stop. Right now he is putting the foundation in place, but Friday nights and Saturdays will be hard for the Presidents.
Coach: Frank Marcucio (2nd year)
2012 record: 2-8
Players to watch: Sr. QB Ryan Coppola (5-10, 170); Sr. RB Tyreece Mithcell (5-8, 160); Sr. WR Evan Skoporantzos (6-3, 185); MLB Dennis Hat-Lima (5-11, 185); DT Haywood Alexandar (6-3, 275); LB Isaiah Ramon (6-0, 240); DE Chianta Holtzclaw (6-3, 225) DE; OLB Jeff Glover (5-8, 175)
Reason to smile: Coppola returns after starting all 10 games last season and the Vikings are thinking Mitchell could be an elite back in the league.
Reason to worry: Replacing all-state running back Davell Cotterell and his 1,663 yards and 16 touchdowns will be no easy task.
Outlook: The Vikings have an athletic, albeit inexperienced, offensive line after losing five linemen to graduation, and how the new players mesh will determine how much the Vikings are able to improve this season, which could have been a 6-4 success if not for the use of an ineligible player. Westhill does bring back a solid core on defense and they will be counted on to limit other teams’ passing attacks in their 4-2-5 scheme. The Vikings will not play in the FCIAC-SCC challenge but will face early season tests against Norwalk, Staples and Trumbull.
Coach: Bruce Cunningham (5th year)
2012 record: 4-6
Players to watch: Sr. OL Joe Fraccaroli (6-3, 300); Sr. QB Brett Phillips (6-0, 185); Sr. FB John D’Elisa (5-10, 210); Sr. WR Dan Baird (5-9, 175); Jr. TB Patrick Ryan (5-7, 140); Sr. DB Andrew Sakamoto (5-8, 160); Sr. LB Griffin Bender (6-0, 190); Sr. DL Dan Holland (5-11, 205); Jr. LB Jack Dexter (6-2, 200).
Reason to smile: Cunningham will have most of his defensive unit returning this year. An up-and-down unit a year ago, Wilton’s defense could turn into an area of strength with another year of experience under its belt if it can stop giving up the big plays. It’s also comforting to know Phillips will be back under center for another season.
Reason to worry: There will be some pressure on Phillips to run the Pro-I attack after the unit lost its top back (Mike Burns), receiver (Weston Wilbur) and two top linemen (Mike Lasala and Luis MacIntyre). Hopefully Phillips will have time to operate in the pocket. “The offensive line will have three new starters, so they must gel quickly,” Cunningham points out.
Outlook: The key to the season will be the development of the offensive line and the new skill position players on offense. The defense should be improved but to win the offense needs to put at least 20 points on the board each week. If it can, the Warriors should be able to at least turn around last year’s record.
— HEARST CONNECTICUT NEWSPAPERS STAFF